The two most anticipated races of the year, the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, take precedence for both trainers and handicappers alike. These two races have captivated generations of fans for well over a century and will continue to be the crowning glory of sporting events for many more years to come. The allure of the Triple Crown begins with its mysterious past and with the famous names who graced Churchill Downs and Belmont Park. The elite equine beauties who stamped their names in the history books alongside their human counterparts like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Muhammad Ali, Joe Montana, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Marciano and even Eddie Arcaro and Willie Shoemaker. The names of Secretariat, Whirlaway, Seattle Slew, Citation and War Admiral will always live on as superior athletes long after we are gone.
The separation of these two races could not be any further apart which is the reason why only 13 thoroughbreds in its long history have been able to be achieve the Triple Crown trophy. The middle race, the Preakness Stakes, is a sideline. This race slightly drops in distance from the Derby and therefore presents a similar contest with similar winning types and does not offer any disadvantage of breeding over the first. It is the Belmont Stakes which separates the boys from the men in that the breeding advantages change dramatically. To win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, the horse must have two optimum distance capabilities. This is extremely rare and the reason why so few can conquer it and the reason why the allure has stayed intact. If in fact there were 50 Triple Crown winners, the mystery and the fight may have died long ago.
While the season of the Prep Races point to the Kentucky Derby and handicappers far and wide concentrate on their Derby picks and Derby hopefuls and Derby profiles, it would be in one’s best interest to also attach the Belmont Stakes to all of their efforts at the same time. After all, these are the same starters and the same players throughout. With the probability of a Triple Crown winner being at its lowest year after year, having a sense of the capabilities and advantages for these players along the way seems to be of major importance. Yet, it is rarely even mentioned.
With the exception of American Pharoah, one out of thirteen, the breeding of the horse will tell you early on if he is Triple Crown Material. One does not need to wait until after the Kentucky Derby to have a sense of the capability of distance, nor does one need to wait until all of the preps are finished. Most importantly, if one waits until the Belmont field is set, it could affect your wager in the Derby itself.
In 143 years, only 13 runners were able to conquer the distances of all 3 races followed by a walk to the Winners Circle. That is a 9% win ratio. The reason that 91% of the time we will see two different horses strut to that circle is because what wins at 10f against a field of 20 is not the same that wins at 12f. It takes an absolute freak of nature with a winning mentality and the hidden stamina to compete in three Grade One races consecutively. The reality is that most handicappers will look at the performance of the Kentucky Derby and see the superior animal in all of its glory and believe that he is untouchable going forward because of it.
The Belmont race is 2 furlongs longer than the Kentucky Derby. When you break it down, a furlong equals 220 yards or 660 feet. Two furlongs equals 440 yards or 1320 feet. A horse who can sustain his speed for 10f and has an optimum distance of 10f will find that he cannot sustain that speed an additional 1320 feet. It takes a monster to be able to switch gears and change his winning ways in order to spread that speed the additional distance. Conversely, a horse who does not have an optimum distance of 10f and does not have comparable speed capabilities at 10f will not see an advantage, will not be able to compete against his speedy peer and will not magically change his optimum to fit the day. Even though his stamina can carry him 12f, this does not mean that he has enough speed inheritance to prevail at 10f. Two separate styles and two separate types take a gate with their advantage in two separate races.
More often than not, the winner of the Belmont Stakes had not even hit the board in the Kentucky Derby. He obviously had the stamina to compete at the 10f, but what he lacked was the upfront speed that is demanded in the Derby. This fact plays to his advantage at Belmont. These types will win Derby preps along the way. These types will secure enough points to get a gate in the Derby. These types will not find an easy path to the winners circle at Churchill Downs.
As the Derby season evolves, one must take notice of the breeding aspects to be able to make an informed wager on any horse who appears to be more suited for one race over the other even though they all had their shining moments along the trail to get there. There will be those who are not suited for either, as their time was at the 9f mark. There will be those who have the stamina to make it around both the Churchill and Belmont tracks but lack in the pure speed for one. And then there will be horses like Justify, who was more suited for the Belmont Stakes than he was for the Derby. In cases like that, a horse who can prevail in the first against greater speed inheritance and who has the stamina and breeding for the third makes the handicapper’s life a bit easy in June. If a 2.10 to 3.00 colt happens to win the Kentucky Derby, his path to the Crown just became much easier. It has also become easier for us.