Allowing 24 hours to pass since 24-1 longshot Ruler On Ice won the 143rd running of the Belmont Stakes, beating 17-1 Stay Thirsty by 3/4 length, believe it or not the outcome was not as far-fetched as the media has suggested. Phrases like “shocking upset”, “most improbable outcome” and “bank-busting bomb” littered media copy in describing the victory.
Yes, to the casual or novice horse racing fan who is only interested in having action on the Triple Crown races because they are shown on network TV, would have had a hard time making an argument for Ruler On Ice to score the victory. Unfortunately, the fans who paid no attention to the races run over the sloppy track at Belmont prior to the big race, were ignorant to the fact that all of the winners were those who were either on the lead or within 3 lengths of the lead at any point in the race. Check out the charts. In horse racing this phenomenon is known as the track having a “Speed Bias”.
Note to novices, first learn how to read Brisnet or Daily Racing Form Past Performances (PP’s). Next, make it a habit to watch races prior to the big race or at least review the race Result Charts (available online at Equibase).
Having the knowledge of the tracks Speed Bias, you didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out that late runners (aka Closers) like Animal Kingdom, Nehro and any others who would be content to be more than 3 lengths off the pace WOULD NOT WIN this race on THIS DAY. I refused to throw too much money into this race because all of my horses, based on handicapping for a fast, “fair” track, were Closers (see Belmont Stakes Analysis blog). The ONLY bet I made was Win, Place, Show on Shackleford who would be on the lead for sure and had a chance on this surface to wire the field. He lasted longer than he would have on a fast track, but who were the 2 who were just behind him for the first 1 mile+ ? Answer: Ruler On Ice and Stay Thirsty… HELLO! WINNING!
Long before the Belmont Stakes, the best bet of the day was BETTING AGAINST the heavy 3-5 M/L favorite, Turbulent Descent in the 6th race, the first race of the $1,000,000 guaranteed Pick-6. In her past performances, she never showed early speed, yet I’m certain that she was a single (i.e. only horse picked in that race) on over 70% of the Pick-6 tickets held by the so-called experts. In that race you had 2 other options… either the #3 – Savvy Supreme who took the early lead OR #4 – It’s Tricky, the other speed horse who was within striking distance and went onto to hold off the favorite in deep stretch to win at 10-1.
It’s amazing that there were NO PICK-6 WINNING TICKETS even with a number of horse racing website “Player Pools” who construct $100,000 worth of tickets along with smaller wagering syndicates. Anyone having 5 out of 6 still paid over $20,000! .Shame on any seasoned handicapper who stuck to their guns and refused to recognize the track Speed Bias or believed that somehow it would change for the Belmont Stakes race.
Hindsight being 20-20, along with the Speed Bias, here are a few reasons (all found in the past performances) why one could have used Ruler On Ice in your exotic wagers or even put a few bills on him to win… his trainer Kelly Breen wins with 29% of his starters when adding BLNKERS; he had 2 bullet workouts prior to the Belmont (obviously with blinkers on); he was 1 of only 5 runners to have ever run on an OFF TRACK, and did it successfully (1st & 2nd in 2 races); he had earned improving Brisnet (and Beyer) Speed Figures over his last 4 races; he had never lost ground in the stretch in his 6 race career; he was a fast-closing 3rd in Sunland Derby (2 races back), just missed get by Astrology, who ran 3rd third in the Preakness; and finally though not documented in the PP comment line, he had some type of issue in the Tesio Stakes (his last race) when he failed as the 3-2 favorite, but managed to be runner-up. With all those positives, which I took into consideration when handicapping the race, there was one negative fact that outweighed them. He was carrying 8 lbs. more than he did in his last race which is why I eventually tossed him. Horsemen will tell you that adding just 5 lbs. in a distance race is enough to “stop a train”. Travelling 1 ½ miles seemed too much to overcome on a level playing surface.
As far as how Stay Thirsty figured to be in the exotic wager equation… even though I predicted a last place finish for him in my Belmont Stakes Analysis, I offered a positive spin on him, “On the positive side, like his owner (Mike Repole), he loves New York as he’s never been worse than second in 4 races on New York state tracks (Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga) while off the board in his 3 races in other states.”.
Lesson learned?! Cheer up everyone. You have about 7 weeks to replenish your horse racing bankroll for the next big race, the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday, August 4th… which hopefully will be run on a surface that is “playing fair”. But if it’s not, this time around you should be well aware of it before you make your wagers.