One Belmont Stakes Myth Keeps on Kicking

by Greg Melikov

posted on June 1, 2010 in General Discussion, Other Events | 3 Comments >>

The word is out again perpetuating a racing myth that won’t go away — the Belmont Stakes belongs to stretch runners.

A couple of examples from two major racing websites that will go nameless:

“Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box, the likely morning-line favorite for the June 5 Belmont Stakes, breezed four furlongs in 49 3/5 over the fast Oklahoma track in Saratoga on Tuesday.”

“Robert LaPenta Jr.’s Ice Box, the Kentucky Derby runner-up and probable morning-line favorite for the upcoming Belmont Stakes turned in a four-furlong work (49 3/5) at Saratoga May 19.”

That’s the wrong signal since neither favorites or closers haven’t scored very often for several decades in the third leg of the Triple Crown.

Ice Box raced more than 24 1/2 lengths behind in 19th for the first half-mile of the Kentucky Derby. With a quarter to go in the 1 1/4-mile race the son of Pulpit was 15th and had reduced the margin to six-plus lengths.

But Ice Box lost ground when steadied turning for home and forced outside, losing several lengths while seeking a clear path. He was 2 1/2 lengths behind Super Saver at the wire even after making up a half-dozen lengths in the stretch.

Over the past 20 years no horse farther back than fourth with a quarter-mile to go captured the Belmont.

During the 21st Century, six winners had the lead and two more were second with a quarter to go in the 1 1/2 miles. The other winners were Sarava, third after 1 1/4 miles in ’02, and Summer Bird last year, four lengths back in fourth.

The average leading margin for the six winners with a quarter mile to go: 1 1/2 lengths. The average number of lengths behind for the other four with a quarter to run: about 2 1/4.

Catch this: The average ground made up in the final quarter-mile since ’90 is about two lengths.

The Belmont isn’t kind to front-runners either. During the past 20 years there have been only two wire-to-wire winners: Da’ Tara in ’08 by 5 1/4 lengths and Touch Gold in ’97 by three-quarters of a length.

The previous decade only Swale led all the way to triumph by four lengths in a field of 11.

Amazingly, five winners, including three Triple Crown champs, led from the first call at the quarter in the ’70s. In case you’ve forgotten:

Affirmed, ’78: On top by a length after a half-mile, the last Triple Crown winner held off Alydar in a stretch duel to defeat his arch rival by a head for the third straight race. The son of Exclusive Native was 3-5 in the four-horse field.

Seattle Slew, ’77: The son of Bold Reasoning cruised to a four-length victory in the mud over Run Dusty Run. The 2-5 favorite whipped a field of seven en route to the Triple Crown.

Bold Forbes, ’76: The Kentucky Derby winner built up a six-length in the stretch and held on to edge McKenzie Bridge by a neck. The less-than-even-money choice, third in the Preakness, defeated nine 3-year-olds.

Secretariat, ’73: Only on the lead by a head after a half-mile, the son of Bold Ruler at 1-9 clobbered four challengers by 31 lengths in 2:24 for the 12 furlongs – the track record that has stood the test of time.

Riva Ridge, ’72: The Derby winner, fourth in the Preakness, drew off in the stretch to score by seven lengths over nine others at 8-5.

By the way, since Affirmed, only six favorites have visited the winner’s circle. However, since ’78, there have been 18 double-digit payoffs.