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American Pharoah will win the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown. Unless he does not.

Belmont Stakes logoThe Belmont Stakes is today. And, if you’re bothering to read this article, you probably already know that if American Pharoah wins, he’ll be horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The race is at 6:50 p.m. EDT on NBC. (But coverage of today’s earlier races at Belmont Park has already started on NBC Sports Live Extra, and you should watch it as soon as Barcelona wins this afternoon’s UEFA Champions League finale.)

Here’s my breakdown of the field.

1. Mubtaahij

Morning line odds (which are not an expert’s thoughts on a horse’s chances of winning, but rather a prediction of how the public will bet on the race—the actual odds depend on how the public does bet and, as such, change right up until the race goes off)—10/1

This horse has mostly run in Europe, making it hard to compare his performance to the rest of the field, who have all competed exclusively in the United States. His one U.S. race was the Kentucky Derby where he finished an unimpressive eighth out of a field of 18. (Yes, an eighth place finish can be admirable, depending on how it’s achieved—like if a horse got bumped or tripped but came back. Mubtaahij doesn’t have such an excuse.)

Mubtaahij, however, does have the best breeding for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes—the longest distances these horses have yet, and probably ever will, race. His sire’s (father’s) average winning distance was 8.7 furlongs (eight furlongs to a mile) and his dam’s sire’s (mother’s father’s) was 8.8. Most of the sire’s and dam’s sires of horses in this field had averages winning distances in the seven furlong range.

Fun fact: His owner is a first cousin of the ruler of Dubai.

Verdict: A possibility for third or fourth place, meaning consider him in trifectas (pick the top three finishers) or superfectas (pick the top four finishers).


2. Tale of Verve

Morning line odds—15/1

I didn’t like this horse’s chances at Preakness when it finished second, and I don’t like his chances today. No, I’m not being obtuse (at least not in this instance). The Preakness track was sloppy, meaning a lot of the other horses were off their a-game. Prior to Preakness, Tale of Verve had only run in lower-level races, not even winning until his sixth start. Also, his sire’s average win distance is just 6.5 furlongs.

Fun fact: Tale of Verve’s jockey today is Gary Stevens, who came back to racing after an eight-year retirement during which he acted and provided commentary for NBC. Joe DePaolo wrote a profile on Stevens’s comeback for SB Nation that’s worth your time. (Executive summary of all you need to know about Stevens: The third word of the article is “balls.”)

Verdict: Take a pass.


3. Madefromlucky

Morning line odds—12/1

This one finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby (an important prep race for the Kentucky Derby) and won the Peter Pan at Belmont Park (an important prep race for the Belmont Stakes, but one that’s a notch below the two aforementioned derbies in terms of the field’s talent). He’s trained by Todd Pletcher who’s both a sharp dresser and a sharp trainer, especially at New York racetracks.

Madefromlucky has never raced more than 1 1/8 miles though (six of the other horses in the Belmont Stakes have raced 1 1/4 miles) and wasn’t bred to handle the longer distance. Also, his Brisnet speed figures (a stat that attempts to make it possible to compare different races) aren’t great. And he’s already lost twice to American Pharoah.

Fun fact: He actually was made from lucky—his sire is Lookin at Lucky.

Verdict: I’d probably toss him if he weren’t trained by Pletcher. But he is, so I’m considering him for a third or fourth place finish.


4. Frammento

Morning line odds—30/1

Frammento has no chance of winning. (He’s never won an important race, has poor Brisket speed figures, and the average winning distances of his sire and dam’s sire are both below seven furlongs.)

Fun fact: Frammento rhymes with pimento.

Verdict: Take a pass, unless the odds go to 50-1 in which case $5 to show (which pays off if the horse finishes first, second, or third) might make sense.


5. American Pharaoh

Morning line odds—3/5

After losing his first race, American Pharaoh has won six in a row, including the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Other than the Kentucky Derby, won by just a length, he’s been putting the field away—and even that race wasn’t in doubt down the final stretch. His speed figures are consistently better than the other horses in today’s field. His jockey, Victor Espinoza, has been in this position (one race shy of a Triple Crown) before, so he has a better understanding of the pressure than many other jockeys would. And reports from Belmont Park are that American Pharaoh’s workouts there look good.

The only knocks are how he’ll bounce back after running the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, as he’s the only horse in the field to enter both races. And he’s not really bred for longer distances (his dam’s sire’s winning distance is the shortest in the field at 6.3 furlongs).

Fun fact: Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times wrote a feature on the breeding habits of Pioneerof the Nile, American Pharoah’s sire.

Verdict: Probably the winner. But a win bet won’t pay well. So best to bet him in exactas (pick the top two finishers), trifectas, and superfectas. Or bet on him to come in first, second, or third (a show bet) as it’ll pay close to what a win bet will but give you some protection in case he doesn’t earn top honors.


6. Frosted

Morning line odds—5/1

Despite being five horses wide on a turn (meaning he ran a lot further than the 1 1/4-mile race), Frosted finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. And he won the Wood Memorial (an important Kentucky Derby prep race) before that with the highest speed figure of any horse in this field.

At just two wins in eight lifetime races, he’s not as good a horse as American Pharoah. But he does have more rest.

Fun fact: Remember how Mubtaahij is owned by a first cousin of the ruler of Dubai? Frosted is owned by the ruler himself, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

Verdict: A contender.


7. Keen Ice

Morning line odds—20/1

Keen Ice had an impressive seventh place finish in the Kentucky Derby after spending much of the race on the outside and stuck in traffic. His speed figures haven’t been great though, and his sole career win wasn’t in a major race. Everything I’ve read about this horse though—and the next sentence explains why it’s been a lot—is that he’s built for the distance of the Belmont Stakes.

Fun fact: One of my friends owns a small stake in this horse, so I could be totally biased. The ownership team, in fact, is led by Jerry Crawford who’s Hillary Clinton’s chief operative in Iowa. Ben Terris’s Washington Post profile on Crawford is worth a pre-race read.

Verdict: A possibility for third or fourth place, meaning consider him in trifectas (pick the top three finishers) or superfectas (pick the top four finishers).


8. Materiality

Morning line odds—6/1

Undefeated and lightly raced coming into the Kentucky Derby, I really liked Materiality in that race. He had a bad start though and got stuck on the outside in the turns, but still finished sixth. He’s also a Todd Pletcher horse. All the jockeys in the Belmont Stakes are good ones, but Materiality will be ridden by John Velazquez. He and Pletcher are a profitable duo for betters.

As with Frosted though, he’s not as good a horse as American Pharoah. But he too is better rested.

Fun fact: This horse is my 3-year-old daughter’s pick because her favorite song is “Material Girl.” (Pretty sure that sentence will cost me 2015 Father of the Year honors.)

Verdict: A contender.


My likely wagers

Whether a bet is worth making, depends on the odds, of course. And those aren’t final until the race goes off. So I usually refrain from entering mine until a few minutes before post time. (I wager at; the legality of online horse wagering varies by state.)

Right now though, here’s where I’m leaning:

  • $5 exacta box on American Pharoah, Frosted, and Materiality. Boxing an exacta, trifecta, or superfecta means the horses included in this bet can finish in any order for it to pay out. If you don’t box it, they have to finish in the order you specify. Essentially this bet is six separate $5 bets (costing $30 total) and will pay out if one of these scenarios happens (the horses involved and the order of finish, however, do determine the amount paid out):
    • American Pharoah wins and Frosted comes in second
    • American Pharoah wins and Materiality comes in second
    • Frosted wins and American Pharoah comes in second
    • Frosted wins and Materiality comes in second
    • Materiality wins and Frosted comes in second
    • Materiality wins and American Pharoah comes in second
  • $5 to show on Keen Ice (if he comes in first, second, or third, it pays out)
  • $1 trifecta with American Pharoah, Frosted, or Materiality to come in first; American Pharoah, Frosted, Materiality, or Madefromlucky to come in second; and American Pharoah, Frosted, Materiality, Madefromlucky, Mubtaahij, or Keen Ice to come in third (total cost: $36)
  • $5 to win on Materiality because my daughter will demand it

None of these wagers seem likely to pay a decent return though.

Post-race update: All of these wagers paid off, save the last one, suggested to placate a 3-year-old. In total, they cost $76 and returned $100.25. Not a ton of money, but a 31.9 percent return on investment isn’t bad for a two-minute race. In hindsight, I should have skipped the exacta and trifecta, instead playing a superfecta with the same horses. 

Disclaimers galore

All stats are from Brisnet’s Ultimate Past Performances (PPs) with comments —which you probably know as the track program, but this version has way more information. You can download it for free. And, in case you can’t figure out what the hell all that info means, download the Ultimate PP with comments explanation (also free).

If you’re really starting without much horse-racing knowledge, read the children’s classic (at least in my house) “White Diamond Runs for the Roses” by Aimee Aryal (Mascot Books, 2007).  It taught this late convert to thoroughbred racing a ton about the sport.

This information is for entertainment purposes only.

I’m better than average at betting the ponies, which does not mean that I make money at the track—just that I lose less than most people.

Still here? Watch this video of Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown in 1973.

Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs

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