Using History to Analyze the Belmont Derby and Oaks
By Bob Ehalt, courtesy America's Best Racing
The Fourth of July usually sparks some great racing and some equally fine wagering opportunities as well.
The best bet for mixing the two might to be found at Belmont Park on Saturday during the track’s Stars and Stripes Festival.
Among the five graded stakes on that day’s card are a pair of races destined to match some talented rivals from the United States and abroad and produce the kind of payoffs that can put a twinkle in the eyes of any red-blooded gambler.
The Belmont Derby and the Belmont Oaks each carry a purse of at least $1 million and are both contested at the same mile and a quarter distance on the inner turf course for 3-year-olds colts and fillies, respectively.
Each were created in 2014 and since then they have not only showcased stars such as Lady Eli, who won the 2015 Oaks, but have produced large fields with some international flavor and wide-open betting races that featured some highly lucrative payoffs.
In its first three editions, the Derby featured 32 starters and the Oaks 37, with 18 of them shipping in from overseas for the two Grade 1 stakes.
With fields that large, the exotic payoffs are inherently large, but when you add in some longshots crossing the wire first you have the recipe for some lively July 4th fireworks.
In the $1.2 million Derby, for example, favorites are 0-for-3 with the winners going off at 23-1, 10-1 and 6-1, and two of the three triples have paid more than $2,000.
To break those numbers down, in the 2014 Derby, Mr. Speaker ($49) won for the Phipps Stable and trainer Shug McGaughey, and with horses at 2-1 and 19-1 finishing second and third, the exacta paid $288 and the trifecta $3,810.
In 2015, Force the Pass ($22.20) won at 10-1 and teamed with 9-1 and 13-1 shots to form a $220 exacta and a $2,268 trifecta.
Last year, the winner was a European shipper Deauville ($14.60) at 6-1. Even with horses modestly priced at 6-1 and 8-1 in the second and third spots, the exacta and trifecta returned a generous $134 and $964, respectively, thanks to a 13-horse field.
On the distaff side, the results have been more predictable with one winning favorite. Nevertheless, the cheapest exacta was $45 and lowest trifecta $550.
The biggest payoffs came in the first year, 2014, when Minorette ($14.60) won and was followed under the wire by horses at 9-1 and 33-1 to light the fuse on a $106 exacta and $2,005 trifecta.
Odds-on favorite Lady Eli ($3.60) prevailed in 2015, but with a 12-horse field and 35-1 and 5-1 shots second and third, the exacta came back at $69 and the trifecta at $550.
Second choice Catch a Glimpse ($8.80) won last year’s race with 4-1 and 16-1 shots next for a $45 exacta and $728 trifecta.
With full fields once again taking shape for this year’s races, there should also be some sweet rewards for selecting the winners.
To help figure out where they might come from, here’s a quick look at the three editions of each race.
In the Derby, the keys to look for are Europeans and horses exiting the Pennine Ridge at Belmont Park and the Penn Mile at Penn National.
Europe, the Pennine Ridge and Penn Mile have each produced a winner and also dominate the top three spots. The Pennine Ridge, a mile and an eighth prep, has one winner, a second and two thirds in three years, while the Penn Mile has one winner and a third and Europeans own a win and two seconds.
In the Oaks, the Wonder Again at Belmont Park has been the key prep with two wins and all three seconds.
Catch a Glimpse, who beat males in the Penn Mile in her prior start, accounted for the other victory.
European ladies have not been as successful as their male counterparts from overseas with only two third-place finishes.
While three different trainers have won the Derby, Chad Brown has captured two of three editions of the $1 million Oaks.
He’s also well-stocked for this year with four fillies who have been invited to the race, including Wonder Again and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner New Money Honey.
She’ll probably be favored but even if she does prevail, history says there should nevertheless be some entertaining fireworks on the tote board during Belmont’s Stars and Stripes Festival.