Horses in America are no longer bred to run a mile-and-a-half, and they are not trained to race three times in five weeks. Those are two of the reasons that the Triple Crown has remained vacant since Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in 1978.
Since then, 13 horses have won the first two legs, and 12 have faltered in the Belmont (while I’ll Have Another was injured before his attempt at immortality in 2012).
American Pharoah will be the people’s choice on Saturday. But here’s what you should know about the eight-horse field before putting your money down. (Note that the horses are listed in order of starting position, while the odds are as of June 4.)
1. Mubtaahij (10/1) – He beat very soft competition in Dubai and didn’t react well to a long plane ride from the UAE to the States before the Derby. In Louisville, he got a perfect trip but showed little rally, finishing eighth.
2. Tale of Verve (15/1) – Trainer Dallas Stewart has a knack for spotting horses in big races at big prices. He won the Kentucky Oaks with Lemons Forever at 47/1 in 2006; Golden Soul finished second to Orb in the 2013 Kentucky Derby at 50/1; and, in last year’s Derby, Commanding Curve was second at 37/1. Tale of Verve finished second at the Preakness this year at 29/1, even though he had never beaten horses who had won a race. He is improving, but needs to make up seven lengths on American Pharoah, and has no more extra time to prepare than the favorite.
3. Madefromlucky (12-1) – Comes out of the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont, the same race the launched Tonalist to a Belmont Stakes victory last year. Is the only horse with a win at this track, and has the best jockey in the world, regular New York rider Javier Castellano up. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Belmont Stakes twice. That said, he was not as impressive as Tonalist was in the Peter Pan, and he lost to American Pharoah by sizable margins twice in Arkansas.
4. Frammento (30/1) – Trainer Nick Zito and jockey Mike Smith have won a lot of big races including two Belmont’s each. At 70/1 in the Derby, Frammento raced way wide and but failed to menace. In eight lifetime races, he has finished in the top three only three times. He has the longest odds in the field.
5. American Pharoah (3/5) – American Pharoah will be a huge gamble at less than even money considering he is the only horse racing for the third time in five weeks. A winner of six straight and six of seven lifetime, he loved the slop that dismantled the Preakness field and ran extremely well to hold off Firing Line in the Derby. Jockey Victor Espinoza made a mistake not going to lead with California Chrome in last year’s Belmont, and it is a good bet that American Pharoah will be forwardly placed. But how much energy will he have left during the final quarter-mile on the longest straight-away in American racing?
6. Frosted (5/1) – Bet down from 18/1 to 10/1 at the Derby, he was one of the only horses able to rally late (despite a slow pace), ultimately finishing fourth. Prior to the Derby, he won at Wood Memorial against a mediocre field and has generally run well since throat surgery a couple of months ago. Jockey Joel Rosario won the Belmont last year on Tonalist.
7. Keen Ice (20/1) – After two decent – but not great – Derby prep races, Keen Ice went off at 46/1 in Louisville. He had to wait and go wide on the final turn, but passed tired horses down the stretch to finish seventh. He’ll likely need to rally from the back again at the Belmont, which isn’t usually a winning style and is reflected in his long odds.
8. Materiality (6/1) – Materiality suffered his first loss in four races at the Derby after stumbling out of the starting gate. Despite not getting out well, he rallied down the stretch to finish a respectable sixth, but he never seriously challenged for the win. Trained by Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez (a two-time Belmont winner), he’ll be well supported by many handicappers.
If you think American Pharoah is going to win, it isn’t worthwhile to bet on the Belmont – not with the fan-favorite at 3/5. Even if you think American Pharoah will finish second, there is no real value in an exacta.
Frosted has made huge strides and seems to fit from a class and style standpoint, as he’ll be able to sit just off of American Pharoah. At 5/1 or more, Frosted is a reasonable bet for the win. If you are looking for a big payday, play him in an exacta on top of Frammento, Keen Ice, and Materiality.
(Photo credit: Banamine (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)