We’re not going to sugarcoat it: The Belmont Stakes card Saturday at Belmont Park is not a great betting proposition as a whole.
Average field size for the 13 races is eight, before scratches, and four of the grade 1 stakes have just five entries (and one has six).
It would be wise to pick your spots, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t spots to pick. And while horse betting options may be slim, star power is in abundance, with names like Flightline, Jack Christopher, Letruska, and Echo Zulu dotting the program. Not to mention Kentucky Derby upsetter Rich Strike, who will make his return in the featured Belmont.
But two of our three resident horseplayers like a price in the third leg of the Triple Crown, the filly Nest, and the other will try to get creative with the favorite on top.
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Now, let’s get to our wagers for the 2022 Belmont Stakes.
Mike Seely: #3 Nest to win (8/1 morning line)
For the first time since 1954, the Preakness Stakes will have been run without the Kentucky Derby winner in the same year that the Belmont Stakes will be run without the Preakness victor. And while that Preakness winner (Early Voting) was not unexpected, Rich Strike was an 80/1 longshot in the Derby who only made it to the gate after a more qualified horse was scratched.
Hey, it’s been a weird Triple Crown year — so why not bet on it to get even weirder this Saturday in New York?
In Belmonts of recent past, the most effective betting angle has been to identify whatever Tapit offspring are in the race and pick from that lot. The most successful sire in modern Belmont history sired no horses in this year’s field, but he has three grandsons in the mix, including morning-line favorite We the People.
We the People’s last victory came over a sealed, wet Belmont track in the May 14 Peter Pan Stakes. With Flavien Prat aboard, he seized control of the race early and never let up, winning by a commanding 10 1/4 lengths. With Belmont typically a race that favors controlling speed, it’s easy to see why the Randolphe Brisset trainee is the chalk.
Expect We the People and Rich Strike to attract plenty of action from recreational horse bettors Saturday. Likewise Mo Donegal, the Wood Memorial winner who’s part of NYRA analyst Andy Serling’s trifecta, along with the Preakness’ third-place finisher, Creative Minister, and Kentucky Oaks runner-up Nest.
You’ll want to box that trifecta, because Nest, the lone filly in the field, is the pick to win. She first identified herself as a serious contender by grinding out a win in the Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct late in her 2-year-old campaign. She then looked like she wanted more distance as the beaten favorite in the Oaks.
The Todd Pletcher trainee will get that distance Saturday at “Big Sandy,” and she’s impeccably bred for such a test of endurance, boasting five Belmont winners in her five-cross pedigree.
The last filly to win the Belmont was the 4/1 shot Rags to Riches in 2007, a race that saw her narrowly topple the favored Curlin, who went off at 6/5. Pletcher was Rags to Riches’ trainer, and Curlin is Nest’s sire. Expect them all to hug it out in the winner’s circle come Saturday.
Undercard play: #8 Highland Chief (Race 10, Manhattan Stakes)
As a 19/1 longshot, Highland Chief upset a classy field in the May 14 Man O’ War Stakes that included Gufo, the 3/1 favorite in Saturday’s Manhattan, one of few races on the Belmont undercard that features a fairly full field.
At 6/1, Highland Chief boasts the best last-out Beyer speed figure (105) and offers plenty of value for those wiling to bet that the Graham Motion trainee’s first romp around the Belmont grass was no fluke.
Matt Rybaltowski: Superfecta, with #1 We the People keyed on top
The 1 1/2-mile Belmont presents a daunting challenge of endurance for 3-year-olds not accustomed to running beyond the classic distance of 10 furlongs.
Over the years, however, a misconception has formed among some handicappers that the Belmont cannot be won by a frontrunner. Victor Espinoza shot out of the gate in 2015 on American Pharoah, as did Mike Smith three years later on Justify. Both superstars held the lead for the entirety of the race and became the only horses over the last 40 years to win the Triple Crown.
We the People might not be the best horse in the field, but he is the only one with early speed. Three weeks ago on the same track, We the People took the lead against a soft field in the Peter Pan and cruised to victory. If he receives an uncontested lead again, the Belmont could be over by the first turn.
In the Arkansas Derby, We the People drew the No. 9 slot, which forced Flavien Prat to go five-wide on the opening turn, and the colt tired to finish seventh. With the rail draw in the Belmont, the favorable position will allow Prat to gun to the lead. If Prat gains separation on the field, expect him to slow the pace on the backstretch.
By the time he reaches the long final straightaway, he could receive pressure from two closers — Rich Strike and Mo Donegal — but I’m betting that his lead will be too much to overcome. Rich Strike capitalized on suicidal fractions in the Kentucky Derby to overtake Epicenter in a historic stretch run. It is hard to envision a similar pace scenario in the Belmont.
I am playing a $1 superfecta, with We the People on top, then will throw in Rich Strike, Nest, and Mo Donegal in the place and show spots. For fourth, I’m hitting the “all” button. This ticket will cost only $30.
Undercard play: #1 Flightline, will he set the track record? (Race 9, Metropolitan Handicap)
The “Met Mile” has featured some superb performances in recent years, with Mitole, Frosted, and Vekoma all crossing the wire in less than 1:33 since 2015. Mitole nearly set the track record in 2019, when he finished in 1:32.75, five-tenths of a second off Najran’s record 16 years earlier.
Flightline (3/5 on the morning line) is undefeated in three starts, with all three victories by 10 lengths or more. He will receive a test Saturday from Speaker’s Corner, who recorded a career-best 114 Beyer speed figure in April’s Carter Handicap. Also keep an eye on reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint Aloha West, who may capitalize on a speed duel between the two favorites.
An intriguing hypothetical prop here could be on whether the winner will top Najran’s record of 1:32.24. If I were setting the odds, I would give the “no” odds of -250, with odds of a shattered record at +185. The former seems like the right choice here, even with the extra juice.
Jeremy Balan: #3 Nest to win (8/1 morning line)
I won’t rehash what Mr. Seely said, but his points about Nest’s pedigree and the added distance of the Belmont are valid, as is Todd Pletcher’s record in the third leg of the Triple Crown.
I would have preferred if jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. stuck with Nest instead of opting to ride Pletcher’s other entry, Mo Donegal, in the Belmont, but Jose Ortiz (Irad’s brother) is one of the top jockeys in the country as well.
But as a wise man once told me, it’s not jockey racing or trainer racing. It’s horse racing. I think Nest is the better horse for the Belmont, and Mo Donegal’s Kentucky Derby is stuck in my brain. He figured to benefit most from the pace meltdown that occurred in the Derby, and even though he went wide coming out of the final turn, he did not kick home as expected, while Rich Strike stole the show.
For Nest, her Kentucky Oaks looks better on paper than it did live, but she should be closer to the pace in the Belmont and will hopefully get the jump on Mo Donegal, and I think the added distance will benefit her more than her stablemate. At 8/1, she is the value in this race.
Undercard play: #4 Morello (Race 6, Woody Stephens Stakes)
Just forget the Wood Memorial ever happened for Morello. He broke terribly and lost the race at the start. But he was the 9/5 favorite in that key Derby prep for a reason.
In his three one-turn races before that (the Woody Stephens is also around one turn), he was downright dominant, and he capped that streak with a score in the Gotham Stakes.
If he can race just off the hip of heavy favorite Jack Christopher early, I’ll take my chances turning for home at 9/2.
Photo: Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY