Elmont, N.Y. — The obsession with the length of the Belmont Stakes — 1 ½ miles — is part of its mystique. It’s probably the only time a horse will run that distance on the dirt.
Intuitively, the Belmont should be a race that favors horses that run late and pass tiring front-runners. But according to previous race winners, that premise is completely wrong.
“It’s not a speed race necessarily, but horses that come from way back do not do as well,” said Jerry Bailey, a Hall of Fame jockey who also works as a commentator for NBC Sports. Bailey won the Belmont twice.
“The misconception is that deep closers do better because the horses in front tire,” Bailey said. “But in the Belmont, they don’t go that fast early, so they don’t slow down. The early pace is more deliberate, and the lead horse can hold on and win because they don’t slow down.”
It will be jockey Mike Smith’s job to navigate Justify at a smart pace to become the 13th horse to win the Triple Crown. Smith has won the Belmont twice.
“It’s really not that different (a race to run),” Smith said. “I think people tend to think too much. You just need to get your horse in a nice comfortable rhythm and try not to move too soon.”
Victor Espinoza has won the race only once, but that was three years ago aboard Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah. He tends to agree with Smith that the distance makes no difference.
“Sometimes, it can be a little confusing to think about a mile and a half,” Espinoza said. “But my best rides, I ride just like they are a mile and an eighth. The horses run exactly the same as a mile and an eighth.”
The greatest Belmont was in 1973 when Secretariat won by 31 lengths to complete the Triple Crown. It was the second Belmont win for Canadian jockey Ron Turcotte. From his perspective, the Belmont is not difficult at all — which is easy to say when you are riding Secretariat.
“I think the Belmont is the easiest of the three (Triple Crown races),” Turcotte said. “Why is that? Because there are many chances to overcome different things. You might get squeezed, you might get shut off, you might stumble at the start. Anything can happen, but you can recover without rushing your horse and make it up real quick.”
Trainer to the rescue
Dale Romans, trainer of Belmont entry Free Drop Billy, potentially saved a woman from choking to death with the Heimlich maneuver at a New York Mets’ game Tuesday at Citi Field.
Post time: 6:37 Saturday, Belmont Stakes, Elmont, N.Y.
Distance: 1.5 miles
TV: NBC (broadcast begins at 4 )
Field: Ten horses, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Justify, seeking to become the 13th Triple Crown winner.