06/06/2011 7:13PM

6f + 6f = The Belmont


The unusual mile-and-a-half (12 furlongs) distance of the Belmont Stakes is effectively two consecutive races at six furlongs, the most common distance in American racing. One might think that what we call speed horses and front-runners would run the race's first six furlongs faster than the second, and that stretch-runners and "closers" would be running faster at the end than in the beginning.

In fact, almost every Belmont Stakes winner is decelerating during the second half of the race, even those we think of as storming home to dramatic stretch-running victories.

As the chart below shows, 35 of the last 40 Belmont winners have run their first six furlongs faster than the second six furlongs, by an average of right around two full seconds (12 lengths). And remember, this is not a comparison between the leader's time after six furlongs and the final time of the race, but between the eventual winner's actual running times for each half of the race.

What was so magnificent about Secretariat's unapproached clocking of 2:24 while winning the 1973 Belmont and Triple Crown was not just the final time itself but that he did it after running the first six furlongs in a blistering 1:09 4/5. The second-fastest opening six furlongs by a Belmont winner in the last 40 years was Bold Forbes's 1:11 1/5 in 1976 -- and it then took him 1:17 4/5 (and every ounce of Angel Cordero's skill and pleading) to get him home first under the wire.

(There was some necessary approximation in this exercise -- times were not recorded in hundredths in DRF charts until 1999, and lengths behind after six furlongs had to be extrapolated from charts and videos in the absence of a six-furlong point of call. So I wouldn't put too much stock in differences of under a length or so in the table below, but the overall patterns are pretty clear.)

It's pretty neat that the fastest first six and fastest second six by a Belmont winner during this span were both recorded by Triple Crown winners: Secretariat's opening 1:09 4/5 in 1973 and Affirmed's come-home 1:12 4/5 in 1978.

The other Belmont winners who ran their second 6f faster than their first 6f are an interesting quartet: Little Current (2.80 seconds faster), the filly Rags to Riches (2.62 faster), Temperence Hill (1.80 faster) and Victory Gallop (0.60 faster), who nailed Real Quiet at the wire to deprive him of the Triple Crown by the smallest margin ever.

Finally, Swale was the only Belmont winner since at least 1971 to run identical halves of the race: He led all the way, running each six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 for a final time of 2:27 1/5.


vicstu More than 1 year ago
Richard, No horse has come within 8 lengths on dirt of Big Red's 2:24 flat for the mile and a half distance. No amount of hard track or speed bias contributes to that great of a time variant. We all know about the other records, and most, if not all, have fallen or come close to being broke. Not 2:24. Not even close...
kram More than 1 year ago
Can we stop all the nonsense about Secretariat being some sort of creature of the media and the beneficiary of fast tracks? People can debate forever who was the greatest horse of all time, but what is not up for debate is the fact that in 1973 at Belmont Park (I was there) Secretariat put forth the single greatest performance ever by a thoroughbred racehorse! It is now thirty eight years later and no one has come within shouting distance of that time. And a fast racetrack? If that is the case why did older stakes horses struggle to run 1:37 for a mile on the undercard that day? Fast racetracks? I suppose they also scraped the track to concrete for his workouts. I guess that's why he once worked 3f in 32 and change. Must have been those fast racetracks. And the fact that "he never beat any good horses"? Quite frankly, if Secretariat never ran against any good horse it makes his final times all the more amazing since there were "no good horses" to push him along. Horse of the year as a 2YO. HOY as a 3YO as well as Grass Horse of the year as a 3YO. How many of the other greats can claim the same?
LemonSoupKid More than 1 year ago
Any prelim thoughts on the Belmont undercard? A prelude to Mr. Crist's pick six, perhaps? Thanks [I'll be posting an analysis of all the pick-6 races Saturday morning. -SC]
tom More than 1 year ago
It's really interesting for me to read about what i call the "front runners" and "gainers". those were probably the hardest to account for in a numeric way to include in my program. The program i run utillizes a differencial to get a + or - for a race, which indicates more speed to the inside (+) or outside (-). using this method improves my programs results. so, i think , maybe they're related?
jose More than 1 year ago
BTW Rags To Riches beat Curlin because of the 5 pounds he was giving her over 1 1/2 miles.
jose More than 1 year ago
I dont think Shakleford will be able to wire this field,because he dosent have the element of surprise like the last wire to wire winner DaTara.I think he got a bad post, because It would surprise me that having the whole field inside of him that at least one horse will not challenge him for the lead and make him work harder and possibly lose ground on the first turn.He dosent have brilliant speed for 9 or 10 furlongs,if he wins nobody challenges him early,and then he will barely hang on or be passed by a stampede in mid stretch.If the field stretches out from front to back in this slow pace scenario I dont see deep closers in the exacta.BTW without Sham to push him Secretariat dosent come close to his record breaking time in the Belmont.
Chuck S More than 1 year ago
When you watch the mainstream media constantly going after politicians, Wall St, consumer issues et al whenever obvious or perceived problems exist, I wonder why this philosophy does not exist in racing. It's obvious that track management could care less. What's wrong with questioning owners, trainers, or naming the attending vet for the horse when a situation fails the smell test? If a percieved problem surfaced involving a casino game, the media would be all over it, management would be doing everything possible to get in front of the issue, and the proper gaming commision would be involved as well. Horseracing,,,,,,,what problem? It's the same mentality when a horse returns after a long layoff. Why can't the reason for the layoff be part of the PP's? Make trainers submit the reason at entry time. Injuries are documented in other sports. Instead, no, nobody needs to know why. I firmly believe these and other similar conditions are some of the leading reasons why well intentioned gamblers have been turning their backs on horseracing for years now. You can question this view forever but the one thing that cannot be debated - the continued stagering decline in handle in the 21st century, is the defining state of the game. The involved individuals at all layers seem oblivious to this. "So Joe Blow, Mr X, whoever, tell me again why you no longer play the horses?"
Mooch More than 1 year ago
While watching Secretariat's Belmont on TV with a friend (and well respected handicapper) he had bet Sham, I liked Secretariat, he said Secretariat was nothing but a sprinter. As we both watched in awe Secretariat drawing out down to the wire I turned to him and said "I thought you said he was just a sprinter" he replied "That horse just sprinted a mile and a half.
Real1Quiet More than 1 year ago
Just wanted to say how much I love the DRF slideshows, please keep them coming. Especially loved the Preakness isolation slideshow with photos from start to finish. Would be great if all the Triple Crown/Breeders Cup/Grade 1 Dirt races could have something like that.
John More than 1 year ago
Very interesting stuff. Supposedly this years crop are slo-pokes. Will be fun to compare after Saturday with this chart.