06/04/2015 3:13PM

Fornatale: Players chime in on Belmont Stakes

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Races like the Belmont Stakes, with an odds-on favorite and a couple of other equally obvious alternatives, can be tricky for contest play and often are avoided by contest directors looking for more wide-open mandatory races to choose. But with the eyes of the racing world on Belmont Park this Saturday, I wanted to survey a handful of contest players about their thoughts on the race and our chances of seeing history.

John Doyle, 2011 NHC champion

“I’ve rooted against every Triple Crown attempt since Spectacular Bid because I didn’t think the horses in question were worthy. I did root for Sunday Silence, actually, but I didn’t think he’d beat Easy Goer at Belmont.

“There’s a sense of greatness about American Pharoah. I was watching him train last year, and it’s just the way he does it, the way he moves is effortless. I’m not a conformation expert, but the way he moves is effortless. People have questioned whether he’ll be able to win the Belmont because of his running style, but I think when he’s gone to the front, it’s just because he’s faster than everyone else. [Trainer Bob] Baffert has been through this before, and I think he’s got this thing pegged – I don’t think he left American Pharoah’s best race on the track for the Derby or Preakness. The horse is thriving right now, he’s the real deal, and I think we’ll see something special on Saturday. I would set the over/under on his final margin of victory at 10 lengths.”

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Michael Beychok, 2012 NHC champion

“My introduction to horse racing was with Seattle Slew and Affirmed. I thought winning the Triple Crown was easy! So, as a fan, I want American Pharoah to win, but as a bettor, I live for the rare days like this, where the value in beating a favorite is huge, so I will be betting against him with both hands. I’m using Frosted and Materiality as keys on top, with Keen Ice and Mubtaahij underneath. If American Pharoah wins, I will hopefully be alive in multirace wagers to him, and all will be good.”

Ryan Flanders, NHC Tour leader

“I’ll be surprised if Frosted doesn’t win. He had no pace to run at in the merry-go-round Derby, he is fresh, he’s in his backyard, and he looks like a true 12-furlong horse. Great horses blow up in their Triple Crown bids at Belmont for numerous reasons – the sandy track, the distance, the new shooters, the taxing toll of running a third Grade 1 at such a long distance and against fantastic competition in a five-week span – it all is so hard to overcome.

“That all being said, if Frosted doesn’t fire, this to me is a match race, and I think Pharoah is the only other contender. Assuming I don’t have a stake in a tournament or something like that, I won’t bet the race, and I’ll be rooting for him to take it down.”

Chris Larmey, nine-time NHC qualifier

“Going into the Derby, I felt Materiality was the best 3-year-old in training, and I still do. He lost all chance at the start in the Derby and, according to Trakus, was actually dead last when they turned for home, at which point he appeared to be completely disinterested in running. Then he suddenly grabbed the bit and really took off, passing 12 horses in less than one-quarter of a mile. He has broken alertly and been forwardly placed in all his prior races, so I don’t expect a repeat of the poor start in the Belmont. He should be either on the lead or pressing American Pharoah up front. The pace should be slow to moderate, and Materiality should be able to eventually draw away from the heavy favorite late to win convincingly (at least that is how I hope it all plays out). He is reunited with Johnny Velazquez, and that team is 3 for 3, including a gutty win in the Florida Derby. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, has a spotty record in the Derby, but his recent Belmont record is stellar. He has won the Belmont twice and has finished first or second in six of the last nine Belmont Stakes. Materiality looks better than any of those past Pletcher Belmont entrants and is by Afleet Alex, who won the Belmont impressively, so he is bred to get the distance. Best of all, Materiality should be about 6-1 at post time, which makes him a huge overlay and a great bet.

“I actually think the biggest threat to Materiality is Frosted, who should be grinding away at the leaders down the stretch, and I will play him in an exacta with Materiality.”

Mitch Schuman, 10-time NHC qualifier

“I think American Pharoah is the most likely Triple Crown candidate in recent years. He is the fastest horse here, and to paraphrase Damon Runyon, the race doesn’t always go to the swift, but that’s the way to bet. However, at 3-5, I think even Runyon would blanch. I will be looking for the most likely candidate to beat Pharoah, hopefully one that offers some value. The Belmont is usually won on the front end, and Pharoah seems to have that by himself. I guess Materiality can go out with him, but then the stretch becomes a contest between the horse that is going three times in five weeks against the horse with no 2-year-old foundation. At 6-1, Materiality doesn’t seem to be much of a bargain. Frosted, my Derby pick, will have to run up closer than usual, like he did in the Remsen last year, but that figures to dull his stretch run, and he is an even less attractive 5-1. None of the others really interest me. The wise thing to do is don’t bet the race and just enjoy the sport of it, but I’ll probably key Frosted in all positions in a tri and hope to profit if American Pharoah has a bad day.”

Rich Goodall, 2008 NHC champion

“I almost always try to find a reason to beat the favorite. But not in the Belmont this Saturday. American Pharoah towers over this bunch. Twelve straight Triple Crown failed attempts, three tough races in five weeks, the 1 1/2-mile distance, Frosted’s closing ability, Materiality’s speed – the heck with all of that; I want to see at least one more Triple Crown winner. American Pharoah – this is it.”