06/02/2005 11:00PM

Belmont distance is the chaos factor


LEXINGTON, Ky. - One of the first issues a handicapper should consider as he begins to study a race is whether the outcome of the race is more likely to be predictable or random and chaotic.

Handicappers who are trying to get a feel for how the 2005 Belmont will play out probably should not look to the Kentucky Derby as a model for that decision. The Kentucky Derby typically is the most chaotic of the three jewels of the Triple Crown. The large fields increase the likelihood that a number of the front-runners will go too fast too soon and set the race up for the closers who have the best trip but are not necessarily the most talented runners in the field. That was the case this year, and nearly everyone underestimated how chaotic the result would be.

Although Afleet Alex suffered through a very rough trip in the Preakness when he stumbled badly after clipping the heels of Scrappy T, the outcome of the race was much more formful than the Derby result, with Afleet Alex overcoming adversity to win impressively.

Will the Belmont be as predictable the Preakness? The handicapping factor that is most likely to produce a chaotic result is the 1 1/2-mile distance. Since none of the horses in the race has gone that far yet, that is clearly a potential source for chaos, as is the possibility that some jockeys will misjudge the pace if it turns out to be unusually fast or slow.

Even so, I still believe that Afleet Alex is the horse to beat. He earned a 112 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby despite the rough trip, and that number is backed by the 108 he earned in the Arkansas Derby and the 106 he earned while sprinting at Oaklawn in his first start as a 3-year-old. If not for a premature move into contention vs. the swift Derby pace, which diluted his late kick, Afleet Alex might have won that race as well and would now be trying to win the Triple Crown. If he receives a sensible ride in relation to the pace of the race, the added distance shouldn't be a problem.

Afleet Alex won't offer a win price high enough to justify a bet in that pool, but there may still be an opportunity to capitalize in the exotics. As of Friday morning, it was not certain whether Scrappy T would compete in the Belmont. For the sake of obtaining betting value by betting against him, I hope he does. If he runs, Scrappy T will be hammered down to underlaid odds in the bottom slot of the exacta and in the other exotic pools, largely because of his two consecutive Beyers of 102 or better and because he is following a second-place finish behind Afleet Alex in the Preakness.

The catch is that Scrappy T lost ground from midstretch to the finish in each of his last nine races, all at shorter distances. Based on that trend and the way he was outkicked late during the Preakness, he seems unlikely to relish the Belmont trip. If he fades down the stretch, the door will be open for some square prices in the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta.

Giacomo figures to like the 1 1/2-mile distance and might very well rally into the exotics, but he, too, is unlikely to offer betting value. I believe the key to betting the Belmont will be to use Afleet Alex on top, include Giacomo on about half of your exotics tickets in the minor slots, and then find the right horse or horses to add to that pair at attractive odds in the trifecta. You could also play some tickets that will try to beat Giacomo, just in case his mild Beyers aren't quite good enough to enable him to perform to expectations.

I want to wait to see the how the field actually shapes up before making a final decision on who those longshots will be and will suggest specific bets in my analysis of the Belmont that will run in the paper on the day of the race.