06/18/2014 12:00PM

Jerardi: Figuring the Belmont Stakes

Justin N. Lane
Tonalist, being chased by California Chrome, on his way to winning the Belmont Stakes. He received a Beyer Speed Figure of 100.

The Belmont Park main track was playing extremely fast the day before the great Belmont Stakes card. On Belmont Day, it was as fast until the seventh race. It slowed down a bit before another Palace Malice tour de force in the Metropolitan Handicap. The surface slowed down more for the Belmont itself and the 13th race, an optional claimer.

That is why Norumbega’s winning time (2:27.13) in the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn Handicap was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure (101) just one point higher than Tonalist’s figure (100) in the Belmont Stakes, when he ran the same distance in 2:28.52.

On the Beyer scale, those two races are actually 9 points (or 1.3 seconds at the distance) apart. But the track slowed down 8 points (1.2 seconds) by the time the Belmont and the 13th race were run.

The winner of the 13th race on Belmont Day was assigned a figure of 94. The second horse, Quick Money, got a 93. Quick Money came back to confirm that figure with a 92 when he won five days later in a similar spot.

This Triple Crown was definitely a fascinating figure-making challenge because only the Preakness was uncomplicated. It also was a fascinating look at how we all analyze Triple Crown races. Or overanalyze.

Regarding California Chrome, I had not felt as strongly about a Derby horse in six years, and for the same reason. Big Brown towered over his group on the figures. So did California Chrome.

Since Giacomo and Mine That Bird, we all tend to search for every clue, no matter how minute or irrelevant. I understand that, but I choose to ignore it. I still insist on looking at the Derby and the Preakness as horse races.

Given what went down in the Belmont Stakes (again), I must admit that my confidence in looking at American racing’s anachronistic marathon as a horse race has been shaken.

I suggested two weeks ago that everybody not be bound by recent history and just look at the 2014 Belmont Stakes as a horse race on June 7 and not as a referendum on what went down with Spectacular Bid, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Smarty Jones, and the others who won the first two legs and looked so much better on paper than their competition.

Even as those four horses all lost during this epic 36-year drought, I think you could make a pretty good case that because of other events, before and during the races, they were all the best horse on the day but just did not win. I do not think the three races in five weeks beat any of them.

My thinking was that one day the best horse would get the best situation, a little luck, and the drought would end in style. I thought California Chrome had the ideal setup – undistinguished opponents, inside post, no other early speed, a dazzling pre-Belmont workout and a dream temperament.

Then, California Chrome broke awkwardly and got stepped on right at the start. Victor Espinoza said he planned on using his colt’s inherent tactical advantage by taking the lead, but he backed off because the colt did not feel right.

We will never know what might have happened if California Chrome had broken well and cleared the field. Obviously, it would not have been difficult. If Commissioner ended up in front, it would have been almost impossible for California Chrome not to have been in front.

The surface was slowing down, but the fractions were moderate even for the speed at that stage of the card. When you watch videos of California Chrome’s early races, it was clear he was never comfortable inside or behind horses. I was never confident in the colt’s chances once the field hit the first turn.

Still, when he swung outside for room on the far turn, I thought for a second he still might have enough. My guess is that the reason he did not finish well was some combination of the uncomfortable trip, the third race in five weeks against fresher horses, the cut on the foot, and who knows what else? There is no way to quantify what the cut meant, but I think we can all agree it was not a performance enhancer.

Given that Chrome was beaten by 1 3/4 lengths, Commissioner nearly won, and it took only a 100 Beyer to win, I have to think a loose-on-the-lead, sans-cut California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown.

We will never know, but that is what I will always believe.

Why does something keep happening in the Belmont Stakes? Now, that is a more esoteric question.

Are there actually racing gods waiting for a horse they consider worthy of joining War Admiral, Count Fleet, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed?

Certainly, Spectacular Bid and Smarty Jones were worthy. The former was one of the greatest horses in history. The latter was unbeaten and crushed opponents’ spirits.

Still, the answer was no.

Perhaps there is some unknown, all-powerful force deciding the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line. Whatever it is, I definitely do not understand it.

Ted Maher More than 1 year ago
Can't people just accept the fact that the winner was better that day at that distance. He was the fresh horse who had won the Peter Pan over the track. And he was bred for and was getting that distance, whereas Chrome could not get the distance. Nothing else was that significant. Why does there always have to be an excuse or speculation of what would have been? At the end of the day the best horse in the race wins nearly all the time, and the winner was clearly the best. He was going on at the end, despite the fact that he ran sixty three feet farther than any other horse according to trackus. Love the last sentence about the "unknown, all powerful force". Nice.
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
The horse most worthy of the Triple Crown since Affirmed is Afleet Alex. He ran 3rd missing just a length in the Derby, then smoked his opposition in both the Preakness and Belmont easily.
Starks43 More than 1 year ago
Agree completely. He is forgotten when comes to these discussions.
Paul Mitchell More than 1 year ago
Point Given.
jeff richardson More than 1 year ago
Rider/trainer error cost Chrome, Smarty and Funny Cide and Real Quiet. It was not that they were not good enough. Chrome's connections messed up by working him between the Preakness and Belmont. He was clearly a tired colt after the Preakness and did not need a work in between. That work zapped his dwindling energy and left him short in deep stretch at Belmont, not to mention he should have been on the lead. Smarty and Funny Cide were both needlessly hard driven through the stretch in the Preakness to blow out their rivals. Both were whipped nearly to the wire, when they should have been eased up and galloped under the wire saving something for the Belmont. Real Quiet made a move that was ill timed and premature by 1/16th of a mile or else he wins the Crown.
prose More than 1 year ago
But WHY do all these errors take place after (or during) the Preakness, manifesting themselves in a loss in the Belmont? One would think the connections of the horse knew what they were doing to have won two-thirds of the Triple Crown? It's pretty unreal that no horse can ever do it and probably never will again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Conclusion: Chrome lost, wasn't good enough. Conclusion: Another batch of slow 3yo.....
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
I agree that Chrome wasn't good enough to win the Belmont, but how does that lead you to conclude the batch of 3 year olds are slow. I strongly disagree.
mike More than 1 year ago
Yeah right! That's what I've heard for the past five yrs that they're slow.
Lefty More than 1 year ago
I have to think a loose-on-the-lead, sans-cut California Chrome wins the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown. I don't think that would have been the case. Tonalist had a burst of speed at the end and would have overcome whoever was on the lead. I really believe it. Now, I will wait for next year with great anticipation!
dameian ramsay More than 1 year ago
Ezpinoza lost that race.he's supposed to b a top notch jockey . I'm sorry if I was the owner I would of called up gary Stevens for the Belmont. Gary Stevens is big race money rider not Victor
mike More than 1 year ago
No way! Not Stevens!
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
Hahaha , I offer you the best explanation of why you don't understand Jerardi and you trash it . If it was silly you should have printed it so I could be ridiculed. Apparently you know what I said was true so you acted like the shill that you are and censored it . Joker.
John Stevelberg More than 1 year ago
Trying to understand your article almost two weeks after the event that seemed to meander all over the place. At the conclusion you confirmed my comment by stating "I definitely do not understand it". Perhaps you should delve deeper and at least give us your "understanding" of the topic you are writing about.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
"Regarding California Chrome, I had not felt as strongly about a Derby horse in six years, and for the same reason. Big Brown towered over his group on the figures. So did California Chrome." My figures had Tonalist first and Comissioner second...Chrome figured no better than 4th. What was really surprising is how fast the "dead heat" for that 4th slot was decided, which generally take at least 10 minutes to adjudicate. Yes...my figures gave me the winner, the exacta, and the trifecta. Because I threw Chrome totally out, I didn't cash the superfecta...but I ain't complaining...
dameian ramsay More than 1 year ago
I felt confident too but after I saw how he rode the 5 horse on the first 1 1/2 mile race I knew he wouldn't win and the way Rosario rode that race that's when I decided to bet Rosario and commissioner plus I loved their pedigree also.
dameian ramsay More than 1 year ago
I cashed the win and exacta .missed tri and super. I went 11/2,8/2,8 tri for $6 and $2 exacta. Then I went 1/2,8/2,8/4,56,7,9 $.10 cents super thirty times
Hail No More than 1 year ago
I congratulated you on other threads, it was a very interesting read how you came up with your pace figs,. chrome got a heater with WS because VE did stop riding him and that actually allowed the heater, there are invariables that figures just can't qualify. The stomp on his quarter didn't help, either, but a win is a win, good stuff.
Arnold More than 1 year ago
Perhaps you have failed to analyze the role of pace in this instance. An analysis of Triple Crown winners Belmonts indexed to 100 reveals that only one Triple Crown winner won (Assault 1946) when the pace of the race at 1 1/4 miles was faster than the final time. In that race the pace was 105, however, the pace for Assault was 101. In other words no Triple Crown winners peak speed was achieved until the finish. Peak speed for the 2014 Belmont was achieved at 1 1/4 miles where it was 102 for Commissioner and 98 for Tonalist. Apparently Victor Espinoza did not do his homework. Steve Cauthen said that his main concern was to control and slow down the early pace. Indexing reveals that Affirmed's early pace was the slowest by far of any other Triple Crown winner. Other jockeys cautioned about the need to save ground on Belmonts wide turns and according to reports Chrome raced significantly outside of Tonalist. Given that being a width wider than the horse to your inside costs you a length one has to consider how much ground Chrome yielded because he lacked a tactical position inside of Chrome. Off the top of my head I would say that Chrome would have won had Tonalist been outside and Chrome inside. However, if Chrome was all out at 1 1/4 mile point he probably would have failed because of what I said earlier about peak speed. The comparison between Norumbega and Tonalist in respect to final time fails to recognize the role of pace. Indexed, Norumbega's pace at 1 1/4 was 92 whereas it was 102 for Tonalist. This means that Tonalist speed was 5 lengths faster indicating that much more energy was expended by Tonalist. Norumbega's pace was slow early and fast late, the easiest way to achieve a higher final time. The most flagrant example of peak speed being reached before the final call is that of Smarty Jones whose peak speed was 112 at 1 1/4 call. Given that the pace is indexed, the winning speed was/ is 100 and this means that final time was seven lengths slower or that Smarty Jones faded by seven lengths in the stretch. Remember that the foregoing is a pace analysis which is not an analysis based upon linear time. Arnold
wally More than 1 year ago
Hindsight is very entertaining
wally More than 1 year ago
Strange things do happen , even in horse racing
jim lefferts More than 1 year ago
Excellent insight. If you are talking about true speed though you need to recognize that Tonalist ran faster than Commissioner nearly the whole race. At the the 1 mile call Commissioner was timed in 1:37.33 and had run 5340ft. Tonalist was timed in 1:37.40 but had run 5382ft. Tonalist had run 55.82fps at that point to Commissioner's 54.86fps. Tonalist ran a faster pace. Norumbega at a mile had run a pace of only 54.51fps, much slower than Tonalist.