Contrary to popular belief, the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park does not give an advantage to deep closers.
The typically slow pace of the Belmont Stakes gives frontrunners and pressers/stalkers an advantage that is difficult for late runners to overcome. Since 2008 three horses (Da’ Tara, American Pharoah and Justify) have won the Belmont in gate-to-wire fashion, and four more winners (Ruler On Ice, Palace Malice, Tonalist and Tapwrit) stayed within three lengths of the lead at all times.
This is important to consider, because the 2019 Belmont Stakes is shaping up to be a slow-paced event. Among the nine possible starters as of May 31, only one has shown a recent tendency to race on the lead, while four starters (including one of the favorites) figure to be disadvantaged by rallying from off the pace.
Let’s sort the nine Belmont Stakes contenders into three categories based on running styles.
Joevia: After dueling for the lead and fading to cross the wire seventh in the Wood Memorial (G2), Joevia dropped in class for the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park and led from the start to prevail by 2 3/4 lengths. This longshot looms as the lone frontrunner in the Belmont field.
Intrepid Heart: A stumble at the start of the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) left Intrepid Heart racing off the pace, but in his previous two starts he’d shown more tactical speed. He won his debut in gate-to-wire fashion and employed stalking tactics to score an allowance victory at Keeneland.
Spinoff: A wide trip in a fast-paced race prevented Spinoff from seriously challenging for the lead in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but he previously utilized stalking tactics to secure a runner-up finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2).
Tax: He never really fired in the Kentucky Derby, but in his five starts leading up to the first Saturday in May, Tax was never farther back than third at any point of call.
War of Will: A frontrunning type on turf as a two-year-old, War of Will has improved since switching to dirt and employing stalking tactics. This combination culminated with a rail-skimming victory in the Preakness Stakes (G1), stamping him as the probable favorite for the Belmont Stakes.
Everfast: The Preakness runner-up has occasionally shown speed, but was 22 lengths off the pace early at Pimlico. Expect him to employ similar tactics in the Belmont.
Master Fencer: The Japanese hopeful has always been a one-run closer, which he demonstrated by rallying from 23 lengths behind to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby.
Sir Winston: In four starts this season, Sir Winston has raced a minimum of 5 3/4 lengths behind the early leaders, and he charged from more than 10 lengths back to finish second in the Peter Pan last time out.
Tacitus: The Wood Memorial winner has a bit more tactical speed than Everfast, Master Fencer and Sir Winston, but he’s still raced at least eight lengths off the pace in all three of his starts this season. Tacitus will be a short price in the wagering, but he may need to adjust his running style if he’s going to work out a winning trip in the Belmont Stakes.