Zerillo’s Belmont Stakes Day Betting Guide: Picks and Exotics for Every Race at Big Sandy (June 20)
Horsephotos, Getty Images.
- The 152nd running of the Belmont Stakes will take place Saturday afternoon at 5:42 p.m. ET (TV: NBC), and No. 8 Tiz The Law is the heavy favorite (6-5).
- There are, however, 10 more races throughout the day at Belmont Park, with Race 11 capping the schedule at 6:17 p.m. ET.
- Below you'll find Sean Zerillo's picks and exotics for all 11 races, including, of course, his strategy for betting The Belmont Stakes (Race 10).
Handicapping Saturday’s 12-race card for Belmont Stakes Day, in Elmont, New York, is about as bittersweet of a sports moment as I have had personally since going into lockdown back in mid-March.
Belmont Stakes Day is one of my favorite traditions — and Belmont Park is a place where I have been fortunate enough to witness history, twice, as American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018) completed their runs for the Triple Crown. The sound of the grandstand as American Pharoah pulled away down the stretch will stay with me forever.
The 2020 Belmont Stakes Day card isn’t as dense as it has been in previous years, in what has amounted to a mid-season Breeder’s Cup equivalent.
Last year, NYRA featured nine graded stakes races, including eight Grade 1 affairs, whereas the 2020 edition only features six graded stakes races, including four Grade 1 events.
My single favorite stakes race, the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile, was moved to the July 4 Belmont card, along with the Manhattan Stakes (G-1), which typically precedes the Belmont Stakes.
Saturday’s racing at Belmont Park goes to post at 11:45 a.m. ET – which starts the early $0.50 Pick 5.
Here are the other vital multi-race sequences on the card:
- Race 2, 12:25 p.m ET ($0.50 Pick 4)
- Race 5, 2:19 p.m. ET ($0.20 Empire Pick 6)
- Race 6, 3:01 p.m. ET (Mandatory Payout Pick 5)
- Race 7, 3:39 p.m. ET ($0.50 Pick 4)
- Race 8, 4:15 p.m. ET ($0.50 Late Pick 5)
- Race 9, 4:53 p.m. ET ($0.50 Late Pick 4)
As a result, I will primarily focus on the Middle Pick 5 (and consequently the Middle Pick 4), which has the mandatory payout, contains four graded stakes races, and concludes with three Grade 1 races, ending with the Belmont Stakes.
The weather is humid, but Saturday’s forecast generally looks clear for Belmont Park, so track conditions should remain fast throughout the day.
Grab a cigar, and make yourself a Belmont Jewel and a charcuterie board; we’ve got a great day of racing ahead.
Time: 11:45 a.m. ET
I’m typically stuck waiting in the security line, discreetly sneaking in alcohol while simultaneously trying to fire my early Pick 5 into a mobile app on Belmont Stakes day; which gives me an excellent excuse to skip this maiden race (meaning, for horses who have never won before) now that I’m stuck watching at home.
If you do insist on playing the race, however, note that Chad Brown debuts two runners on the turf with his coupled entry, and you need to use the No. 1 Conglomerate / No. 1A Traffic Pattern (7-2) in multi-race wagers; Brown wins at a 25% rate with first-time turf runners.
I would also include the No. 8 Scanno (3-1), No. 9 Striking Speed (6-1) for trainer Linda Rice – who wins at a 26% rate in her second start with maidens, and the No. 10 Souper Energizer (8-1) for trainer Michael Trombetta (18% win rate in maiden claimers) on early multi-race tickets.
Picks: 9, over 1A, 10, 8
Race 2 (Woody Stephens Stakes – G1)
Time: 12:25 p.m. ET
It’s sporadic to find a Grade 1 stakes race so early in the day, and although this is a small field with five horses, it is an extremely competitive race – and I could see any of the five horses winning.
My preferred options are the No. 3 Mischievous Alex (5-2) and No. 4 Echo Town (9-5), but the No. 5 Shoplifted (8-1) should get a fast pace to allow him to come running late on the cutback in distance.
Echo Town and the No. 1 No Parole (3-1) should engage in an early pace duel, with Mishievious Alex and the No. 2 Meru (5-2) not too far behind, so if the race falls apart, this could set up correctly for Shoplifted to come running late.
I’ll key on the 3 and 4 in multi-race wagers, but I might play one ticket using the entire five-horse field.
Picks: 3, over 4, 5, 2
Time: 1:02 p.m. ET
It’s lunchtime. I realize that I forgot to get all of the necessary equipment for the private barbecue area that I rented out, so I head over to the group next to us and trade some race tips for half a bag of charcoal.
I inform the group that I might have a couple of winners, and a chalky Daily Double to play for the next two races, starting with the No. 6 Indian Pride (1-1) who makes her first start since September for Chad Brown; winning at a 29% clip off of long layoffs.
The No. 7 Mrs. Danvers (9-5) is also a significant threat but is coming off of a more extended layoff, and trainer Shug McGaughey has less success (14% win rate) than Brown after long breaks – so the horse may need the race.
Brown’s other runner, the No. 1 Palomita (5-1) makes her third start of the year, and first since March, but I’m more inclined to use the No. 5 Forever Changed (8-1) as a backup option with the 7; trainer Charlton Baker wins 20% of the time at the allowance level and has a 26% success rate after long layoffs.
Picks: 6 over 1, 5, 7
Race 4 (Penning Ridge Stakes – G2)
Time: 1:42 p.m. ET
To complete our chalky daily double, I like the No. 1 Decorated Invader (6-5) in this one-mile, Grade-2 turf race, after running an 88 Beyer speed figure in his first start of the season on March 28.
The No. 2 Venezuelan Hug (6-1) has been working well for trainer Danny Gargan, and the No. 3 Proven Strategies (3-1) owns the highest last-out speed figure (89) in the field, and I would consider using both horses as “B” options – but in a Daily Double, I would single both favorites in Races 3 and 4.
Picks: 1, over 3, 2, 4
Time: 2:19 p.m. ET
Race 5 is my least favorite of the day, which means that I’ll head out to the backyard at Belmont, light up my cigar, grab some snacks from a food truck, and take one long, last look over my Middle Pick 5 and Middle Pick 4 wagers; beginning in Race 6.
To close out early multi-race tickets, I would look to spread in this seven-furlong maiden race, primarily using the No 1 Mutakaamil (4-1) for Chad Brown (27% win rate in maiden special weights); No. 8 Happy Saver (3-1) for Todd Pletcher (22% win rate), and No. 7 Rare Stripe (2-1) for Jack Sisterson (18%) after a bullet workout (1st of 97 horses) on June 13.
But I would be remiss to leave off the No. 5 The Angry Man (8-1) and No. 6 Shadow Boat (8-1), for relatively high-percentage maiden trainers, and I will not let the No. 2 O’Trouble (7-2) beat me everywhere if I’m already spreading somewhere.
Picks: 7 over 1, 8, 2
Race 6 (Wonder Again Stakes – G3)
Time: 3:01 p.m. ET
We now enter the central part of Saturday’s card, as Race 6 begins the Mandatory payout $0.50 Pick 5, which concludes with the Belmont Stakes in Race 10.
The No. 2 Sweet Melania (7-5), a daughter of American Pharoah, is a deserving favorite and could beat this field easily from a tactical spot behind what looks like a minimal pace. While you certainly have to include her, I’ll use one alternative.
The No. 5 Selflessly (5-2) for Chad Brown would be the other obvious choice – in her first start back after winning a Grade-2 race as a maiden last September. To reiterate, Brown wins at a 29% rate when he brings horses back after a long layoff – the same rate as Pletcher – but he also has a 25% win rate in graded stakes races, compared to 9% (15-for-167) for Pletcher.
The No. 1 Speaktomeofsummer (8-1), No. 3 Highland Glory (2-1) could come running late, but I’m not sure if they will get the right setup. And the No. 4 Antoinette (6-1) is moving from dirt to turf, a move which has only worked 10% of the time (six for 63) for Bill Mott’s barn.
Picks: 5, over 2, 3, 1
Time: 3:39 p.m. ET
This seven-furlong allowance race on the turf is my second least-favorite race on the card, but since it is part of the primary multi-race sequences, we should look to spread, move on, and narrow down our tickets in the stakes races.
I’m going to consider using the following horses: the No. 3 Single Verse (8-1), No. 4 Strongerthanuknow (5-1), No. 5 Winfred J (6-1), No. 6 Noble Jewel (8-1), No. 8 My Sassy Sarah (5-2), No. 10 Light in the Sky (12-1), No. 11 Canaraise Angel (12-1), and No. 12 Speightstown Gal (8-1).
The 4, 5, 6, 8, and 12 horses would be my “A” selections if I had to narrow this leg down to five runners, with the 3, 10 and 11 as “B” options, but I would have a difficult time cutting beyond that group.
Now is an excellent time to make your last run to the growing lines at the bathrooms and bars before the three Grade 1 races kick-off at 4:15 p.m.; so grab an extra drink or three to tide yourself over for two hours or more; the time it takes just to catch a train home may require a third beverage.
Picks: 12, over 8, 4, 6
Race 8 (Acorn Stakes – G1)
Time: 4:15 p.m. ET
Race 8 begins the late Pick 5 sequence, which includes the two races following the Belmont Stakes.
The No. 1 Gamine (1-1) figures to be one of the more heavily bet favorites of the day, as the current favorite for the 2020 Kentucky Oaks, but Bob Baffert’s barn has struggled with shipping horses to Belmont this meet, and she was nearly run down in the stretch; winning by just a neck at Oaklawn Park in her last start.
The No. 4 Casual (3-1), the only other horse in the field who has run a 90 Beyer speed figure, is my top selection. She has to extend out an extra furlong to one mile, while Gamine is cutting back from a mile and 1/16, which makes this an exciting match race.
However, the No. 2 Lucrezia (9-2) is another one to consider, after running a bullet work (1st of 40 runners) on June 13, and the No. 7 Perfect Alibi (5-1) should improve in her three-year-old season after winning multiple graded stakes as a two-year-old. Still, she needs to take a significant step up in speed figures (career-best 74) in her first start of the year.
Picks: 4, over 1, 2, 7
Race 9 (Jaipur Stakes – G1)
Time: 4:53 p.m. ET
Race 9 begins the late Pick 4 sequence, which includes the two races following the Belmont Stakes.
This six-furlong sprint on the inner-turf course features a competitive field of eight, and I would look to cut the group in half or even go up to five deep in multi-race wagering, using the No. 2 Oleksandra (7-2), No. 3 Texas Wedge (4-1) No. 4 Pure Sensation (5-2), No. 5 Stubbins (3-1), and No. 6 Hidden Scroll (8-1) on my tickets; but the 3 would be my final cut.
Picks: 5, over 2, 4, 6
Race 10: The Belmont Stakes
Time: 5:42 p.m. ET
If you’re in general admission, it’s time to scratch, claw and fight your way to find a good view; stand up on whatever you can find, without any regard to the people behind you – let’s get ready for the big race.
There is no Michael Buffer yelling “It’s Time” or “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” before the main event at Belmont Park – just Frank Sinatra belting out the final verses of “New York, New York.”
In a crowd, capped at 90,00, to witness American Pharoah make history, the drama and tension were palpable. But even when a Triple Crown isn’t on the line at Belmont, every word from ‘Ol Blue Eyes echos through your core; and sends that tingling taste of adrenaline up through your spine.
This Belmont Stakes is undoubtedly different than all the ones that have come before it – going off as the first race of the Triple Crown, at a shorter distance and with a one-turn configuration.
Ultimately, I’m not entirely trying against No. 8 Tiz The Law (6-5), a potential superstar. Still, I wasn’t overly impressed by his Florida Derby either, and think that he is much more vulnerable than a likely odds on favorite.
I’m certainly rooting for the New York-bred – who is is looking to become the first local horse to win the Belmont Stakes since Forrester did it back in 1882, but I think the most likely upset candidates are the No. 1 Tap It To win (6-1) who ran a 97 Beyer speed at Belmont 16 days ago, and could get loose on the lead – and the No. 9 Dr. Post (5-1) who has a 96-speed figure from his maiden score at Gulfstream Park in March, but only followed that up with an 86 in stakes win one month later.
Either or both of the late-running No. 2 Sole Volante (9-2) and the No. 10 Pneumatic (8-1), who has a stablemate rabbit in the No. 7 Jungle Runner (50-1) also entered in this field, could undoubtedly hit the board. Still, I don’t see enough pace in the race to allow either one to blow past the entire field.
I do plan to use Pneumatic and the No. 4 Modernist (15-1) in the second spot on my exacta and trifecta tickets, but Tap It To Win – who can use the long backstretch and one-turn configuration like a slingshot – is my lone “B” option on multi-race tickets.
Picks: 8, over 10, 1, 4
Time: 6:17 p.m. ET
If you end up playing the late Pick 4 or Late Pick 5 sequence or want to use Tiz The Law as a single to begin a Daily Double or late Pick 3, I can give you some multi-race options to close out those tickets. At the same time, we will wait for the crowds to empty and board the earlier, more crowded, and significantly drunker trains to various destinations around Long Island, New York City, and New Jersey.
I would go up to four deep in Race 11 – a nine-furlong optional claimer on the turf, including the No 2 Breaking the Rules (6-1), No. 3 Largent (5-2), No. 5 Argonne (12-1), and Chad Brown’s No. 9 Digital Age (3-1) – who won me some big money on last year’s Kentucky Derby Day card.
Never forget the ones that paid you.
Picks: 9, over 3, 2, 5
Options for Multi-Race Wagering
To recap, and for handicapping purposes, here are the horses that I will consider using in multi-race tickets, simply sorted as “A” and “B” options:
I generally do not play single-race exotics, except for major stakes races, and will likely only have some exacta, trifecta, and superfecta action on the Belmont Stakes itself.
Bets for Belmont Park, June 20
Stay tuned on Twitter for any last-minute adds or changes to the betting card.