Do Kentucky Derby and Preakness Wins Translate to Belmont Success?

Do Kentucky Derby and Preakness Wins Translate to Belmont Success? article feature image

Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Horses at the starting gate of the 2017 Belmont Stakes

The Highlights

  • The Belmont Stakes, the longest of the Triple Crown races, is Saturday.
  • Justify is the favorite after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
  • We look at whether wins at shorter races, such as the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, lead to success at the longer Belmont.

The 150th Belmont Stakes takes place Saturday (6:37 p.m. ET) at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Justify, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, is a 4-5 favorite to become the 13th Triple Crown winner.


Justify is unbeaten in his five lifetime starts but faces his biggest challenge yet. The 1.5-mile (12 furlongs) track at Belmont will be the longest Justify and his competitors have ever run. Belmont is nicknamed the “Test of the Champion” because it challenges a horse’s stamina and speed. The distance is considerably longer than the Derby and Preakness that are run at 10 and 9.5 furlongs, respectively.

Few horses race 12 furlongs these days. There is little evidence that horses are capable of winning at both the shorter (first two legs of the Triple Crown) and longer distances (Belmont Stakes):

From 1926-1979, horses that won either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness (but not both) combined to win the Belmont 21.2% of the time. Over that same span, half the horses attempting to complete the Triple Crown did so. A horse that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown was more likely to win the Belmont than a horse that won either the Derby or Preakness.

However, since 1979 the horses that won either the Derby or Preakness have gone on to win the Belmont 14.0% of the time, and only one of 14 (7.1%) attempts at Triple Crown history has been successful.

Recent history has shown that winning the Derby, Preakness or both could put a horse at a disadvantage. One explanation is fatigue. The Action Network’s Paul Lo Duca pointed out that horses with tired legs have not fared well at Belmont the last few years. Another reason could be that a horse capable of winning the Derby and Preakness is better suited for shorter tracks and doesn’t have the stamina to conquer Belmont.

On Saturday we will find out if Justify can win the third leg of the Triple Crown. For my money, I’m betting the chalk, even at short odds and with history against the colt.

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