- Jeremy Plonk, Horse
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Not since Whirlaway in 1941 has Thoroughbred racing witnessed such a domination of the opening two legs of its Triple Crown. The Big Brown express, which has rolled through Louisville and Baltimore in commanding style, now chugs along just one destination away from immortality: New York.
The historical barometers for Big Brown's Belmont Stakes are mixed. Much of that won't matter once the gates spring open. Many say a horserace is a horserace and stands alone on today's evaluation of talent, not yesterday's results. But this is, after all, a game not only rooted in opinions, but one-hundred percent fueled by them at the betting windows.
Big Brown Blowouts
In winning the Kentucky Derby by 4-1/4 lengths and the Preakness by 5-3/4, Big Brown became just the fifth horse in history to win those races by a combined margin of 10 lengths or more, joining Smarty Jones (14-1/4 combined lengths), Whirlaway (13-1/2), Funny Cide (11-1/2) and Count Fleet (11). But only Big Brown and Whirlaway were able to win both races each by 4-1/4 lengths or more. Whirlaway romped by 8 lengths in the '41 Derby and 5-1/2 in the Preakness.
Of the nine most dominant winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness (by cumulative margin), six went on to annex the Triple Crown. Spectacular Bid, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones failed to finish the deal after commanding starts to the series. But the six dominant winners to sweep were all before 1949. So, if you want to spin things more modern, horses to win the Derby and Preakness by 7 or more combined lengths since 1948 are 0-for-3 in the Belmont.
And, In This Corner ...
The number that might matter most on Belmont Stakes Day could very well be the total number of entrants. Note that none of the 11 horses to sweep the Triple Crown have ever bested more than 7 rivals at the Belmont Stakes. And, none of those 11 ever toppled more than 32 total rivals in the entire Triple Crown series.
Affirmed beat a grand total of 20 competitors in his 1978 Triple Crown coronation. By contrast, Big Brown already has shrugged away 30 challengers in the Derby (19) and Preakness (11).
Since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown, 10 aspirants to the throne (11 including Big Brown) have come calling at the Belmont. During that time, the average number of Belmont challengers has been 8.5. The 11 Triple Crown winners faced just 48 challengers combined or 4.7 per race.
Of the 29 all-time Triple Crown-bid-Belmonts, 22 have seen 9 or less horses in the starting gate.
Early in the recruitment stage, the potential Belmont field looks something like this: Big Brown, Casino Drive, Tale of Ekati, Anak Nakal, Denis of Cork, Macho Again, Icabad Crane and Tomcito.
It's quite plausible Big Brown's Belmont Stakes odds will actually increase after going off at 20 cents on the dollar in the Preakness, due to the presence of unbeaten Japanese X-factor Casino Drive. The only Triple Crown winners to go to post at 20 cents on the dollar or less were Count Fleet (.20), Secretariat (.10) and Count Fleet (.05).
Depending on the field size, Big Brown should close in odds in the Smarty Jones (.35) and Spectacular Bid (.30) neighborhood. Rest assured, he won't be even-money or greater as were recent Triple Crown aspirants Funny Cide (1.00), War Emblem (1.25) and Charismatic (1.60).
Of the 29 horses all-time to reach the Belmont with a chance at history, 23 have been bet down to even-money or less.
Much was made about Big Brown becoming the first Kentucky Derby winner since Regret in 1915 with only three prior career starts. He comes to Belmont with five races under his belt, which is even light by modern standards of Triple Crown hopefuls. Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones all had eight races under their belts – the least amount of any Triple Crown hopefuls since Affirmed's sweep.
But note that likely Belmont opponents Casino Drive (two) and Denis of Cork (four) are even more lightly raced, and they very likely could go off second and third choices in the wagering. You're only as lightly raced as your competition; that's the modern day battle cry.
Where Art Thou Spoiler?
Ten times since Affirmed the Triple Crown has been spoiled at Belmont. And, the role of the spoiler has been worn by horses of many different hats.
Three Belmont spoilers were complete newcomers to the Triple Crown trail: Coastal over Spectacular Bid, Summing over Pleasant Colony and Sarava over War Emblem.
Three Belmont spoilers were beaten in both the Derby and Preakness and found the third time to be the charm: Victory Gallop over Real Quiet; Easy Goer over Sunday Silence; and Bet Twice over Alysheba.
Two Belmont spoilers were horses who ran in the Derby, but skipped the Preakness and awaited the final leg of the series: Birdstone over Smarty Jones and Empire Maker over Funny Cide.
One Belmont spoiler was beaten in the Derby, came back to prep in-between elsewhere than the Preakness, and returned to the series victorious: Lemon Drop Kid over Charismatic.
One Belmont spoiler jumped into the Triple Crown fray in the Preakness (skipping the Derby): Touch Gold over Silver Charm.
A Hand for the Fans
The fans have been honed in on Big Brown -- rightly so -- sending him away as the betting choice in both the Derby and Preakness. In the past 30 years, the only times the fans have nailed both the Derby and Preakness winner have been with Big Brown, Smarty Jones and Spectacular Bid.
Jeremy Plonk has been an ESPN.com contributor since 2000 and a longtime researcher/statistician for the network's Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown coverage.
You can contact Jeremy about anything racing-related at Jeremy@horseplayerpro.com.
Many say a horserace is a horserace and stands alone on today's evaluation of talent, not yesterday's results. But this is, after all, a game not only rooted in opinions, but one-hundred percent fueled by them at the betting windows.