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June 11, 2022, 10:17 a.m. EDT

Betting on the Belmont Stakes? Here are 8 tips for picking winners from the handicapping experts

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By Charles Passy

This year’s running of the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, will see the return of Rich Strike, the 80-1 surprise winner of the Kentucky Derby, the first contest in the fabled series.

The horse, trained by Eric Reed, was not run in the Preakness, the second leg — a rare decision that negated the possibility of Triple Crown glory. But that has raised expectations of what might happen during the Belmont Stakes, which is scheduled to take place at 6:44 p.m. E.T. at New York’s Belmont Park. (NBC will carry the event live.)

Certainly, Rich Strike will have some serious competition in the eight-horse field. The early favorite is actually We The People, a horse that has won three of its four races to date.

As I get ready to make a wager, I think back to the first time I visited a racetrack. My dad took me to Belmont Park when I was about 12 years old. Even then, I sensed every bettor has a “system” — that is, a methodology to guarantee a winning day.

And on that first visit, I learned about my father’s system — a simple strategy that called for placing a show wager on the favorite, meaning if our pick came in first, second or third, we were in line for a payout. It seemed a surefire plan: How could the top horse fail to eke out at least a third-place finish?

Naturally, we lost our shirts.

In the decades since that visit, I’ve employed many other systems when I’ve bet on horses. And yet, I can count on one hand — actually, on two fingers — the number of times I’ve made money over the course of a day. Clearly, this handicapping business isn’t for amateurs.

But there are professional handicappers, as in people who earn their living playing the ponies. And if you ask them for advice, as I’ve done, they’ll gladly share some of the tricks of the trade.

Betting brings no guarantees, but keep these eight tips in mind when placing your bets for this year’s Belmont Stakes — or any races down the road.

Buy the horse racing bible (and read it thoroughly)

Investors have their go-to sources for information (including, ahem, this website). And so do horseplayers — namely, the  Daily Racing Form .

What makes the Form so invaluable is all the information it offers on every horse in every race, including past performances, pedigree and the jockeys in charge. These facts and figures (and I’ll soon go into detail about some of them) constitute the basis for how every professional — and many a smart amateur — handicaps a race. Some handicappers will devote an hour going over the Form for each race.

Understand that pace makes the race

If there’s a single factor that handicappers say shapes their view of how a race will play out, it’s the pacing. When a race appears to be dominated by speed horses that are known to rush to the front, a horse that usually hangs back may have a decided advantage. (The theory is that the speed horses will tire each other out by the time they reach the stretch.) Conversely, when a race has lots of “closers,” a speed horse may be the best bet. (The theory is that while the closers are waiting to make their move, the speed horse will have already opened up an unbeatable gap.)

But how can a bettor determine the likely pace of the race? It’s about carefully reading the Form, which not only shows how horses have finished in their previous races, it also shows where they ranked at each stage (beginning, middle and end, plus other points in between) of those races.

Be a value investor (er, bettor)

For handicappers, it’s not necessarily a matter of betting on the horse that’s “best.” Rather, it’s about betting on horses that are a good value — the racing equivalent of Warren Buffett’s celebrated value-minded approach to investing. Handicappers are hesitant to bet on favorites because they typically go off at low odds (and they win only about a third of the time), so the risk-and-reward equation is not an enticing one. Nor do handicappers necessarily like long shots: What good is placing a 50-1 bet if there’s really no chance the horse will win?

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