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Handicapping the 2012 Belmont Stakes

By Liam Durbin, Special to The Baltimore Sun

10:16 AM EDT, June 9, 2012

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The absence of Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another opens up the 2012 Belmont Stakes from a wagering perspective. Dullahan and Union Rags are likely to be co-favorites, with Dullahan possibly taking slightly more wagering. The Union Rags faithful still believe he is one of the top horses in the country despite back-to-back disappointments in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. He did take one of the worst trips in the Derby and ran very well once he found room. Dullahan was moving the best at the end of the Derby, finishing a strong third. He turned in a similar strong closing finish in the Blue Grass. His racing style suggests he should love the distance, and the smaller field will give him a much better shot at a clean trip. The pace should be strong enough to set up his late run.

Beyond these two, the race is very wide open.

Optimizer has run in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but failed to hit the board in either one. His Preakness effort was decent, moving very well at the end to finish sixth. Clearly, his handlers saw something in both of his last two races to bring him to the Belmont. His breeding says he should get the distance as well as any of these.

Paynter gets very flattering morning line odds of 8:1 despite never having won a graded stakes race. He should be a part of the pace and will have to wire it to win. His performance on the Preakness undercard looks better than it really was, as he crushed a weak field of six in allowance company. With the scratch of the favorite, his odds will drop further and he becomes a toss-out candidate.

Of the long shots, Unstoppable U will be a popular wise guy bet because of his perfect two for two record. However, he has never raced beyond a mile and the Belmont distance is a tough one even for horse that has proven himself at nine furlongs or more.

The two co-favorites look solid but beatable. Given the Belmont's history of bringing home some long shots, it is certainly worth boxing bets and spreading wagers around.

With so many horses in the race stretching out significantly, the pace could be hotter than usual in the early going. For that reason, the horses with a late closing style will be the most advantaged. I will play Dullahan to win and box him with Union Rags, Optimizer, and Atigun in exacta and trifecta wagers. For value, play Optimizer across the board.