In Saturday’s 147th running of the Belmont Stakes, I will be betting on a colt named Materiality.
This does not mean I think he is a better racehorse than Triple-Crown hopeful American Pharoah. He most likely is not. It simply means that I think the gambling public will underestimate his chances of upsetting Pharoah on this day.
The math looks like this: Belmont Park officials forecast Pharoah will go off at odds of 3-5 while Materiality will be 6-1. Those prices spit out implied win probabilities -- after factoring in the track’s cut -- of 53 percent and 12 percent, respectively. In my own fair odds estimate, those numbers would look something more like 43 percent for Pharoah and 22 percent for Materiality.
Combined, that’s a 20-percentage point gap between market prices and my true-value calculations. For any gambler worth his salt, that’s a huge green light to go ahead and bet the undervalued horse. So I will.
Here’s a breakdown of the full Belmont field. Runners are listed by post position. Odds are the racetrack’s estimate of how the public will bet.
-No. 1 Mubtaahij (10-1) -- I was underwhelmed by his effort in the Kentucky Derby. He made the same basic mechanical mistakes that he had in his previous races, and his daily workouts at Belmont since then have gotten mediocre reviews. If he were 20-1, maybe I’d dabble, but not at this price.
-No. 2 Tale of Verve (15-1) -- This colt’s trainer, Dallas Stewart, is cut from the same cloth as the men in charge of numbers 4 and 7 (Nick Zito and Dale Romans): Dreamers who ambitiously place their horses in America’s biggest races. All three have pulled off shocking upsets over the years but have more often seen their charges go down in lopsided defeats. Tale of Verve is a classic case. He finished second behind Pharoah -- albeit a distant-second -- at odds of 28-1 in the Preakness Stakes. Could he duplicate that effort on Saturday? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
-No. 3 Madefromlucky (12-1) -- This horse has the right running style for the Belmont’s marathon 1 1/2-mile distance: He’s a one-paced sort who has no real burst of speed but just keeps grinding away. I can’t knock anyone for taking a shot on him at this kind of a price.
-No. 4 Frammento (30-1) -- He was in over his head in the Kentucky Derby and he is again here. For those looking for reasons to bet him, though, note that Zito has spoiled two Triple Crown bids in the past 11 years, knocking off Smarty Jones in 2004 and Big Brown four years later. Both times, his horses paid over 30-1.
-No. 5 American Pharoah (3-5) -- The big horse. He has all the tools. Questions are, especially for those inclined to back him at such prohibitive odds: Will he handle Belmont’s deep sandy surface (There’s something about the way he spun his wheels a bit over a very dry track on Derby day that suggests he might not)? Will the wear and tear of four races in eight weeks catch up to him late in the stretch? Will his jockey Victor Espinoza keep him out of trouble? If the answers to those questions are yes-no-yes, then the Triple Crown drought will end late Saturday afternoon.
-No. 6 Frosted (5-1) -- A very talented, well-bred colt that ran big in the Derby to get up for fourth place despite getting caught wide on the turns. And by all accounts, he’s been training great here in New York. Dangerous horse.
-No. 7 Keen Ice (20-1) -- He stumbled into some traffic in the Derby that slowed him down a bit, and that’ll lure some bettors to him in the Belmont. I won’t be one of them.
-No. 8 Materiality (6-1) -- He’s fast, he’s rested and he’s much more seasoned now after getting bounced around early in the Derby (he surged by 11 horses in the stretch that day to finish sixth). Now some touts spotted flaws in his final major workout last week, but they’re nitpicking. To my eye, it looked good. And when I asked his trainer Todd Pletcher what he made of the chatter, he was unmoved: “I wouldn’t listen to any of that.” This is where I’m putting my money.
(David Papadopoulos, managing editor for the Americas editing hub at Bloomberg News, has been following thoroughbred racing for more than two decades and was runner-up in 2008 Eclipse Award voting for feature writing on the sport.)