2014 Belmont Stakes & Triple Crown: A guide for noobs

Michael Heiman

It's a long time until the Belmont. If you are new to the sport, here are some tips for navigating rough seas of horse racing coverage over the next three weeks.

The sport of horse racing is typically an afterthought with the mainstream sports media industry within the United Stakes. They'll breakout some coverage for the Derby and the Triple Crown when it helps draw some eyeballs, but the efforts tend to leave something to be desired. Since the next three weeks is sure to put us in "Over Hype, Build Up Hell", here are some tips for those of you unfamiliar with the sport of horse racing to help navigate through the garbage.

Enjoy the ride

While I'm not someone that believes a Triple Crown winner will "save" racing (it doesn't need to be saved, just moved forward), I am certainly hoping and wishing for our first sweep in three and a half decades.

Following this sport is supposed to be fun for the fan. Yeah, I want to make money, but I watch because I love the sport. Watching a colt complete the Triple Crown would be fantastic and something that I and many fans will always remember. I was too young to remember Seattle Slew and Affirmed, but I'm old enough to remember the oh-too-many failures at the Belmont the last 30+ years.

I want to see California Chrome win the Belmont. I hope California Chrome wins the Belmont.

Let's enjoy the ride and be thankful for the wonderful trip this Cal-bred colt has taken the sport the last few weeks.

95% of the media reports published over the next three weeks will come from people that know absolutely nothing about the sport of horse racing. Nothing.


Repeat that statement every time you read something about the Belmont, California Chrome, or the Triple Crown on [insert name of generic media organization].

They are covering the story because the Triple Crown moves the needle, otherwise they'll only make time for our sport when it's Derby week. They don't really care about the outcome, simply about the story and the eyeballs, and their coverage will reflect that very fact.

I'm sure ESPN will have some kind of PTI or First Take conversation about the Belmont, and it will be awful. Protect your eyes and ears and simply turn away. [With the exception of if you see Randy Moss on screen, then you should pay attention.]

If you want coverage from people with actual knowledge of the sport, visit places like the Daily Racing Form, the NTRA, America's Best Racing, BloodHorse, Brisnet, The Louisville Courier-Journal, etc., or the Twitter accounts of handicappers and officials at various tracks; NYRA posts a lot of good information at their Belmont Stakes website.

Essentially, follow organizations that cover the sport on a daily basis because they actually know which end of a horse the food goes in and which end it comes out.

Every piece of news does not have meaning.

Hype breeds hype, which breeds more hype.

The horses can't talk, they just run. They are not machines but living, breathing animals.

There is going to be an overwhelming about of "analysis" regarding every single move California Chrome makes over the next three weeks. The fact of the matter is this: unless something major happens during a work - like a clear injury or physical problem - we really don't know how this colt is going to perform until he breaks from the starting gate at Belmont Park.

Trying to glean small pieces of information from how Chrome walks to the track, or the kind of hay they decide to feed him this week, is bordering on pointless. Some of the questions and observations from the media are going to border on the absurd because they are trying to fill space.

Some mornings, Chrome might look great. Others, he might be a bit off. The goal is to have him ready to run a big race in three weeks. Not today or tomorrow or this weekend. Like any athlete, the goal is an event in the future.

Enjoy the stories about his humble beginnings, his blue collar owners, and his unlikely path to possible Triple Crown glory. Don't go crazy about the minutia the media is going to force feed you on a daily basis.

Ignore any talk of odds until the entries for the Belmont are actually drawn

If you're new to watching horse racing you might not know a key fact about the odds you see on the TV before the race: they are parimutuel. What's that mean? Here's the quick and dirty:

All bettors are betting into one pool - a win pool, excacta pool, trifecta pool, etc.. The track takes their percentage (typically between 15 and 22%), and then the bettors with winning tickets split the remainder of the pool. This is completely different than betting on sports in Vegas where the house sets the odds. In horse racing, the bettors determine where the final odds will settle. The odds are not fixed; if you are at the track and bet on a horse that's 5/1 to win at the time of your bet and he's 5/2 when the gates open, you get 5/2, not 5/1.

Okay, we all on board with that?

If you read a story today (or tomorrow) that reads "California Chrome is 2/5 to win the Belmont", you are reading a story that is talking about odds that have nothing to do with the odds you will see on your TV prior to the Belmont.

The morning line odds for the Belmont are set after the post position draw the Wednesday before the race. Advanced betting will open on the Friday prior to the race. Until betting actually opens, there are no official odds for the race.

The countless "Odds Updates" you'll read over the next three weeks are typically odds set by offshore gambling houses. (Which, incidentally, are illegal for U.S. residents to bet into... I'm just saying.) They are not in any way the same as the track odds offered at Belmont on race day. (Read that sentence again.)

Vegas has future book odds which are your typical future book odds that are horrible bets unless you are taking a huge price a long, long way out from the event in question. So there's that.

The sport of horse racing will not die if California Chrome fails to win the Triple Crown

Look, horse racing has issues - serious issues - something we are all familiar with. We have fragmented rules and regulations, some seriously bad management issues at some tracks, medication debates, takeout concerns, and really screwed up pricing in terms of on-track versus off-track wagering. Many of the 95% are going to try to sell the "Triple Crown will save horse racing" or "the sport will die without a Triple Crown winner" story. That's simply not true.

$10.8 billion was wagered on horse racing in the United Stakes in 2013. While that number is down from the high of $15.1 billion in 2003, that's still almost $11 billion in wagers. Industries with $11 billion in wagers don't just die because a horse fails to win the Triple Crown.

The sport needs to find ways to increase and grow handle back to the levels of a decade ago, and those solutions go well beyond a horse winning the Triple Crown. A Triple Crown winner will certainly boost the popularity (or perhaps the notoriety) of the sport, but it will do nothing to solve the very real issues within the sport. Those problems can only be solved the sport itself.

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