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Dirt races beyond 1 1/4 miles are extremely rare in North America given the cancellation this year of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon. The Belmont Stakes (G1) remains the most visible dirt marathon in America, and it offers peculiar challenges to the handicapper. All other variables being equal, the longer the race and the smaller the field, the more dangerous early speed is. Front running speed is almost universally an advantage to a racehorse. The great misconception is that the longer the race, the less likely a frontrunner will win (or the more likely a closer will catch the early leaders). This just is not true. What is considered a marathon? In human terms, a marathon takes two hours plus to run. In thoroughbred terms, a marathon lasts two minutes plus! The Belmont Stakes (G1) is a typical dirt marathon that seems to come down to doling out energy. The farther the race, the longer the horses must run before making their final thrust to the finish. The more they run, the more energy they expend, so the less “kick” the competitors have. As a result, the frontrunners only get caught if they run out of gas or if another runner has some punch to “close the gap.” Think of a race car. The throttle determines how much horsepower is being released, but the gas tank limits how far you can go and still continue to compete. Wait too long, run out of gas, and you can hold the pedal to the floor and you still aren’t going anywhere! In a large marathon field, it becomes more likely multiple horses will vie for the lead. In jockey terms, the more entrants there are, the more likely one of the riders will vie for the lead or get into a pace duel. Big fields increase the chance that someone will contest the early pace. Small fields tend to bunch up with a slow pace, enabling the leader to only dole out enough energy to maintain his or her lead. For this year’s Belmont Stakes (G1), a field of 10 others try to defeat California Chrome -- a far cry from the 20-horse Kentucky Derby (G1) field, but still a large group of runners. With more runners applying pressure (with more desperate riders taking their shot to grab the lead at any cost), any frontrunners will have less of an advantage. The betting public tends to favor closers in marathons, even though closers do not gain any advantage by waiting so long to go after the leaders. Although they will be among the favorites to upset California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid, the closing styles of Commanding Curve, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, and Wicked Strong do not necessarily suit the Belmont Stakes (G1). The horses expected to stalk the early pace (Samraat, Tonalist, Commissioner and Matterhorn) probably have a better running style for a mile-and-a-half, and may be long odds for those wishing to play an upsetter. But the pace flexibility of California Chrome should once again help him in his quest to make racing history. He should be able to find a comfortable position just off the frontrunners, and make his move to the lead entering the far turn. Although his breeding is not stamina-oriented, he has already proven himself in two classics, and may not face competition that is any faster than him over a route of ground, giving him a very good chance to win this Saturday. Be sure to check out Dean Arnold's first handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through Xlibris Publishing and most major online booksellers.