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All other things being equal, the longer the race and the smaller the field, the more dangerous the front runner is. And while main track races beyond 1 1/4 miles are rare in North America, the Belmont Stakes (G1) remains the most visible dirt marathon in America, and it offers peculiar challenges to the handicapper. 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). But this is simply not true. The Belmont Stakes (G1) is a typical dirt marathon that quite simply comes down to doling out energy. The farther the race, the longer the horses must run before making their final thrust to the finish. But the farther they run, the more energy they have to expend, so the less “kick” they all have as the race nears the finish line. 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 it in terms 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! With a large 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. However, small fields tend to bunch up, peloton-style, with a slow pace. The leader only has to dole out enough effort (and energy) to maintain a lead. For this year’s Belmont Stakes, a field of eight starters will enter the starting gate -- a far cry from the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. With runners applying early pressure (with more desperate riders taking their shot to grab the lead at any cost) the frontrunner has less of an advantage. But this may not be much of an issue this year, since MATERIALITY and AMERICAN PHAROAH are the only runners with a confirmed front-running style. Pace horses MADE FROM LUCKY and MUBTAAHIJ probably have a better running style for a mile-and-a-half, and may be attractive odds for those wishing to play an upsetter. However, both have been outrun in their previous attempts to make up any ground on PHAROAH. The betting public tends to favor closers in marathons, even though closers do not gain any advantage by waiting too long to go after the leaders. Although they will be among the favorites to upset PHAROAH’s Triple Crown bid, the closing styles of FROSTED, TALE OF VERVE, KEEN ICE and FRAMMENTO do not necessarily suit the Belmont Stakes (G1). To date, only Frosted has run a race fast enough to win at the Grade 1 level, and of the closers, he will take the most betting action. Whether MATERIALITY will try to seize the lead from the very beginning and wire the field as he did in the Florida Derby (G1), or simply press the lead of AMERICAN PHAROAH is probably the key to how the Belmont Stakes (G1) unfolds. Last year, COMMISSIONER was my selection to beat over CALIFORNIA CHROME. He succeeded in grabbing the lead from the start, and setting sensible, yet energy-draining, fractions that left CALIFORNIA CHROME unable to surge away in the stretch. Unfortunately (for me), COMMISSIONER’s 28/1 upset bid was ruined by another pace presser, TONALIST. If PHAROAH and MATERIALITY can set a realistic pace, they will probably turn it into a two-horse affair. Should the two press each other in earnest at any point in the first mile-and-a-quarter of the race, the closers suddenly enter the picture. But the pace flexibility of PHAROAH should once again help him in his quest to make history. He should be able to find a comfortable position on or just off of MATERIALITY’s lead, and make his move to the lead entering the far turn. 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. But unless MATERIALITY steals the Belmont wire-to-wire, or duels PHAROAH into defeat -- the toll his four-race 2015 campaign has already taken on him is certainly his biggest obstacle to becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner. Be sure to check out Dean Arnold's first handicapping book, A Bettor Way, on sale now through your local bookstore and online at Xlibris Publishing (www.xlibris.com/ABettorWay.html)