Betting the Home Team in the Belmont Derby

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

A terrific Saturday of racing at Belmont Park culminates with the $1 million Belmont Derby (G1) for three-year-olds racing 1 1/4 miles on turf. No fewer than 13 horses have been entered, setting the stage for a competitive event.

At first glance, the Belmont Derby appears ripe for conquest by a European raider. It's easy to think of the Belmont Derby as being similar to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), another prominent stateside prize pitting talented U.S. turf horses against same-aged rivals from Europe. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf has been contested 15 times, and horses who prepped in Europe have scored 10 victories.

But the Belmont Derby paints a vividly different picture. Since adopting its current format in 2014, the Belmont Derby has been held eight times, with the U.S. home team claiming victory on six occasions. Only Deauville (2016) and Bolshoi Ballet (2021) have snatched victories for Europe, and both of those were Epsom Derby (G1) alumni conditioned by internationally successful Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien.

There's a chance O'Brien could pick up a third Belmont Derby win courtesy of #13 Stone Age. The son of Galileo dominated the 1 1/4-mile Derby Trial (G3) at Leopardstown by 5 1/2 lengths before coming home sixth in the Derby.

A son of legendary stallion Galileo, Stone Age is clearly a talented prospect, and regular rider Ryan Moore (who guided Bolshoi Ballet to win this race last year) retains the mount. But Stone Age is marooned in the far outside post position, and a strict interpretation of history indicates European raiders aren't great bets in the Belmont Derby.

So what do you say we think a little outside the box and support #9 Tiz the Bomb instead? The versatile son of Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Hit It a Bomb has run well on dirt, turf, and synthetic, most recently finishing a respectable ninth in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

Tiz the Bomb was in strong form during the winter and spring at Turfway Park, beating future American Turf S. (G2) winner #2 Stolen Base in both the John Battaglia Memorial and the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3). The latter race also saw Tiz the Bomb conquer next-out Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Rich Strike and future Lexington S. (G3) and Ohio Derby (G3) winner Tawny Port.

Just as importantly, Tiz the Bomb displayed top-class form on turf last season. He won the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Mile with a determined rally from midpack, then claimed the Bourbon S. (G2) at Keeneland despite breaking through the gate pre-race. The runner-up in the Bourbon was none other than Stolen Base.

Tiz the Bomb subsequently proved his class against Grade 1 company in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, rallying boldly down the homestretch to finish second by just 1 1/2 lengths against European raider Modern Games. The latter colt is no slouch; he's since come back to win the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (G1, French 2,000 Guineas) and finish third in the Prix du Jockey Club (G1, French Derby).

The Belmont Derby has come up deep, but Tiz the Bomb—with four stakes wins to his credit—has to be viewed as a key win threat for the home team. The form of the Kentucky Derby has come back strong, with Mo Donegal winning the Belmont S. (G1), Tawny Port nabbing the Ohio Derby (G3), Cyberknife claiming the Matt Winn S. (G3), and Charge It dominating the Dwyer S. (G3). I believe Tiz the Bomb can give that form another boost with a mild upset victory in the Belmont Derby.

Who are the other key contenders? Certainly we have to respect #10 Nations Pride, who had won four straight races prior to finishing eighth in the Epsom Derby. Charlie Appleby conditions the Godolphin homebred, and Appleby compiled a stellar 9-for-18 record in North America last year, highlighted by eight Grade 1 wins.

Meanwhile, #12 Limited Liability offers some longshot appeal. The son of Kitten's Joy closed strongly from behind a pedestrian pace to finish third in the 1 1/8-mile Pennine Ridge S. (G2) at Belmont last month, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths while gaining three lengths through the final furlong. If Limited Liability gets a quicker pace to work with while stretching out over 1 1/4 miles, I can envision him crashing the superfecta at a big price for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.


1st: Tiz the Bomb
2nd: Stone Age
3rd: Nations Pride
4th: Limited Liability

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Belmont Derby?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week! (Please note: older contest entries can be found here.)

J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite.

Recent Posts

More Blogs