It's time to pay attention to the Belmont Stakes again.
If the same horse doesn't win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, interest from common fans in the 1 1/2-mile race at Belmont Park dies down considerably—but California Chrome has made sure that isn't a problem.
Jockey Victor Espinoza delivered a near-perfect trip atop the talented three-year-old colt to another impressive win at the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, taking one step closer to Triple Crown lore not seen since Affirmed nearly 40 years ago:
Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion joined California Chrome in the money, rounding out the top-three finishers in the 10-horse field at Pimlico.
Here's a look at the complete order of finish and prize payouts:
|1||3||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||-|
|2||10||Ride On Curlin||Joel Rosario||William Gowan||1 1/2|
|3||8||Social Inclusion||Luis Contreras||Manny Azpurua||8|
|4||2||General a Rod||Javier Castellano||Mike Maker||8|
|5||4||Ring Weekend||Alan Garcia||H. Graham Motion||12 1/4|
|6||9||Pablo Del Monte||Jeffrey Sanchez||Wesley A. Ward||14|
|7||1||Dynamic Impact||Miguel Mena||Mark E. Casse||15 3/4|
|8||7||Kid Cruz||Julian Pimentel||Linda Rice||15 3/4|
|9||5||Bayern||Rosie Napravnik||Bob Baffert||20 3/4|
|10||6||Ria Antonia||Calvin Borel||Tom Amoss||30 3/4|
|Ride On Curlin||—||$5.60||$3.80|
Long shot Pablo Del Monte set the early pace along with Ria Antonia, but California Chrome lurked in third place before rocketing ahead and holding off a surging Ride On Curlin down the final stretch.
Jose Contreras of AmericasBestRacing.net applauded yet another tremendous run from the rock star:
California Chrome has EARNED all his "good/perfect" trips because of his versatility & cruising speed. Expect him to head to NY w TC dreams.— Jose A Contreras (@LosPonies) May 15, 2014
That versatility is perhaps the most impressive characteristic of the California-bred speed demon.
While Art Sherman's horse won a historically slow Kentucky Derby, he showed off the jets at Pimlico. The unofficial winning time of one minute and 54.84 seconds is the fastest since Big Brown in 2008, per HorseRacingNation.com.
Espinoza talked about the win, via USA Today's Gary Mihoces:
"It's an awesome feeling to have a horse like California Chrome. It was a crazy race. I got more tired mentally than physically. It worked out well, and he's an amazing horse."
One more win, and he'll be a lot more than an amazing horse. He'll be the first California-bred horse—and a cheap one at that—to ever win the Triple Crown, as co-owner Steve Coburn alluded to just after the Kentucky Derby:
"'He’s going to be the first California-bred to win the Triple Crown,'” California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn said. http://t.co/sO0qBO1pqg— Alexander A. Pyles (@aapyles) May 3, 2014
Moreover, as ESPN Stats & Info noted, this is just the third time in the last decade a horse will enter the Belmont Stakes with a hope for Triple Crown immortality:
California Chrome joins Big Brown (2008) & I'll Have Another (2012) as only horses in last 10 years to win 1st 2 legs of the Triple Crown.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2014
As you may remember, Big Brown didn't finish that race, while I'll Have Another was scratched before the start.
While improving on those results should be a simple task for the ultra-talented horse, the 1 1/2-mile race against horses bred for distance will be the ultimate challenge.
But it's been over six months since California Chrome has met a challenge he couldn't crush. Don't expect Belmont Park to be any different.