There are few more exciting moments in all of sports than the nerve-wracking two minutes it takes the top competitors to run a Triple Crown horse race. When there is a legitimate Triple Crown contender in the field, it becomes all the more intense.
That’s just one reason why California Chrome’s impressive victory in Saturday’s Preakness should have fans wondering if we may actually see the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 when the June 7 Belmont Stakes take place.
Jockey Victor Espinoza delivered a nearly flawless performance by getting out of the gates quickly to avoid being trapped by the rail from the No. 3 posting, settling in behind a couple of pace horses for much of the middle portion and then riding California Chrome hard to the finish with his now-famous closing speed.
Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey analyzed the race for NBC and discussed Espinoza’s showing, via Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated:
You get a plan in your head as to how the race will be run. And then all of a sudden it's completely upside-down. That's very difficult. You might say, Well, there's still two horses in front, even though it's not the two Victor expected. But Victor has to wonder, When are the speed horses coming?
Now all eyes turn to the Belmont Stakes in New York. RJ Bell of Grantland noted the early odds for a Triple Crown:
California Chrome is a favorite to win the Triple Crown (-130 at Sportsbook.ag) - rest of Belmont field +100— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 17, 2014
It would be easy to say this is the best horse with a jockey who is a perfect six-for-six aboard California Chrome and pick him to win the Triple Crown. However, SportsCenter pointed out that a Belmont victory simply doesn’t happen just because a horse won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness:
Lucky number 13? California Chrome is 13th horse to win both Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since last Triple Crown in 1978.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 17, 2014
Clearly, breaking down California Chrome’s odds partially rests on what the rest of the field looks like. Danonymous Racing gave fans an early peek at the Belmont contenders:
Names like Commanding Curve, Danza, Samraat and Wicked Strong should certainly be familiar to Kentucky Derby fans, and the fact that they didn’t run in the Preakness will mean they will be all the fresher. All four performed well at Churchill Downs and will look to knock off the reigning king of horse racing.
Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion were impressive at the Preakness and will look to use that momentum going forward to Belmont. In fact, Social Inclusion matched California Chrome nearly stride for stride during much of the race in Baltimore, so there shouldn’t be much of a fallout in three weeks.
Who wins the Belmont Stakes?
Still, we are talking about horses that California Chrome has already beaten.
As long as Espinoza keeps him in the middle of the pack again, that closing speed isn’t going anywhere before the Belmont Stakes in June.
Look for California Chrome to once again sprint to the finish line after getting in formidable position during the long race. A Triple Crown will bring attention that the sport hasn’t seen in years, and it will be well deserved for this impressive horse.
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