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California Chrome Faces Toughest Task Yet at Belmont Stakes

Groom Raul Rodriguez walks Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome around a barn at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Monday, May 19, 2014. California Chrome is scheduled to depart Tuesday for Belmont Park, N.Y. The Belmont Stakes horse race takes place June 7. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Scott PolacekFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

Now that the great nasal strip debate of 2014 is officially behind us, we can focus solely on the actual horse racing as California Chrome prepares to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

California Chrome flashed dominant closing speed at both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and appears primed to make history. All that stands in his way of immortality in the horse racing world is one more race—the daunting Belmont Stakes.

If nothing else, California Chrome is giving life to the fabled underdog story as he chases horse racing's most elusive title, as co-owner Steve Coburn said, via Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports:

This horse, what he's doing for two guys that work their butts off to put beans and bacon on the table, this horse has given everyone out there incentive to say, 'You know what? We can do it, too.' … It may not be a horse race. It may be the idea that they have in their head or a new product or whatever the case may be, but we just hope that this horse is letting Americans know that the little guy can win.

However, there is plenty working against California Chrome’s Triple Crown chances, not the least of which is the length factor. The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the three Triple Crown races at 1 1/2 miles, and the fact that it is the final leg makes it all the more imposing. 

SportsCenter painted a not-so-rosy picture of recent history for horses who won at Churchill Downs and the Preakness:

It is not a coincidence that the previous 12 horses in California Chrome’s position failed to complete the trifecta.

We are talking about a grueling stretch of races without much rest in between the competitions. The winning horse is subject to media attention and camera flashes that it simply isn’t accustomed to, and there is plenty of traveling involved. In fact, California Chrome will literally travel from one coast to the other over the course of the past month, since the Belmont Stakes are in New York. 

History and the length of the track are only two reasons winning the Belmont will prove to be California Chrome’s most difficult task. Of course, we can’t overlook the competitors, and Danonymous Racing gave fans an early peek at the possible contenders:

Commanding Curve, Samraat, Danza, Ride On Curlin and Social Inclusion are some of the strongest horses in the sport. Most of them ran in the loaded Kentucky Derby field, and Social Inclusion matched California Chrome stride for stride for much of the Preakness.

What’s more, a lot of the horses that ran at the Derby didn’t run at the Preakness, so they should be much fresher than California Chrome.

FILE - MAY 19, 2014:  It was reported that the New York Racing Association approved the use of a nasal breathing strip on the horse California Chrome as he tries for a Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness May 1
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Still, we are talking about a dominant horse with a jockey who appears more than comfortable riding him. In fact, Victor Espinoza has won six straight atop California Chrome and was nearly flawless in his execution at the Preakness.

Sure, the Belmont Stakes will be difficult, but California Chrome is on an absolute roll. He has already beaten all of the top competitors that will be lining up alongside him and will do so again in New York. 

All he has to do is stay in the race for the majority of the lengthy run and then turn on that closing burst for the third straight time. History is waiting.

 

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