Belmont Stakes 2014: Biggest Threats to California Chrome's Triple Crown Bid

Sterling Xie@@sxie1281Correspondent IIMay 22, 2014

California Chrome still faces the toughest hurdle to a Triple Crown.
California Chrome still faces the toughest hurdle to a Triple Crown.Molly Riley/Getty Images

The horse racing Triple Crown has been one of the most elusive titles in sports.  However, with two wins under his belt, California Chrome looks like a strong contender to end the sport's 36-year drought.

Nevertheless, as past contenders like Big Brown and Smarty Jones have illustrated, the Belmont is always exceedingly difficult to win, even with overwhelming odds.  Many of the top Kentucky Derby contenders took the Preakness off and will have a five-week break to run the grueling 12-furlong race.

Here's a look at the horses with the best chance to derail California Chrome's Triple Crown aspirations.

 

Wicked Strong

The Massachusetts horse finished fourth at Churchill Downs before taking the Preakness off to recuperate.  Now, Wicked Strong is once again one of the favorites to take home a leg of the Triple Crown.

Wicked Strong came into the Derby strong after a win at the Wood Memorial Stakes, but perhaps more importantly, he has already won at Belmont Park.  The colt took first at a maiden special weight race in October 2013, a type of race reserved for horses without previous victories.  While that competition will pale in comparison to the one he will face June 7, that history has some prognosticators encouraged:

Wicked Strong may end up opening as the second favorite to California Chrome.  Though he did not have enough room to close on Chrome in the Derby, the Belmont may be a more suitable track for his strengths.

 

Commanding Curve

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03:  Commanding Curve #17, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, takes part in the post parade prior the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Derby runner-up was a long shot at Churchill Downs but now stands as one of the second-tier favorites in New York.  Like Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve did not race at Pimlico, instead choosing to rest ahead of the Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Dallas Stewart put the horse through one gallop in the interim, and according to Daily Racing Form's Byron King, Stewart was pleased with the results:

Commanding Curve is still a relatively inexperienced horse, with just three non-maiden special weight races in his career.  However, he also finished third in the Louisiana Derby in March, suggesting that his Derby finish was not a fluke.

The Kentucky-bred horse did not come particularly close in the Derby, even though he did finish second.  But if California Chrome stumbles or tires a bit, Commanding Curve is a solid bet to overtake him in the home stretch.

 

Ride On Curlin

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 14:  Exercise rider Bryan Beccia takes Ride On Curlin over the track in preparation for the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 14, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Unlike Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve, Ride On Curlin will race in all three Triple Crown events.  After a seventh-place showing at Churchill Downs, the colt followed up with a much stronger showing in his runner-up Preakness finish.

Though California Chrome did finish 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Ride On Curlin, the latter horse closed quickly down the stretch and likely would have passed had the race been an extra 2.5 furlongs (the length of the Belmont Stakes).  That knowledge could give him the edge necessary to win the next race:

Sired from 2007 Preakness winner Curlin, Ride On Curlin has the pedigree necessary to capture a Triple Crown race.  If he can keep up with California Chrome headed into the stretch run, the colt may be the one who derails Chrome's strong bid for history.