California Chrome enters the 2014 Belmont Stakes favored to win horse racing's first Triple Crown since 1978, but it's not going to be a gallop in the park.
There are a number of horses in the field that have proven capable of knocking the favorite off his perch and keeping him from making history with impressive performances as of late.
Moments after the Preakness Stakes, Danonymous Racing reported the early list provided by Belmont:
The lineup isn't all set just yet. But based off the preliminary lineup above, it won't be easy for California Chrome to complete the trifecta. Let's look at the horses—as well as one outlying factor—that will most threaten California Chrome at Belmont and prove as obstacles toward his pursuit of the Triple Crown.
Ride On Curlin
After seeing the ups and downs of the Triple Crown slate, Ride On Curlin looks bound for a big-time performance in the final leg as he hopes to build off some newfound momentum.
The Triple Crown didn't start off like trainer Billy Gowan planned, as Ride On Curlin was jammed in the middle and sputtered to a seventh-place finish at the Kentucky Derby. That got jockey Calvin Borel replaced with Joel Rosario for the Preakness.
Rosario rode Ride On Curlin to a magnificent second-place finish in the Preakness. California Chrome blew it open down the stretch like usual, but Ride On Curlin came on hot in the final few furlongs and just nearly caught up to the eventual winner.
That performance just makes you wonder what a difference the length could make. At 1 1/2 miles as opposed to the 1 3/16 of Pimlico Race Course, Belmont Park could give Ride On Curlin the extra few furlongs he needs to catch up completely.
John Velazquez is the third of three jockeys to ride the horse in three Triple Crown appearances, per The Courier-Journal's Jennie Rees, as Rosario opted to ride Tonalist. But considering they went from seventh to second after a jockey change, and Velazquez is one of the sport's best, they shouldn't be too worried.
Coming off an impressive run at Pimlico and looking sharp, Social Inclusion might take history away from California Chrome come June 7.
The horse could have gone to Churchill Downs for a late qualify to the Derby but passed it up to rest for Belmont. It looked to be a good move, too.
Heading down the stretch at the Preakness, it was California Chrome in first, Ride On Curlin in second and Social Inclusion behind them. He lost some pace to the two in front of him, but he stuck around in the next tier, finishing third. He was a nose in front of General a Rod and eight lengths back of the winner.
The Blood-Horse's Claire Novak got a shot of Social Inclusion the day after the Preakness and was impressed:
It's not even a sure thing yet that Social Inclusion will race, as Daily Racing Form's David Grening reported he was a 50-50 shot. But the stakes are high, and trainer Manny J. Azpurua knows his horse has as good of a shot as anyone to knock off California Chrome.
Don't expect anything but Social Inclusion's best come race day.
No, that's not a creative name for a horse added late into the field.
The Belmont Stakes is the longest race of the Triple Crown circuit, and it's not even close. At 1 1/2 miles, it trumps the length of both the Kentucky Derby (1 1/4 miles) and the Preakness (1 3/16 miles). Every horse in the field, including California Chrome, will be running the longest race of its career.
What makes that truly concerning is the way in which California Chrome has finished his last two races. At both Churchill Downs and Pimlico, he blew open a six- to seven-length lead before allowing a contender—Commanding Curve at the Derby and Ride On Curlin in Pimlico—to cut it to less than two lengths down the stretch.
There's no telling what will happen when California Chrome has to go an extra quarter-mile that he's never had to go before. Will the contender(s) on his tail be able to catch up? Will he kick it into another gear?
With the ability California Chrome has shown, it's unlikely that anything other than a few extra furlongs will trip him up. If somehow he fails to win the Triple Crown, it should be decided in the final 100 yards.
Note: Information courtesy of BelmontStakes.com unless otherwise noted.