2014 Belmont Stakes

Belmont Stakes 2014: Top Contenders to End California Chrome's Triple Crown Push

LOUISVILLE, KY - APRIL 30:  Ride On Curlin runs on the track during the morning training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 30, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Andrew GouldFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2014

California Chrome's Triple Crown pursuit will undoubtedly steal the show entering the 2014 Belmont Stakes. Let's remember that he won't be the only horse running in Elmont, New York.

After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome can become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep all three Triple Crown races. During those 36 years, many others have tried and failed to finish the deal at Belmont, as highlighted by SportsCenter's Twitter feed.

Competing three times in five weeks takes its toll on a colt, and many of the top finishers from the Triple Crown's two previous legs are expected to race in the 1 1/2-mile event. A few particularly sturdy candidates will give California Chrome all he can handle at Belmont.

 

2014 Belmont Stakes

When: Saturday, June 7

Where: Belmont Park Race Track, Elmont, New York

TV: NBC

 

Ride On Curlin

ELMONT, NY - MAY 24:  Ride On Curlin with exercise rider Bryan Baccia up, trains on the main track at Belmont Park on May 24, 2014 in Elmont, New York. He is scheduled to race for the Triple Crown in the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes  (Photo by Al B
Al Bello/Getty Images

An afterthought due to California Chrome's victory, Ride On Curlin broke past everyone else to finish in a distant second place in the Preakness. The Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman quantified his edge over everyone besides the champion:

Once again, trainer Billy Gowan's horse will change jockeys, marking the third different rider throughout all three Triple Crown races. With Joel Rosario transferring over to Tonalist, DRF's David Grening reported yet another change on the saddle:

According to Equibase, John Velazquez leads all jockeys in all-time total winnings. The Hall of Famer led Union Rags to victory at Belmont two years ago. Gowan shared his excitement for corralling Velazquez with USA Today's Jennie Rees.

"He knows the track as well as anybody," Gowan said. "I'm glad to have him. ... I think my horse will love a mile and a half."

After a disappointing Kentucky Derby outing, Ride On Curlin looked much better at Pimlico. Rosario picked his spot before kicking his horse into full gear, which still wasn't enough to upend the heavily favored California Chrome.

Changing from one legendary jockey to another should not hurt Ride On Curlin's chances at Belmont. If California Chrome is not on top of his game, the Preakness' runner-up is the top choice to capitalize.

 

Wicked Strong

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 01:  Wicked Strong runs on the track during the morning training for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 1, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Wicked Strong did not finish in the money at Churchill Downs, but he displayed his tremendous closing speed by salvaging fourth place.

His owners chose to sit him out of the Preakness, resting him for the Triple Crown's closing leg against the more worked favorites. That extra energy could pay major dividends during the closing furloughs of the longest of the major races.

Before the Kentucky Derby, Wicked Strong beat out Samraat and Social Inclusion, two Belmont contenders, to win the Grade I Wood Memorial Stakes. He didn't fare that well at the Kentucky Derby, struggling with the 20th post position, which left little space to operate.

Belmont's longer track looks to be much more up his alley, and a better starting spot would especially put him in business to derail a Triple Crown bid.

 

Social Inclusion

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 15: Exercise rider Domingo Navarro takes Social Inclusion over the track in preparation for the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 15, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

A sprinter who will have to keep up on the long track, Social Inclusion is a real wild card to win the Belmont Stakes. In fact, it's not even certain he'll participate.

According to Grening, he's "50-50" to partake in the final Triple Crown event.

Owner Ron Sanchez and trainer Manuel Azpurua must be harboring some fears about the horse holding up for 1 1/2 miles. At one point during the Preakness, Social Inclusion matched strides with California Chrome before ultimately falling behind during the final stretch.

The speedster is far from a safe choice at Belmont, but that quickness makes him an intriguing one should he jump out to a better starting push this time around. Everything would have to go right, but Social Inclusion certainly has the potential to steal a victory.

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