The world of horse racing has not elated over a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Fans have been starved for decades, but California Chrome could end the drought by winning the 2014 Belmont Stakes.
Coming on the heels of wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome remains the clear favorite to win at Belmont, but the Triple Crown has remained elusive for a reason. Several horses from the field stand a chance at nipping the heavy favorite and disappointing race fans hoping to see a slice of history.
When: Saturday, June 7; post time approximately 6:52 p.m. ET (per BelmontStakes.com)
Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, New York
Watch: NBC, 4:30 p.m. ET
|Early Odds for Belmont Stakes|
|Horse||Odds||Kentucky Derby Finish||Preakness Stakes Finish|
|Ride On Curlin||+500||7th||2nd|
(Odds taken from Oddsshark.com on May 28 at 1 p.m. ET, via Sportsbook.ag)
California Chrome entered the Derby as the favorite and made good on that rating, but he ran a historically slow time in beating the field. Despite having won two-thirds of the Triple Crown so far, Chrome seems like clearly the best horse more by virtue of a weak field than his own merits.
Winning at Belmont will be a tough task despite California Chrome remaining a heavy favorite. He averted a disastrous turn of events when New York Racing Association officials permitted the horse to wear a nasal strip during the race. A ruling in the other direction would have deprived racing fans of a chance to watch a chase for the Triple Crown.
California Chrome's exercise rider, Willie Delgado, exuded confidence in the horse following a two-mile training gallop at Belmont Park. He told Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News: "He loves this track, and I don’t see him having any problem getting a mile and half. This is the strongest I’ve felt about him winning a race. I’ve said it before, if he wins the Derby we’ll probably go all the way. He’s starting to show he can go over this racetrack very easy."
Despite that confidence in the favorite's camp, four horses in particular will give California Chrome trouble: Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong, Ride on Curlin and Tonalist.
Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong both sat out the Preakness and will be fresh for the Belmont. With the Belmont as the longest of the Triple Crown races, that extra rest could prove to be the difference.
A change of riders will also impact two promising horses when California Chrome chases history. As noted by USA Today's Jennie Rees on May 20, two key changes to the Belmont lineup came shortly after the May 17 Preakness Stakes.
Danza, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, pulled out of Belmont after resting for the Preakness. Danza had actually won the Arkansas Derby in April, beating Ride on Curlin, who placed second in the Preakness.
Moreover, after finishing as runner-up to California Chrome in the Preakness, Ride on Curlin will have a different rider at Belmont. Jockey Joel Rosario decided to ride Peter Pan-winner Tonalist instead, despite finding success with Ride On Curlin at the Preakness.
Now, Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be atop Ride on Curlin at Belmont Park. As Rees points out, "This will be Ride On Curlin's fifth rider in his last five races." Despite Ride on Curlin's strong showing at the Preakness, a seventh-place finish at the Derby did not impress.
Moreover, Tonalist claimed the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 10, striding well on a very sloppy track.
The draw for post positions at the Belmont Stakes will take place Wednesday, June 4, and that will dictate a shift in the odds based on who draws the undesirable inside rail and far edge.
However, California Chrome has been wearied by travel to the three Triple Crown races and did not show much dominance in winning a slow Derby. Though he will very likely finish in the money, look for a more rested horse to win from the trio of Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong and Tonalist.