Belmont Stakes 2014 Horses: Power Ranking This Year's Entries
The Triple Crown is winding down. Will there be a Triple Chrome, or will any of the several live horses below California Chrome sneak up on him and beat him down the stretch?
California Chrome is the 12th horse who is vying for a Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 (13th if you include I'll Have another, who scratched the day of the 2012 Belmont). This is the best chance in 10 years for a horse to do it, but there are several talented horses on the up and up. After reading ESPN's Gary West, the numbers could be in Chrome's favor, and not the kind of numbers you'd think of at first glance:
But the numbers, or at least the foal numbers, are trending in a direction that's favorable for another Triple Crown winner. The North American foal crop in 2011 was 25,500 (estimated by The Jockey Club), the smallest since 1975, or since Affirmed was born. The group's large enough to produce a truly superior horse, yet not so large that it's likely to produce two who are great or even several who are outstanding. And the numbers continue to decline, with estimates for 23,500 registered foals of 2012 and 23,000 of 2013. In other words, even though the Triple Crown's popularity ensures large fields for future races, the foal numbers argue for the increasing possibility of a standout.
Chrome could be that horse.
The following will be a ranking in descending order of the horses in the Belmont Stakes field, factoring in how well they've run through the Triple Crown window—with the window being any race from the Derby to the Belmont (some horses didn't run in the Derby or Preakness). Also thrown in is how well they've been training.
Will there be a coronation or regicide? Read on to meet the conspirators and the horse who could be king.
Any time Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott saddles a horse and walks him over to the track, the horse has to be respected. He won this race in 2010 with Drosselmeyer, a horse nobody knew. The same is true for Matuszak.
The thing with Matuszak is that he finished second to Kid Cruz in the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. Kid Cruz ran one of the slowest Tesio races you'll ever see and then finished a distant eighth to California Chrome in the Preakness. Kid Cruz withdrew from Belmont consideration.
So the horse that finished second to Kid Cruz is running in this Grade 1? He's outclassed in this field and far down the power rankings.
Matterhorn ran in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes and finished fourth. The good news is the race was over the Belmont Park dirt. The bad news is that he finished fourth.
He breezed in company with Commissioner, the second-place finisher in the Peter Pan Stakes in a time of 49.90 seconds. That's not blazing fast, and he's not quite as talented as the other horses in this field. He's not even as talented as the horse he breezed with.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said, per NYRA.com: "The distance is the biggest [factor]. I thought he ran OK in the Peter Pan and made a pretty good middle move. I was encouraged by the way he galloped out afterward that a mile and a half would be in his wheelhouse."
Commissoner, like Matuszak and Tonalist, didn't run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. He finished second in the Peter Pan to Tonalist, a horse who relished the slop and got loose on the lead.
Commissioner, like Tonalist, has the advantage of a race over the surface. It's hard to endorse a horse that didn't win it, but he does have the pedigree to be considered at least a marginal threat. His sire is AP Indy, the 1992 winner of the Belmont Stakes.
If he can check his daddy issues at the gate, Commissioner could impress his father. Or not.
Behold the winner of the Peter Pan Stakes. He won the race by getting a nice, easy lead below jockey Joel Rosario. He took to the sloppy track and won by daylight.
Tonalist, a son of Tapit, is beautifully bred. If the track comes up sloppy, Tonalist's odds will drop faster than Bruce Wayne missing a ledge in the Pit.
Tonalist does retain the services of Rosario, who most recently finished second in the Preakness aboard Ride On Curlin. Why would Rosario jump ship? It's likely more a measure of staying in the good graces of trainer Christophe Clement, a prominent New York trainer.
All these horses cede the advantage to the following horses: the horses that ran in the Derby.
7. Commanding Curve
Dallas Stewart was definitely all smiles when his Commanding Curve bombed down the track to take second in the Kentucky Derby. That's the second year in a row Stewart finished second in the Derby.
What gives his Commanding Curve an edge—just like the following horses—is that he ran in the Derby. Derby horses run lights out in the Belmont Stakes. But deep closers don't, which is why he'll likely be closer to the speed.
So he's at the bottom of this list within a list, but Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, rationalized to The Courier-Journal:
You can follow a path there, if a horse wants to get a mile and a half. Now, just because they win the Belmont doesn't really mean they want a mile and a half. But they wanted it more than their competitors, in some cases, when they win the Belmont. So you have one group that, in theory, should be backing up a little bit and be ready for a pause—aside from a horse like California Chrome, who stands above the pack. You have another group on the other side, coming forward. Where they intersect, as we've seen a good number of times, it's going to be the Belmont Stakes.
Samraat is a tough horse who runs hard no matter what. The question heading into the Derby was whether he had enough stamina. He ran on hard to finish fifth, nosed out by Wicked Strong, who got fourth.
He's been training at Aqueduct away from the commotion of Belmont Park. He's lost just two races: the Wood and the Derby. That makes him respectable but not entirely powerful.
Samraat has the added benefit that he can run up closer to the pace and not let the leaders get too far away from him. When this race gets serious, Samraat will run hard, but he's going to get swallowed by the players.
5. General a Rod
Trainer Mike Maker is riding General a Rod through the Triple Crown. He finished far back in the Derby. He didn't have a terrible trip, but there was a lot of traffic that the horse didn't necessarily care for.
General a Rod, like most Derby horses that wheel back in the Preakness, ran well and finished fourth. Here he is again, training well for a shot at the white carnations.
He'll have even less traffic issues in the Belmont Stakes, and if he can relax mid-pack, he'll have a legitimate shot at the leaders turning for home. He also gets the services of Rosie Napravnik, a jockey who is known for getting more out of her horses than most.
Mike Maker told The Courier-Journal: "I see no reason not to go. There was no reason to rush into a decision, in my opinion. We waited it out, and the horse told us to go...I felt good before the Preakness and I feel good before the Belmont. One of these times we’re going to have a clean run and go from there."
4. Medal Count
Medal Count finished strong to take eighth in the Kentucky Derby. Dale Romans, his trainer, was high on him going into the race and thought he could have finished higher up the board. Romans told The Blood-Horse:
Coming out of the Derby, I didn't know what I was going to do with him that day. After a couple days, he got back to training and he was doing so well. I went back and watched the Derby two or three times and he obviously should have been right there. He wasn't going to beat the winner but I think he could have possibly been second and obviously been third.
Medal Count rocketed through six furlongs in one minute, 10 seconds at Churchill Downs on May 31. That's blazing fast, maybe even a little too fast. He galloped out seven furlongs in one minute, 24 seconds. That's fast.
Either way, he's a Derby horse who has to be respected heading into the Belmont.
3. Ride On Curlin
The trend of favoring horses that ran in the Derby continues.
Ride On Curlin had a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby and finished seventh. Joel Rosario gave him a great ride in the Preakness and finished strong to take second. When Ride On Curlin gets a clean run at the front, he's as dangerous as they come.
The horse turned in a solid seven-furlong breeze at Belmont in one minute, 28.03 seconds for trainer Billy Gowan, who told The Blood-Horse:
Hopefully, another three-sixteenths of a mile and we'll be able to catch him as opposed to the Preakness, but 'Chrome' is going to be hard to catch. He doesn't have a lot of quit in him. He worked awful good yesterday, too. Shoot, I'm just happy to be here and I'm a racing fan just like everybody else. I've always wanted a Triple Crown, but hopefully not this year. If we can win it and he runs second, that'd be fine.
He's third and not second on the list because he's not quite as fresh as No. 2.
2. Wicked Strong
Wicked Strong, the Wood Memorial winner, is a late-closing, one-run kind of horse. He has a great turn of foot and will be passing a lot of horses down the home stretch.
Ever since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby, he's been training extremely well for trainer Jimmy Jerkens—all at Belmont Park, his home track.
He blitzed through five furlongs in 59.10 seconds on June 1, signifying he's sharp for the 12-furlong Belmont. He was the second choice in the Derby, and he'll probably be the second choice in the Belmont at maybe 3-1 or 4-1 (which is great value if you see a vulnerability in Chrome).
"He had a pretty good excuse in the Derby," Jerkens said, per NYRA.com. "His Wood was great, and he's trained really well since then. He really is training great. But, you never know until you lead them over there."
1. California Chrome
It's hard or darn near impossible to dislike California Chrome. He's done nothing wrong and has the advantage of running his race no matter how it shapes up. To use a tired expression, the ball is always in his court, even when you think the ball is in your court. He's sly like that.
Art Sherman, Chrome's trainer, finally got a look at him at Belmont, and even he was impressed by what he saw.
"I thought he looked better now than he did after the Preakness," Sherman said, per NYRA.com. "I couldn't believe how much weight he put on. He really looks good right now. Going on the Triple Crown trail, it's kind of rough. He's an amazing horse."
Chrome whipped through four furlongs in 47.69 second, according to NYRA clockers, on May 31, proving he's fit and showing little wear after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Because of the defection of Social Inclusion to the Woody Stephens (a sprint for three-year-olds), the speed on the front end could be honest. That may mean that Victor Espinoza will have to send Chrome to the lead and win from the lead. That's only if he detects it as too slow. It's up to him.
The Triple Crown is up to him.