Belmont Stakes 2014: Betting Guide to Favorites and Dark Horses

Brendan O'Meara@@BrendanOMearaFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2014

Belmont Stakes 2014: Betting Guide to Favorites and Dark Horses

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    For all the talk of California Chrome and the Triple Crown narrative, the Belmont Stakes is still a betting race. We must not lose sight of our priorities!

    There are any number of ways to look at this race. It could be a bad betting race since California Chrome will likely go off at 1-9. Or you could see it as a good betting race in that some very talented horses will go off at a nice price.

    In the off chance that Chrome finishes off the board, and you have a Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count ticket, you’re not going to care much that Chrome failed to become No. 12, you heartless, soulless Visigoth. Sorry.

    But seriously, let’s take a look at these 11 horses divided up into their rightful and deserving categories: no chance, dark horses, contenders and favorites.

No Chance

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    Matuszak, 30-1

    Matuszak is of the deep-closing varietal, which never blooms in the Belmont Stakes.

    Not only that, but he was a deep closer that finished second to Kid Cruz in the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico. Kid Cruz withdrew from Belmont consideration after finishing eighth in the Preakness.

    Matuszak doesn’t stand a chance here unless the race completely falls apart. His only vote of confidence is his trainer, Bill Mott.


    Matterhorn, 30-1

    Matterhorn hasn’t done much to wow anyone with his entry in the Belmont. He finished fourth in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes. Todd Pletcher, his trainer, even has some concerns about Matterhorn.

    He told

    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.


    Commissioner, 20-1

    He finished second in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and has the benefit of Belmont riches on his top side.

    His sire is A.P. Indy, who won the 1992 Belmont. Commissioner ran strong to finish behind Tonalist in the Peter Pan. He’s been training steady, but he’s in over his head against this classy field.

    Pletcher trains Commissioner too, and while the trainer has had great success in the Belmont Stakes, it would be a huge surprise to see Commissioner or Matterhorn do anything spectacular.

Dark Horses

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    General a Rod, 20-1

    At 20-1, General a Rod could make some waves as an outsider here. He’s run in all three legs of the Triple Crown and has the type of running style suitable for 1 1/2 miles. He can rate in the middle of the pack, stay within striking distance of the leaders and then make a solid push to the front around the 3/8ths pole.

    He didn't do himself any favors in the Derby but ran on nicely to get fourth in the Preakness. Trainer Mike Maker sees no reason to bench him, and he gets the services of Rose Napravnik, which is always a bonus.

    Napravnik tweeted: "Since breaking his maiden 10/18/13 I've been anxious to get back aboard #GeneralARod Can't think of more perfect race than #BelmontStakes :)"


    Samraat, 20-1

    This horse never runs a bad race and is back in New York, where he made a name for himself for trainer Rick Violette. The question entering the Derby, where he finished fifth, was, "Can he get the distance?" It was a slow winning time, and he only managed fifth, so that’s a valid argument.

    The Belmont is a full two furlongs longer than the Derby, and that adds even more doubt onto the pile. No matter what, he’ll run hard for jockey Jose Ortiz. Violette told's Phil Janack:

    He deceptively galloped out real good after the pressure was up in the Derby. I don't think we would change a day or a stride. Everything has been eerily spot on. His breeze the other day, he doesn't break stopwatches but it was a goosebump breeze, as easily as he accelerated and galloped out. I wouldn't change a thing.


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    Medal Count, 20-1

    Medal Count has been training out of his mind at Churchill Downs. He’s turned in scorching breezes that probably make trainer Dale Romans wish the Belmont would just get here already. Medal Count whipped through six furlongs in one minute, 10 seconds. His seven-furlong gallop went in one minute, 24 seconds.

    All signs are pointing to a very sharp effort from Medal Count. He was making a nice move in the Derby before nearly getting decapitated by Danza swinging out into his path. Medal Count was on point to finish third or better.

    If he gets a clear shot at the leaders, Medal Count is a certainty to hit the board.


    Ride On Curlin, 15-1

    Not getting any love is Ride On Curlin. He finished seventh after a troubled trip in the Derby and was a game second to Chrome in the Preakness. What more can this son of Curlin do? Just like his sire, he’s running in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

    At 15-1, there's a lot to like.

    He runs hard all the time and ran 103 Beyer in the Preakness, which means he has every reason to believe he can win this race. He earned an 87 Beyer in a historically slow Derby. That’s almost a 20-point jump, which may signify that he’s about to bounce and bounce hard.

    If he can pair up that move, he’ll be in the exacta or trifecta. 


    Commanding Curve, 15-1

    He’ll get a bunch of attention for his strong kick in the Derby to get second. For the second straight year, a Dallas Stewart trainee got second in the Derby. Stewart did it with Golden Soul a year ago.

    Deep closers don’t fare well in the Belmont, so expect him to be a bit closer to the pace. Stewart told's Phil Janack:

    Basically, you're just concentrating on your horse and trying to get that feeling that you can win. It's not like you're trying to upset something special. I don't personally think like that. I just want to train my horse to win the race and let everything fall where it may. That's my job, and that's what I do. He beat us fair and square at a mile and a quarter. Hopefully, the extra quarter of a mile in this race will be what we need.

The Favorites

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    Tonalist, 8-1

    Tonalist won the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes by getting a nice, easy lead. Winning that race is a feather in his cap since it was over the Belmont Park dirt. That dirt that day was muddy and sealed like a highway.

    He is sired by Tapit, one of the hottest sires going. If Joel Rosario can get Tonalist settled on the lead, he can be dangerous. At 8-1 or higher, he’s a solid horse to have underneath in exotics.


    Wicked Strong, 6-1

    Just like in the Kentucky Derby, Wicked Strong will be the second choice and is the biggest threat to defeat California Chrome and ruin the Triple Crown bid.

    Wicked Strong is a sure play to win and place in this field. He’s been training as well as any horse in this field, and if he runs back to that 104 Beyer he earned while winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, then Chrome will have his work cut out for him down the lane.

    Trainer Jimmy Jerkens told's Phil Janack: 

    I'm pretty confident; as confident as I can be. I really like how he's doing. I think we're going into the race as good as we can hope. It's a big, prestigious race and people are going to take a shot, especially with the distance being a big question for everybody. People are more apt to take a shot here than anywhere.


    California Chrome, 3-5

    Now the big horse. California Chrome has done nothing wrong.

    He has the added benefit of having a jockey in the irons who has been there before. All in all, from a betting perspective, he’s not a great play unless you single him in multirace tickets like the Pick 4 and Pick 6.

    Even keying him on top in exactas and trifectas won’t yield too much. Everyone will be betting $2 on him to win as a souvenir ticket (which is free money for NYRA since those will go un-cashed).

    Chrome has the advantage and will likely be the speed in this race. If he can clip off a 0.48 half-mile and three-quarters in 1:12, watch out. It could be Afleet Alex all over again...and Affirmed.

    Art Sherman told's Phil Janack:

    I feel better about this race than I have any other race, to be honest with you, just looking at the horse and saying, 'Wow.' I see how far he's advanced. I know it'll be tougher going a mile and a half, but this horse is a good horse. I think he's the real McCoy. They better worry about me, I can tell you that.