California Chrome stands one win away from leaving a lasting impression on the sport of horse racing. The Belmont Stakes represents the final, and also the most difficult, challenge on his journey to an elusive Triple Crown triumph.
Only 11 horses have completed the feat. The last one was Affirmed all the way back in 1978. Since that point, 12 horses were able to capture both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. None of them were able to conquer the Belmont Stakes.
The Art Sherman trainee looked dominant during the first two legs of the Triple Crown. His connections hope the miracle ride the talented colt has taken them on continues on June 7. Knowing that, let's check out all of the key details for the race along with an early preview.
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
When: Saturday, June 7 at 6:52 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
The field for the Belmont isn't official yet and probably won't be until the day of the post-position draw. That's when trainers and owners who are currently on the fence will make final decisions on whether to enter the year's final Triple Crown race.
That said, the same statement that held true at both the Derby and the Preakness is going to remain in place again, regardless of the choice the undecided connections make. California Chrome is the best horse in the race and, if he runs his best, he wins.
Yet, the are also a lot more factors in play this time around than the previous two races.
Most importantly, he's going to contest his third race in five weeks, a difficult stretch he hasn't faced until this point in his career. Add in the fact the Belmont is the longest Triple Crown race, and fatigue could become a major issue.
He hasn't looked tired during training, though. Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form provided the terrific splits from his final major prep outing:
California Chrome looks super in final Belmont prep cruises 4F in :47.47 with monster gallop out, :59.59, 1:12.76, 1:26.34 up mile 1:40.92— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) May 31, 2014
Another potential problem is the fact California Chrome hasn't been forced to overcome much adversity during the first two legs.
Jockey Victor Espinoza did a great job of making sure he had a clean trip around the track both times. He also did well to prevent the history-chasing colt from letting the breaking problems that hurt him early in his career become an issue again.
The weather has also played in his favor with clear conditions during both the Derby and Preakness. That may not be the case this time around. The Weather Channel is predicting rain showers for race day, although it's too far out to know whether they will impact the Belmont.
Can California Chrome capture the Triple Crown in a very long race, on short rest, with several fresh contenders and possibly rain falling? That's the key question and one that obviously wasn't a factor during the first two legs.
Still, he's earned a lot of respect in the horse racing world. Ed Zieralski of U-T San Diego passed along comments from veteran trainer Bob Baffert, who was no longer interested in challenging the star of the three-year-old group:
Bob Baffert predicted Cali Chrome win Friday. Quoted him. Baffert said he's "off that bus." Not going to Belmont. Tired of chasing.— Ed Zieralski (@EdZieralski) May 18, 2014
Make no mistake, there are some good horses in the field capable of ending the Triple Crown dream if California Chrome isn't at his best.
Which side would you take for the Belmont?
Commanding Curve comes back after finishing second in the Derby and skipping the Preakness. Wicked Strong was a strong Derby contender hurt by a poor post position and is also fresh. Samraat finished fifth in the Derby but won the first five races of his career.
Then there's Ride on Curlin and Social Inclusion, who finished second and third in the Preakness, respectively. And it's tough to count out some of the new shooters, led by Tonalist, who's coming off a win in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes.
Again, the field isn't locked in yet, so some of those horses may opt out before the draw. But it showcases what California Chrome could be up against.
In the end, however, it comes back to the fact he's the unquestioned horse to beat. He showed it in the Kentucky Derby and backed it up in the Preakness Stakes. If he can showcase the same form next Saturday, he'll win the Belmont, too.