Triple Crown 2014: Analyzing Key Belmont Stakes Hurdles for California Chrome

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJune 1, 2014

California Chrome, right, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, heads to the finish line ahead of Ride on Curlin, ridden by Joel Rosario, to win the 139th Preakness Stakes horse race a Saturday, May 17, 2014,  at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Nick Wass/Associated Press

California Chrome will attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 by winning the 2014 Belmont Stakes. As impressive as he was during the first two legs of the journey, Belmont Park hosts the toughest test of them all.

The talented colt was on cruise control during the final strides of the Kentucky Derby after breezing past the field down the stretch. Ride on Curlin challenged him after the turn for home in the Preakness Stakes, but California Chrome remained in control throughout the race.

Now the focus turns to the Belmont, where history can be made, but it won't be easy.

Let's examine some of the biggest hurdles the Art Sherman trainee will be forced to overcome in the "Test of the Champion" on Saturday.


Long Race on Short Rest

The Belmont will mark California Chrome's third race in five weeks. It's the most strenuous stretch of his career to this point. Alone, that would be enough to create some doubt. But you also have to figure in that it's the longest Triple Crown race at 12 furlongs.

Those factors are a major reason there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed.

However, Sherman doesn't sound overly concerned. Ed Zieralski of U-T San Diego passed along comments from the 77-year-old trainer about the distance:

I heard that, they're saying no way he can get a mile and a half. They're looking for a hole in his armor. I think a mile and a half will be down his alley. Victor (Espinoza, California Chrome's jockey) just has to be patient and let him run his race.

Quite simply, California Chrome is going to get tested like never before, and it's impossible to know exactly how he's going to react. The way he was able to win the Derby and Preakness without running out of energy is a good sign, but it doesn't guarantee success.


Strong Field of Opponents

Though the Belmont field probably won't be completely set until the draw on Wednesday, a pretty solid picture has emerged. And it features some horses capable of edging California Chrome if he's not at his best—including the second-place finishers at both the Derby and Preakness.

Commanding Curve was the runner-up in the Derby and the aforementioned Ride on Curlin assumed that position in the Preakness.

They headline a deep group of contenders that will force California Chrome to do something no horse has been able to, as noted by Chris Fallica of ESPN:

The top three finishers in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial (Wicked Strong, Samraat and Social Inclusion) are also possible challengers. The other lesser-known factor is any new shooters that join the field after not taking part in the first two legs.

It's a diverse and dangerous group.


Lack of Triple Crown Adversity

One thing California Chrome hasn't been forced to face through two Triple Crown races is adversity. In both instances he was able to break easily from the gate, which was a concern, and got a clean trip around the track from Victor Espinoza.

That success raises questions about how he'll perform if things don't go as smoothly.

Maybe he gets a bad break or isn't able to sit comfortably in the second wave of horses for the majority of the race. Rain could also become a factor according to the Weather Channel's long-range forecast.

California Chrome has been the best horse in the field during the entire Triple Crown schedule. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that he's been able to win without any adversity.

It will be interesting to see how he responds if a problem arises in the Belmont.