For the improbable story of California Chrome, it comes down to this. Saturday marks the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes and, more importantly, presents the opportunity for horse racing history.
With a win in the southeastern New York town, California Chrome would become the 12th horse in history to win all three Triple Crown races. He would be the first since Affirmed closed the deal in 1978.
In the more than three decades that have passed since, 12 different horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, only to fail at the Belmont. The last two haven't even crossed the finish line.
I'll Have Another was pulled out before the race due to injury in 2012, while Big Brown six years ago was pulled midway through his run. It was the first time since the 1930s that a Triple Crown contender did not legitimately complete the attempt.
Luckily, there will be no such disappointment this time around.
California Chrome is healthy and raring to go, boasting six straight wins and status as a massive favorite. The mile-and-a-half journey will be packed with contenders from the last two races, all of whom want to play the role of spoiler. Everyone acknowledges the need for a Triple Crown winner to stoke horse racing interest, but the sense of pride (and the oodles of cash to be made) from winning on the biggest stage should make the Belmont the premier showcase of the summer.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at Saturday afternoon's mad dash, highlighting when and where you can watch the action.
2014 Belmont Stakes Information
When: Saturday, June 7 at 6:52 p.m. ET (post time)
Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
|2014 Belmont Stakes: Post Positions and Odds|
|5||Ride On Curlin||12-1|
|10||General a Rod||20-1|
California Chrome's backstory is something out of a fable. Born to the lowly breeding of a horse that no one wanted from two owners who appropriately named their company Dumbass Partners, he probably should have never made it out of the state from which he came. He and trainer Art Sherman, whose own story is made out of a Disney movie, should have played out their run on the mid-tier cards; that's what $10,000 horses do.
And yet they're on the cusp of history.
California Chrome's first two wins were exactly what you'd want: confident, at certain points dominant and mirroring each other in their precision. Jockey Victor Espinoza has preferred getting his horse in the mix out of the starting gate but never pushing too hard. California Chrome was stuck in third place for the first half of both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before turning on the afterburners and smoking the field.
In Kentucky, he held a five-length lead before pulling up at the end. In Baltimore, Ride On Curlin was the only horse who finished within eight lengths. The Belmont presents its own set of unique challenges, but California Chrome has looked brilliant in his pre-race runs.
Saturday will obviously be different. The Belmont is by far the most unique of the Triple Crown races. At 1 1/2 miles, it is the longest race by a quarter-mile. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness are run on shorter tracks where horses without elite stamina can thrive. It's worth noting that California Chrome was nearly caught toward the end of his previous two wins—enough to where it's fair to wonder whether he can hold the lead for that extra quarter of a mile.
“He’s fit,” exercise rider Willie Delgado told CBS New York. “Come the day of the race, like I always said, it’s all up to him and God. I can’t say enough. He’s really, really improving. Like I’ve always said, after each race he got better.”
Hoping he hasn't gotten better is a series of challengers who are already familiar with his brand of dominance.
Ride On Curlin, the seventh-place finisher at Churchill Downs and runner-up at Pimlico, leads the list of possible challengers. The young colt is one of the better distance runners in the field. He nearly nabbed California Chrome down the stretch three weeks ago and now has an ace in the hole.
John Velazquez, one of the most respected jockeys in horse racing history, will be atop Ride On Curlin after Joel Rosario chose to ride Tonalist instead. Velazquez has three Triple Crown wins under his belt, most recently at the 2012 Belmont. It will be interesting to see how Ride On Curlin reacts, given the glut of jockey changes throughout his young career.
Should he be unable to repeat the sterling showing at Pimlico, Rosario's Tonalist may also play the spoiler. The horse won the Peter Pan Stakes and seems primed for another strong run on Saturday. Also in the hunt will be Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve; they were held out of the Preakness in hopes the time off would erase the gap with California Chrome.
Considering what we've seen so far, trainers and owners better have picked up every heads-up penny and thrown it in every wishing well during their time off.
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