The 2014 Belmont Stakes is now under one week away, as California Chrome continues his improbable bid to capture the coveted Triple Crown.
The California-bred colt put on a pair of sparkling performances at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes; however, his run at Belmont Park is another kind of monster.
Since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, 12 other horses have entered Belmont Park with the same aspirations—none were successful.
It won't be easy for California Chrome either, due to an extremely strong field in this year's race.
Let's review the field at Belmont Park and determine which horses have the best chance at thwarting yet another Triple Crown bid.
1. Wicked Strong
The ability to close may be the most desired attribute in the Belmont Stakes, and there isn't another horse in the field with more closing speed than Wicked Strong.
In the Kentucky Derby, Wicked Strong drew the unfortunate No. 20 post position. Starting so far to the outside is a daunting task for any horse—no matter its speed or endurance.
Early in the race, Wicked Strong was forced to remain four wide heading into the first turn. He maintained this position for quite some time, severely lengthening the race.
After finding some traffic early in the backstretch, Wicked Strong pushed hard toward the front of the pack. Weaving through traffic, he displayed fantastic closing ability and was able to move up enough to finish in fourth place.
Here's a look back at the Kentucky Derby. Keep an eye on No. 20 down the backstretch:
If this horse is given a more favorable starting position, he has all of the necessary tools to come out on top in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
2. Ride On Curlin
Sharing the same kind of closing ability as Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin put on a dazzling display in the Preakness Stakes.
Ride On Curlin began out wide in the No. 10 gate at Pimlico. He broke nicely from the gate, but he had too much early ground to make up and was forced to settle in behind the lead pack.
He maintained a solid speed through the backstretch despite a blistering pace set by the lead horses, remaining roughly nine lengths off the lead.
Ride On Curlin made his move at the far turn, going three wide and using his great closing speed to quickly make up ground on California Chrome.
Coming into the final furlong, California Chrome had a two-length lead, as Ride On Curlin continued to make up ground from the outside. The two horses remained close down the final stretch, as California Chrome took the win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Here's another look at the Preakness Stakes in its entirety:
This is certainly a horse poised to make a run at Belmont Park.
This may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, Tonalist is a newcomer to this year's Triple Crown races.
Still, this horse is extremely familiar with Belmont Park, having earned a decisive victory there earlier this year at the Peter Pan Stakes.
Tonalist didn't have an overly spectacular break, but he made up ground quickly over the first furlong, bursting into the lead.
After the first quarter mile, Tonalist already increased his lead to 3 1/2 lengths. Once he gained a significant lead, he set a steady pace heading into the top of the stretch.
He really turned it on down the final furlong of the race, showing an immense amount of endurance and closing speed. This made him nearly impossible to catch, as he glided to the finish, beating the field by 3 1/2 lengths.
Here's a look at his dominant showing:
Given his familiarity with the track, and having been well rested leading up to the Belmont Stakes, Tonalist has a very fine opportunity to become a heavy factor on June 7.
There are several other horses primed for solid showings as well. Commanding Curve was dazzling at the Derby, and Danza figures to make a strong run once more. Here's a look at the ranks of the remaining horses:
|Ranking Remaining 2014 Belmont Stakes Contenders|
|Sean O'Donnell's Rankings|
Will we see an end to the 36-year Triple Crown drought?
California Chrome is certainly talented enough to accomplish the feat. But after breaking down his competition, it quickly becomes apparent that he'll be given a run for his money.
Hang on to your hats.