Twelve furlongs away from history, California Chrome enters Belmont Park as the clear focus of the Triple Crown's third leg.
With the exception of Miguel Cabrera—who is in fact not a horse but a baseball player—no one has won the Triple Crown since 1978. And as of late, those who have come close haven't really come close.
In 2008, Big Brown didn't finish the Belmont after winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. In 2012, I'll Have Another didn't have another in New York. You have to go back a decade to find the last horse to actually finish the Belmont Stakes during a Triple Crown attempt—Smarty Jones finished second in 2004.
It's clearly not going to be easy, and with the way the unusual favorite has breezed through the first two legs, expectations are going to be through the roof. Fortunately, California Chrome is used to exceeding expectations and making history by now.
What's one more time?
2014 Belmont Stakes Viewing Info
|Date||Time (ET)||Event||TV||Live Stream|
|Sat, June 7||2:30 p.m.||Belmont Park Live Coverage||NBC Sports Network||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Sat, June 7||4:30 p.m.||Belmont Park Live Coverage||NBC||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Sat, June 7||6:52 p.m.||2014 Belmont Stakes||NBC||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|Sat, June 7||7 p.m.||Belmont Post-Race Show||NBC Sports Network||NBC Sports Live Extra|
|5||Ride on Curlin||12-1|
|10||General a Rod||20-1|
|3||Ride on Curlin|
Picking the favorite may be boring, but picking the loser isn't any better—and California Chrome has proven too special to bet against.
Where will California Chrome finish?
Belmont can be tricky. The 1.5-mile race magnifies the importance of stamina, making it far more common to see the most talented horses succumb against the underdogs—er, under-horses. The most difficult leg of the Triple Crown is dubbed "The Test of the Champion" for valid reasons.
Alas, if there's one thing Mr. Chrome has proven to be during this stretch, it's versatile.
At the leisurely Kentucky Derby—the slowest Derby on a "fast" track since 1974—California Chrome was set up perfectly. The plodding opening pace let jockey Victor Espinoza easily sit just outside of the leaders before making his move on the final turn:
If there was criticism moving forward, it's that it was too easy for California Chrome. But when the shorter Preakness Stakes yielded a much more rapid pace, the result was the same. California Chrome was able to keep up with the leaders, making a move to the finish line when the early pace-setters tired out.
Fast pace, short pace, longer track, shorter track: The pairing of California Chrome and Espinoza can win no matter the style of race. Moreover, as Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form noted, the chestnut colt has looked good at Belmont:
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
“It was perfect, the horse worked great,” said Alan Sherman, the son of trainer Art Sherman, after the eye-popping workout, via the New York Daily News' Jerry Bossert. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more. It was a perfect work.”
Horses aren't typically bred for 1.5-mile races anymore, and there will be much more competition than there was at Pimlico. But California Chrome is a rare specimen, and that will be—wait for it—affirmed on Saturday when he makes history.
As for filling out the rest of the trifecta, it's never a bad idea to go with another "CC."
Commanding Curve finished second at the Kentucky Derby thanks to an amazing trip from Shaun Bridgmohan, and as Joe Kristufek of AmericasBestRacing.net noted, he should be in good shape after skipping the Preakness:
Moreover, he was flying down the stretch at the Kentucky Derby, and a few extra furlongs may have been enough to catch California Chrome. Welsch alluded to that distance ability:
Commanding Curve certainly looks fit and ready for Belmont gallops impressive 2 3/8 miles the last 1/2 mile stronger than the first.— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) May 30, 2014
For third, we'll go with Ride on Curlin, who followed up a disappointing seventh-place finish at the Kentucky Derby with a second at the Preakness. As Trakus pointed out, the colt's final stretch at Churchill Downs indicated he shouldn't have any problems with stamina, either:
Fastest final 1/8 in Derby: 2nd Commanding Curve 12.75, 7th Ride On Curlin 13.01, Danza 13.07.— Trakus (@TrakusRacing) May 3, 2014
Clearly, California Chrome is in for a challenge. But as we've learned over the past six races, a challenge isn't a problem for this horse.