Belmont Favorites: The Biggest Flaw of Each of the Top Contenders
If there has been one thing proven throughout history in the Belmont Stakes, it is that there is no such thing as a sure thing. Even some of the most invincible-looking favorites have suffered defeat at Belmont Park.
Since Affirmed claimed the Triple Crown in 1978, horse racing has been in a drought. Twelve horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to falter in the final and most elusive jewel, the Belmont Stakes. To win the Belmont, a horse must posses a rare combination of speed, stamina and strength—and even with those three things, the horse also needs a little luck.
Here is a look at the top contenders for Saturday's Belmont Stakes and the flaw that could prove to be their undoing.
Flaw: Distance limitations
Unlike California Chrome's distance limitations, which at this point are only speculative, Samraat has already revealed that the longer the races get, the more difficult the task gets for him.
Samraat had his undefeated streak snapped by Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial, and while his game performance to finish fifth in the Kentucky Derby was commendable, he did not finish like a horse that would improve with an additional quarter mile.
What he does not have in stamina, however, he makes up for with a big heart and will almost definitely give this group his top effort.
Medal Count, 14-1
Flaw: Synthetic and turf specialist
Medal Count is garnering a good deal of attention because of his stamina-rich pedigree. In theory, he should excel at the mile-and-a-half distance. And he likely would, if the Belmont Stakes were run on turf or synthetics.
He has yet to show he can be competitive against legitimate horses on conventional dirt. His strong races have come on turf or synthetics, just as his pedigree indicates. He is bred to be a very nice turf horse and could still be one if his connections stop trying to turn him into a classic dirt horse.
Wicked Strong , 9-1
Flaw: Worked too fast
Wicked Strong turned heads on Sunday at Belmont Park with a sharp bullet workout, completing five furlongs in 59.10 seconds. It was an impressive workout, but did it take too much out of him so close to the big race?
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens told the Paulick Report that the horse "went real good" but that the workout was "a little fast."
Wicked Strong began his workout behind defending Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice for Todd Pletcher and appeared eager to catch up to the other horse. That enthusiasm is an encouraging sign—it shows how competitive he is and that he appears sharp for Saturday, but the question will be whether or not that demanding work took too much out of him.
Tonalist , 15-2
Tonalist might be really good. But, he also might not. With only four starts, his body of work is not complete enough to really give an indication of how good he actually is.
He certainly looked like the real deal in the Peter Pan Stakes as he splashed home easily over Commissioner, whom he faces again in the Belmont. He took to the sealed, sloppy racetrack extremely well and will very likely not have that sort of surface on Saturday.
While he was visually impressive in his last win, he defeated a horse who at this point appears to be all pedigree and no substance. Two starts back, he lost to a highly regarded horse in Constitution, who unfortunately went to the sidelines before it was clear how legitimate he actually was.
Tonalist gets a big test on Saturday to see if he can run with the big boys.
Commanding Curve, 15-2
Flaw: Has only won a maiden race
Commanding Curve burst into the spotlight with a good runner-up effort in the Kentucky Derby. This was right on the heels of a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby. He has proven he can run against nice horses, but he has not proven he can win against them.
He broke his maiden in his fourth attempt at Churchill Downs last fall, and in three subsequent starts he has not won against stakes company. He is still eligible for conditional races (races for horses who have only won one, two or three races) and still needs to prove he has what it takes to actually win.
Ride on Curlin, 5-1
Flaw: Triple Crown fatigue
Ride On Curlin has had an extremely demanding Triple Crown schedule. After a very rough trip in the Kentucky Derby, he rebounded well in the Preakness to chase home his rival, California Chrome. Running three big races in five weeks is a lot to ask of any horse, and the wear and tear of the Triple Crown may be taking its toll.
After a slow workout on Sunday, Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch tweeted that he had "expected a bit better"—and that poses the question of whether or not this colt is running out of steam.
He shares the same sire as 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice in Curlin, and the depth on his sire side should overcome the sprint influence in his female family.
California Chrome, Even
The mile-and-a-half distance of the Belmont Stakes has been the downfall of some of the greatest horses in the history of the sport. Modern Thoroughbreds are simply not bred the way they used to be. Now, the emphasis is on speed and precocity, and stamina has taken a back seat.
California Chrome is by a stallion who never won beyond five-and-a-half furlongs. His dam's lone victory came at a mile against cheap claiming company at Golden Gate Fields. This is not the pedigree one thinks of when they think of Belmont Stakes winners, or Derby winners for that matter.
California Chrome, however, does not seem to know he is not supposed to be able to get the distance. He finished the mile-and-a-quarter Kentucky Derby looking like he had some gas left in the tank and will get a chance to prove the skeptics wrong once again on Saturday.
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