Elmont, New York plays host to the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, an event that will capture the imagination of the globe—as well as the wallets of the brave.
Conventional wisdom says to stay away. California Chrome is the sport's most dominant athlete at this juncture and has won a variety of races in dominant fashion, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
While the quest for the first Triple Crown since 1978 is an intriguing narrative, understand that other contenders have favorable odds as well for good reason. Let's take a gander at the full list.
|California Chrome||Steven Coburn and Perry Martin||Art Sherman||1-1|
|Commanding Curve||West Point Thoroughbreds||Dallas Stewart||15-2|
|Commissioner||WinStar Farm||Todd Pletcher||33-1|
|General A Rod||Skychai Racing LLC and Starlight Racing||Mike Maker||N/A|
|Kid Cruz||Vina Del Mar Tb's and Black Swan Stb.||Linda Rice||40-1|
|Matterhorn||Mrs. John Maginer, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith||Todd Pletcher||33-1|
|Medal Count||Spendthrift Farm LLC||Dale Romans||14-1|
|Matuszak||George Prussin||Bill Mott||40-1|
|Ride On Curlin||Daniel J. Dougherty||William Gowan||5-1|
|Samraat||My Meadowview Farm||Richard Violette, Jr.||20-1|
|Social Inclusion||Rontos Racing Stable||Manuel Azpurua||33-1|
|Tonalist||Robert S. Evans||Christophe Clement||15-2|
|Wicked Strong||Centennial Farm||James Jerkens||9-1|
BelmontStakes.com. Odds via OddsShark as of 6/2/14 at 3 p.m. ET
Note: Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com
Breaking Down Top Favorites
Much has been painstakingly written about how California Chrome has never run a track as long as the one at Belmont Park and how major contenders sat out of the event in Baltimore and enter the proceedings in New York at full strength.
At this point, it's all white noise.
It matters little where the rags-to-riches story starts at this point. Since Victor Espinoza climbed into the saddle some races ago, California Chrome has morphed into the most dominant horse the sport has seen in more than a decade.
By all accounts, it has been business as usual in New York. Katherine Terrell of The Times-Picayune is just one analyst who has been impressed so far:
Hard to just judge by a video, but man, California Chrome looks fantastic.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) May 31, 2014
Until further notice, California Chrome is the safest bet around. Espinoza clearly understands how to negotiate traffic and get the absolute most out of the most athletically gifted horse in the field come Saturday, so those looking for an easy way to make coin need look no further.
Ride On Curlin
Folks oft forget those who do not finish first, which seems to be the case with Ride On Curlin—the horse who was closest to upending California Chrome in the Preakness Stakes.
In fact, it is easy to forget that Ride On Curlin is a member of an exclusive club this year, as captured by Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form:
General a Rod, California Chrome, Ride On Curlin will be lone horses to compete in all 3 legs of the Triple Crown this year. #Belmont— Jay Privman (@DRFPrivman) May 31, 2014
The scene in Baltimore was rather ugly as Ride On Curlin looked to be in contention near the final stretch, but it was readily apparent that he had expended his final surge entirely too early.
Perhaps there is a chance this will not occur on Saturday, as John Velazquez will ride in place of Joel Rosario. That change, in tandem with besting most of the field in the middle leg of the Triple Crown, may be what has caused the line to shift.
Count trainer Billy Gowan was one who believes. “I think he’s got a Grade I win in him,” Gowan said, via Tom Pedulla of The New York Times. “I’m just hoping it will be Saturday.”
Likeminded individuals surely enjoy the same confidence thanks to past performances and favorable odds. Ride On Curlin is not a horrible way to get risky on Saturday.
Wicked Strong entered the Kentucky Derby a favorite after a Grade 1 win at the Wood Memorial Stakes, but wound up in fourth place.
Now fully rested, Wicked Strong is back on the minds of bettors for all the right reasons.
By most accounts, Wicked Strong has had the look of the best horse in practice not named California Chrome, as Daily Racing Form's Mike Welsch helps to record:
Wicked Strong on training track 5/8 59.17 out 113.08 worked behind Pletcher team that included Palace Malice final 3/8 34.45 w/o urging— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) June 1, 2014
The same distance questions apply to Wicked Strong as they do the large favorite on Saturday, but past successes and early training runs suggest Wicked Strong is poised to shock the field, provided the pole position is kind and early traffic can be successfully navigated.
Note: All info courtesy of Belmont Stakes' website unless otherwise specified.