On Saturday, June 7, California Chrome will have a chance to leave his mark on the horse racing world forever. Just 1 1/2 miles of dirt track at the 2014 Belmont Stakes separates the three-year-old from completing the first Triple Crown sweep in 36 years.
Eleven horses have completed the monumental feat, but there hasn't been a winner since Affirmed took all three jewels in the Triple Crown back in 1978.
California Chrome does have ties to previous Triple Crown winners deep within his bloodlines. He can claim Secretariat and Seattle Slew—Triple Crown winners in 1973 and 1977, respectively—among his lofty ancestors, according to pedigree information from HorseRacingNation.com.
California Chrome has one major obstacle of a race to overcome, but his odds remain as strong as ever heading into Saturday's event in Elmont, New York.
Here are the complete odds for every horse in the Belmont Stakes field, starting with California Chrome.
|Ride On Curlin||5-1|
|General a Rod||N/A (late entry, odds not updated)|
(Note: Odds courtesy of OddsShark.com and updated as of Monday, June 2.)
Breaking Down California Chrome's Chances
With the odds in his favor, it seems like there is very little that can stop California Chrome from making history. There's a bundle of outside factors that can derail California Chrome on Saturday, but the forces within this horse's control will guarantee he is very competitive in the Run for the Carnations.
It starts with strong training runs. California Chrome put on a show Saturday morning with his big training run in front of numerous onlookers. He definitely pleased assistant trainer Alan Sherman.
“He’s ready, he galloped out great, exactly what we wanted today,” Sherman told Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times. “I’m confident in this horse and always have been.”
Daily Racing Form's David Grening has been keeping tabs on California Chrome's workouts, and notes his form is as strong as ever.
Hard to go against California Chrome after watching that work.— David Grening (@DRFGrening) May 31, 2014
California Chrome's camp has to be happy about the decision to allow their horse to wear his nasal strips. He's had success with and without the strips, but ESPN Stats & Info points out just how dominant he's been with his favorite accessory.
California Chrome's 1st 6 career races without nasal strip: 2 wins, $105K earnings. His last 6 races with nasal strip: 6 wins, $3.35M— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 19, 2014
Considering all the adoration shown towards the horses leading up to this event, it can feel like the jockeys are looked at as accessories themselves. While other horses' trainers are as yet undecided on who their thoroughbred will carry into Belmont Park, California Chrome will be comfortable with jockey Victor Espinoza atop his back for the Triple Crown finale.
They've won the first two legs together, and will need to be completely in sync on the daunting track at Belmont Park. The long 1 1/2-mile race (12 furlongs) is decidedly unforgiving, and Espinoza will have to time California Chrome's moves expertly in order to conserve strength for the final push on the home stretch.
This may be a problem for Espinoza. He's competed in over 3,100 races in his career but has won just twice in 67 races at Belmont Park, according to Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News.
Those numbers look deplorable, but Espinoza hasn't always had a horse as strong as California Chrome to work with. The timing and feel between the two is more important than Espinoza's record at one track.
It is that push at the top of the final stretch that drew California Chrome rave reviews after the Kentucky Derby and really got the Triple Crown conversation started.
Espinoza also has an opportunity for personal redemption at Belmont Park. He won the Derby and the Preakness in 2002 with War Emblem, but the dynamic duo couldn't complete the Triple Crown and finished a disappointing eighth at the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome will definitely face an impressive field on Saturday. Both Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin—runner-ups in the Derby and the Preakness, respectively—will look to surge past the chestnut gelding in the final stretch of Belmont Park.
Wicked Strong is another worthy competitor with the added benefit of Belmont Park experience; he garnered first- and second-place finishes in two maiden special-weight races on the dirt track in late 2013.
And, of course, inclement weather can turn the track into a slosh pit on race day and turn all the strong training runs on a dusty dirt track into a moot point. This was a concern heading into the race, but the current forecasts (as of Monday, June 2) from Weather.com show just a 10 percent chance of rain on Saturday.
Will a California Chrome victory at Belmont Stakes increase interest in horse racing?
If California Chrome pulls off the victory at Belmont Park, it could spark renewed interest in the sport of horse racing. Entire generations of potential fans have come and gone without a big-time horse to root for, and California Chrome's humble beginnings make for a truly inspiring narrative that any casual fan can latch onto.
Should another colt upset California Chrome at Belmont Park, the owners of the winning horse may be the only ones truly excited about the victory.
Don't expect a change in strategy or style from California Chrome and Espinoza. They will look to make the same move that worked for them in the previous two races, pushing the pace on the final turn. It will all come down to the final stretch at Belmont Park, where California Chrome will be asked to prove that he can hold off his challengers before running out of gas.