Belmont Stakes Field 2014: Examining Favorites, Sleeper Contenders, Top Jockeys

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Belmont Stakes Field 2014: Examining Favorites, Sleeper Contenders, Top Jockeys
Al Bello/Getty Images

It's been 36 years since we last saw a Triple Crown winner.

Since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978, 12 horses have entered Belmont Stakes with the very same opportunity—none emerged victorious.

This year, California Chrome has the same aspirations. He put on two sparkling performances at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, winning both in decisive fashion.

Can the California-bred colt finally end the Triple Crown drought on Saturday at Belmont Park?

As the third jewel of the Triple Crown fast approaches, let's look over this year's favorites, sleepers and top jockeys set to take the track.

 

Belmont Stakes Favorites

California Chrome

Well, this one is obvious.

The clear-cut favorite entering the Belmont Stakes, California Chrome is most certainly the horse to beat. He showed a great deal of endurance and closing ability at both Churchill Downs and Pimlico.

Despite winning those two races, a longer Belmont Stakes (1.5 miles) could be a big obstacle for him to overcome as he enters his third race in five weeks.

Although, according to a tweet from The New York Times, California Chrome has been very impressive during workouts so far:

 

Ride On Curlin

After struggling a bit in the Derby, Ride On Curlin made waves in the Preakness Stakes.

He started out wide and was forced to settle in behind the leaders for the majority of the race; however, his endurance and closing speed were well on display. Ride On Curlin surged from the outside only to fall to California Chrome by 1 1/2 lengths.

Let's take a look back at this year's Preakness Stakes:

Should California Chrome tire down the final furlong at Belmont Park, it could be Ride On Curlin who reaps the benefits.

 

Commanding Curve

This colt entered the Derby with some rather unfavorable odds. He opened at 50-1 and began the race at 37-1.

Early in the race, Commanding Curve didn't look like much of a threat. He quickly fell behind the leaders by a big margin, settling in 18th position. Throughout the race Commanding Curve continued to build speed, flying past 16 horses to finish second behind California Chrome by 1 3/4 lengths.

Here's a look back at the Kentucky Derby. Keep a watchful eye on No. 17:

Commanding Curve is well rested after skipping the Preakness Stakes, and with his closing speed, the extra length at Belmont Park could serve him well.

 

Belmont Stakes Sleepers

Tonalist

Although Tonalist may not appear to be a sleeper given his early odds, he is still a newcomer to this year's Triple Crown races.

No stranger to Belmont Park, Tonalist flourished there earlier this year at the Peter Pan Stakes. He's an absolute runner, maintaining a blazing pace throughout the race and finishing strong.

Here's a look at his dominating performance:

Should he run the same kind of race on Saturday, Tonalist has a strong chance of crossing the finish line first.

 

Samraat

This horse simply thrives in New York.

Samraat won his first five races in New York, dating back to a 2013 win at Belmont Park. He followed that up with four consecutive wins at Aqueduct.

He had a strong showing in the Wood Memorial, finishing second to Wicked Strong, but his lack of closing ability could be a big hurdle for Samraat to overcome in the Belmont Stakes.

Here's a look at Samraat in full stride, courtesy of a tweet from Barbara Livingston of the Daily Racing Form:

Should the pace remain on the slow side, he could still be able to muster up enough endurance to find himself near the front in the end.

 

Belmont Stakes Top Jockeys

Victor Espinoza

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Espinoza has been brilliant atop California Chrome.

He's guided the horse flawlessly through the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Consistently putting his horse in position to succeed, Espinoza deserves a great deal of credit for the colt's success.

No stranger to his current situation, Espinoza led War Emblem to Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins back in 2002 before falling at Belmont Park. His experience will pay dividends this year.

 

John Velazquez

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Velazquez will take the reins of Ride On Curlin once again on Saturday.

He's found success at the Belmont Stakes before, emerging victorious in 2007 on Rags to Riches. With a bevy of wins under his belt, the 2004 and 2005 Eclipse Award winner is one of the most polished and experienced jockeys in this year's field.

 

Mike Smith

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

While Smith doesn't have one of the strongest horses at Belmont Park this year—he's slated to ride heavy underdog Matuszak—he's no stranger to the race.

Just last year, Smith steered Palace Malice to victory, making his 2014 run at the Belmont Stakes a title defense. Also a previous Kentucky Derby winner, Smith brings plenty of experience to this prestigious race.

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