The festivities at Belmont Park this weekend in New York will primarily focus on California Chrome's bid for immortality, but the entire slate of races on the undercard clearly form what is the best two days the sport has to offer on the 2014 calendar.
As the final act of the Triple Crown taking place in a major market, the officials in charge of the Belmont Stakes have crafted quite the high-stakes lineup for bettors and casual fans alike.
As David Grening of Daily Racing Form points out, legendary trainer Bob Baffert is just one of many bringing big-name contenders to the stacked undercard:
With events like the Belmont Gold Cup leading the charge, the weekend's full slate is loaded:
|2014 Belmont Undercard Schedule|
|Friday, June 6||Saturday, June 7|
|1||1:20 p.m.||1||11:35 a.m.|
|2||1:50 p.m.||2||12:07 p.m.|
|3||2:20 p.m.||3||12:40 p.m.|
|4||2:50 p.m.||4||1:16 p.m.|
|5||3:20 p.m.||5||1:54 p.m.|
|6||3:50 p.m.||6||2:32 p.m.|
|7||4:22 p.m.||7||3:14 p.m.|
|8||4:35 p.m.||8||4:00 p.m.|
|9. True North||5:06 p.m.||9||4:48 p.m.|
|10. The Belmont Gold Cup||5:40 p.m.||10||5:42 p.m.|
|11. The Belmont Stakes||6:52 p.m.|
Note: Full race info can be found at BelmontStakes.com.
Of course, the highlight of the weekend is the Belmont Stakes itself, which helps to close out the overall package the folks in charge have to offer. Many are dialed in on California Chrome's journey, and rightfully so.
For all intents and purposes, there is nothing to say the top three finishers will not be familiar faces:
|2014 Belmont Stakes Race Predictions|
|1||California Chrome||Steven Coburn and Perry Martin||Art Sherman|
|2||Wicked Strong||Centennial Farm||James Jerkens|
|3||Ride On Curlin||Daniel J. Dougherty||William Gowan|
146th running of the Belmont Stakes
When: Saturday, June 7
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, New York
Time: Broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. ET
Post Time: 6:52 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
|2014 Belmont Stakes: Post Predictions and Odds|
|5||Ride on Curlin||12-1|
|10||General a Rod||20-1|
Questions about nasal strips, fatigue, a distance California Chrome has never tackled—which goes for each three-year-old in the field—and more have surrounded jockey Victor Espinoza and the greatest athlete in the sport for weeks.
In the end, it will matter little. As Alan Sherman put it recently after repetitive, dominant showings in practice, California Chrome is as ready as can be for Saturday, per the Associated Press, via ESPN: "I couldn't ask for anything more. It was a perfect work. He's ready. I'm confident in this horse and always have been. We've still got to run the race."
Outside of the fact some contenders on Saturday sat out of the proceedings in Baltimore to better prepare for the event in Elmont, there is little to suggest California Chrome cannot tackle such a distance—especially with Espinoza in the saddle, who has gotten the absolute best out of his horse on the duo's recent tear.
Wicked Strong is one such competitor that is fully rested after finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Prior hype from a Grade 1 win at the Wood Memorial Stakes has cemented his status as a contender, something he will surely be on Saturday given his impressive endurance.
Rounding out the top three is a familiar face in Ride On Curlin, who had the look of a horse who could upset California Chrome in Baltimore before running out of gas on the home stretch. While Ride On Curlin will also have to encounter a new distance, a new jockey in John Velazquez will be enough to steal another top-three finish.
But the overarching theme, both this weekend and over the course of the past calendar year, remains the same—there is little the field can do to keep up with California Chrome.