Belmont 2014: One Reason Each Contender Could Win in New York
Before we hand California Chrome the Triple Crown, it might be a good idea to glimpse at the rest of the field and look for at least one reason each contender can pull off the upset in New York on Saturday.
The betting is clearly heading in one direction with the current betting odds on the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner at 11/10 according to Odds Shark.
However, we have seen a few heavy favorites crash and burn trying to get the demanding distance of the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
What do Big Brown, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Sunday Silence, Alysheba, Pleasant Colony and Spectacular Bid all have in common? They all went off at betting odds of even money or less and lost the Belmont Stakes.
Let’s find at least one reason each contender could win in New York (in order of their probable betting odds, high to low).
Matuszak: The Added Distance
This colt is a late-running son of Bernardini—who won the Preakness Stakes and whose sire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont Stakes. He is out of the stakes-winning mare Golden Sonata, who won six of her 19 career starts.
The colt has not had a clean trip in his last couple of starts, and his last was a runner-up finish to Kid Cruz in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico where he got blocked in traffic.
The colt should be able to work out a better trip over the larger Belmont Park oval, and with his long-winded pedigree, he could be making up ground late. The colt is currently the biggest price in the field at 50/1, according to Odds Shark.
Matterhorn: Trainer Todd Pletcher
With just a maiden win to his credit in four career starts, Matterhorn figures to be one of the biggest prices in the Belmont Stakes field. He is currently listed at betting odds of 33/1, according to Odds Shark.
However, any horse sent out by six-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher may be worth a second look. Pletcher won last year’s Belmont Stakes with Palace Malice, who returned $29.60 for a $2.00 wager in his upset victory.
The win snapped a five-race losing streak for the colt—he had finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.
Pletcher also won the 2007 running of the Belmont Stakes with Rags to Riches—just the third filly to win the third jewel of the Triple Crown and the first since Tanya in 1905.
While his trainer, Todd Pletcher, has won the Belmont Stakes twice and is a six-time Eclipse Award winning trainer, this colt’s pedigree is what might get him to the winner’s circle on Belmont Stakes Day.
The colt is by the prolific sire A.P. Indy—winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1992—and is out of the mare Flaming Heart, who was a multiple stakes winner and was sired by 1997 Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold.
He was no match for Tonalist in the Peter Pan Stakes, but he may be able to turn the tables with the added distance of ground.
Samraat: Proven over the Surface
It was only a maiden race against state-breds, but Samraat is proven over the Belmont Park main track—known as "Big Sandy." The colt is one of just three that have a win over the surface. He joins Wicked Strong, who broke his maiden over the track, and Tonalist, who won the Peter Pan over a sloppy surface.
The colt put in his last major work at Aqueduct, and trainer Rick Violette was pleased. "It was very, very good," Violette told the NYRA Press Office. "He went the last quarter in :24, which was just what we were looking for. He didn't break any stop watches, but it was pretty cool."
General a Rod: No Roses, but He Gets Rosie
One of just three runners that will compete in all three jewels of the Triple Crown. The Mike Maker trainee will be looking to improve off his 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness.
The colt will reunite with jockey Rosie Napravnik, who was aboard the colt when he broke his maiden in his debut last fall at Keeneland. The colt had top jocks in Javier Castellano and Joel Rosario in his last two starts, so the switch to Rosie is not exactly an upgrade.
However, she is now the leading female jockey in the U.S. and has shown she can win on the big stage. Napravnik became the first female rider to win the Kentucky Oaks with Believe You Can in 2012 and did it again this year with Untapable.
Her fifth-place finish in the 2013 Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes on Mylute are the best finishes for a female jockey in those two Triple Crown races. She can join elite company with a win at the Belmont Stakes. Hall of Fame rider Julie Krone is the lone female rider to win there—doing so on Colonial Affair in 1993.
Social Inclusion: Early Speed to Spare
Social Inclusion was the expected front-runner in the Kentucky Derby, but the colt got out-sprinted in the early going and ended up stalking the early pace in fifth. The colt made a move around the far turn to get right with California Chrome, who brushed him off rather easily.
His connections are leaning toward running him in the $500,000 Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes Day undercard—a seven-furlong race.
If he ends up running in the Belmont Stakes, expect to see him on the lead. He was up front in his first three career starts—including heading for home with the lead in the Wood Memorial only to weaken late and finish third.
There is not a ton of pace in the Belmont Stakes field, and that means this guy could be a danger if he shakes loose early.
Medal Count: Luckier Post Position, Better Trip Expected
The Dale Romans trainee could use better luck in the post position draw and finding an easier trip around the racetrack. Two races back in the Toyota Blue Grass the colt drew the 13 post and jockey Robby Albarado was forced wide around the far turn, rallying to finish a good second.
In the Kentucky Derby, he drew unlucky 13 again and had a tough trip. He was shuffled back in traffic going around the first turn, had to steady after being bumped by Danza and finished with some interest once he got some clear sailing.
He will not draw the unlucky 13 post three times in a row, and I am expecting to see Albarado work out a better trip.
Wicked Strong: The Five Week Break
The Wood Memorial winner had a tough trip in his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, and instead of heading to Baltimore, the James Jerkens trainee headed back to New York and received a five-week break.
That has worked well in recent years. Seven Belmont Stakes winners since 2000 lost in the Kentucky Derby, skipped the Preakness and found themselves in the winner’s circle on Belmont Stakes Day. Palace Malice last year and Union Rags in 2012 bypassed the Preakness and were fresh and ready to go in New York.
Wicked Strong could join those ranks. He showed in his Wood win he likes the surface, and having the extra time to regroup could give him an edge over the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.
Tonalist: The Most Upside
With just four starts under his belt, Tonalist has the most upside among any of the runners in this year’s Belmont Stakes field. The colt made just one start last year as a juvenile and did not make his stakes debut until the Peter Pan (G2) on May 10 over a sloppy main track at Belmont Park.
The colt pressed the early pace and drew clear late to a good-looking four-length victory in a solid time of 1:48 1/5 for the nine furlongs. His last out Beyer Speed Figure of 102 puts him right among the best of his crop.
The colt is in good hands with trainer Christophe Clement, and we may not have seen the best of him yet.
Commanding Curve: Late Running Style
Commanding Curve was dead last early in the Run for the Roses. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had to come with an eight-wide run, and when the front-runners started to get leg weary the colt made a good late run to come up 1.5 lengths shy of catching California Chrome.
His late-running style is his asset. Although the Belmont Stakes, despite it being the longest of the three Triple Crown races, is usually not won by a horse coming from out of the clouds.
However, if the early speed and suspect pedigree start to get to California Chrome, look for this guy to come running.
Ride on Curlin: Jockey John Velazquez
Ride On Curlin was gaining ground in the Preakness in his runner-up finish to California Chrome—1.5 lengths separated the top pair. Can the colt turn the tables at the longer distance?
One factor may be his new jockey, John Velazquez—the seventh different jockey that has been aboard this colt in what will be his 12th career outing.
Velazquez is a Hall of Fame rider, and no jockey in the field knows the Belmont Park main track better. Some criticized the rides of Stewart Elliott aboard Smarty Jones and Kent Desormeaux on Real Quiet by saying the premature moves possibly cost the horses a Triple Crown.
Velazquez will not make the same mistake.
California Chrome: Sheer Talent
We have heard that California Chrome does not have the genes to handle the distance. He is of the sprinter Lucky Pulpit out of a cheap mare that ran for $8,000. However, it is hard to deny that this colt just has more sheer talent than the rest of the field.
The colt has won six in a row and eight of his dozen career starts. He is quicker, and jockey Victor Espinoza has managed to keep the colt out of trouble and has had a perfect trip just about every time he hits the track in the afternoon.
Good horses have a way of working out good trips. It helps when you have tactical speed and are just quicker that the competition.
Sheer talent wins plenty of races, and in this case it may win the Triple Crown.