On Saturday night, there's a very good chance history could be made. Nearly every horse racing fan at this point knows it has been 36 years since Affirmed last accomplished the Triple Crown in 1978, but California Chrome has a chance to become just the 12th horse to complete all three wins.
With the third jewel of the Triple Crown being the only thing separating California Chrome from history, Saturday night will be memorable regardless of where the Golden State colt finishes.
After putting on two remarkable performances at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, fans piling up at Belmont Park will be expecting the same result.
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Top Contender: California Chrome
This one is a bit obvious, but has to be mentioned.
After dominating the field in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome is eyeing a Triple Crown and looks strong heading into Elmont, New York. Not only is he well-rested after three weeks off, but the colt has been quick leading up to the event.
Jockey Victor Espinoza spoke with reporters about his horse ahead of the race, per The New York Times' Melissa Hoppert:
He’s a little stronger, has a little more weight on than the last time I saw him. This morning it was just easy for him. It was nice for him to be able to stretch his legs and get some air in his lungs. He’s ready for Saturday.
The colt also has a secret weapon with his nasal strip, which he is allowed to wear during the final leg of the Triple Crown. ESPN Stats and Info provides a look at the difference over his career with and without the nasal strip:
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
California Chrome is mounted by Espinoza, who knows all about coming into the third race with wins in both the Derby and Preakness. He accomplished the feat with War Emblem in 2002, but was unable to capture the Belmont Stakes on the horse.
With a second shot at glory and a colt that looks like a strong contender to pull off the feat, expect Espinoza and California Chrome to triumph over the field on Saturday.
No. 2 Contender: Ride On Curlin
Maybe the third time truly is the charm for this colt.
Ride On Curlin ran a poor Derby before coming up just short at Pimlico. Now, equipped with a new jockey in Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the son of Curlin is looking to knock off California Chrome yet again.
Owner Billy Gowan noted a conversation he had with Velazquez's agent, Angel Cordero, along with why he decided on the change, per Jennie Rees of USA Today:
He said, 'If you have any issues, I have Johnny V.,' ... You know every race we've got to change. We're going to go through the whole jockey colony before it's over with.
He knows the track as well as anybody. I'm glad to have him.… I think my horse will love a mile and a half.
While the jockey switch might pay dividends for Ride On Curlin, the horse really didn't need too much assistance. After a second-place result in the Preakness, look for the son of Curlin to once again contend for the win and be one of California Chrome's biggest competitors.
Sleeper Pick: Tonalist
Who will win the Belmont Stakes?
Speaking of jockey changes, Joel Rosario is now hopping from Ride On Curlin to Peter Pan Stakes winner Tonalist. After taking the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb, Rosario is hoping to pull off the upset and take yet another major event in horse racing.
The strong colt has been mounted by Rosario twice, finishing fourth at Aqueduct last year and eventually triumphing at the Peter Pan Stakes earlier this season. With that much success, Rosario might just look to place yet again in his second straight race with a different horse.
Trainer Christophe Clement referenced Tonalist coming in rejuvenated, per the New York Racing Association:
"I think it's a good thing to come to the #Belmont with a fresh horse," on Tonalist having to be sidelined earlier in the spring.— NYRA (@TheNYRA) June 3, 2014
Though the colt hasn't competed in the prior two Triple Crown events, Tonalist looks like a horse at the top of his game coming into Belmont Park. If he can find the front of the pack and get clean air along with California Chrome, Rosario might just shock the field and add another major win to his collection.
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