California Chrome drew post No. 2 for the 2014 Belmont Stakes as he looks to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner will face a field with 10 foes on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Affirmed was the last horse to accomplish the feat. His triumph in all three marquee races marked the third time in six years a horse won the Triple Crown. It makes the extended drought without one even more amazing.
Perhaps California Chrome can finally bring the wait to an end. In order to do so, however, he'll have to overcome a deep field of contenders. Let's check out a complete list of post positions following the draw along with a race preview.
2014 Belmont Stakes Field
|1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale L. Romans||20-1|
|2||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||3-5|
|3||Matterhorn||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||30-1|
|4||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||15-1|
|5||Ride On Curlin||John Velazquez||Billy Gowan||12-1|
|6||Matuszak||Mike Smith||Bill Mott||30-1|
|7||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette||20-1|
|8||Commissioner||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||20-1|
|9||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||6-1|
|10||General a Rod||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||20-1|
|11||Tonalist||Joel Rosario||Christophe Clement||8-1|
There have been 12 horses to win the Derby and Preakness since Affirmed won the Triple Crown. None were able to complete the trifecta. Furthermore, it's been a decade since one of those hopefuls actually completed the Belmont.
Big Brown was unable to finish the third leg of the Triple Crown six years ago and I'll Have Another was pulled out of the race due to injury in 2012. Smarty Jones in 2004 was the last horse with a chance to end the drought that crossed the Belmont finish line, coming in second to Birdstone.
Now the focus of the racing world has shifted to California Chrome and his chances of doing what those previous 12 horses couldn't.
In both the Derby and the Preakness jockey Victor Espinoza was able to settle in just behind the lead group of horses. Then, once the field began its turn for home, he would call for California Chrome to go and the colt would take off.
More importantly, the horse never seemed to run out of energy either time. It appeared he still had more left to give if necessary, which will be essential heading into the Belmont, which is the longest race of the trio at 12 furlongs.
Confidence among his connections remains sky high. Laura Albanese of Newsday passed along comments from co-owner Steve Coburn, who's encouraged by the horse's preparation:
There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to win the Triple Crown. Because I've seen him perform the other two times and his looks this past Saturday tell me this horse is healthy, he's happy. He's gaining weight and putting on muscle. He's ready to go.
The workout numbers back up that belief. Mike Welsch of the Daily Racing Form provided the times from his final major prep before the Belmont:
California Chrome looks super in final Belmont prep cruises 4F in :47.47 with monster gallop out, :59.59, 1:12.76, 1:26.34 up mile 1:40.92— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) May 31, 2014
So it sounds and looks like California Chrome is ready. If he's at his best, he wins the race and ends the Triple Crown drought. But if there's a drop off in his third race in five weeks there's several horses capable of taking advantage.
Commanding Curve finished second in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness, giving him more than a month to rest up for the test of endurance at the Belmont.
Which horse will win the 2014 Belmont Stakes?
Ride On Curlin was the runner-up in the Preakness. Like California Chrome, he prefers to come from off the pace, which will make the positioning of the horses crucial as they turn for home.
Wicked Strong won the Grade I Wood Memorial and made a strong late charge in the Derby, but simply had too much ground to make up. He should have better luck with a smaller field.
Then there's a talented new shooter named Tonalist, who's coming off a win in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont. He's had a month off since that victory.
Samraat and General a Rod are other horses with a chance if everything falls perfectly.
In the end, California Chrome is better than all of them. It's impossible to know how he will respond to the extended race on short rest, which is something that has tripped up many Triple Crown contenders in the past. But there's no doubt he's the most talented horse in the field.
Expect Espinoza to follow the same script from the first two races in the early going. After settling in behind the leaders, he will probably wait a little longer before urging the winner of six straight races to go given the long stretch run.
Once the veteran jockey makes the call, the only question is whether or not California Chrome can put his best finishing kick on display once again.