The third jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown is always special, but the Belmont Stakes mean even more than usual this year as California Chrome has a chance to make history.
No horse has won all three Triple Crown races since Affirmed in 1978. Eleven horses have entered the Belmont Stakes with a chance to complete the Triple Crown in the past 36 years, but all of them have fallen short.
Will California Chrome be the latest in a long line of close calls, or will he be the one who finally gets the job done? It won't be easy, as California Chrome will face a deep and strong field of competitors, but he is certainly talented enough to succeed.
In the wake of the Belmont Stakes post draw, here is a look at how all the horses stack up as well as further analysis regarding some of the top contenders at Belmont Park.
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, New York
When: Saturday, June 7, at 6:52 p.m. ET
|2014 Belmont Stakes Field|
|1||Medal Count||Robbie Albarado||Dale 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|
Top Horses to Watch
With six consecutive victories to his credit, it is starting to look like California Chrome may never lose again. The colt has been absolutely dominant, and he seemingly has all the tools necessary to take the Triple Crown. With that said, several of his closest competitors from the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes are back in the fold, so it won't be easy.
Perhaps the biggest reason why horses struggle so much to achieve the Triple Crown is the big change in distance at the Belmont Stakes compared to the other races. The Belmont is 12 furlongs whereas the Kentucky Derby is 10 and the Preakness Stakes is 9.5. California Chrome has simply never been tasked with running such a grueling endurance race.
California Chrome has shown a great deal of stamina and consistency through the first two legs of the Triple Crown, though, so he could very well have the makeup needed to succeed in such a long and difficult race.
One person who expects him to do precisely that is famed ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale:
Observers never know for sure how a horse will handle the demands of the Belmont Stakes until the race happens, but California Chrome has been so far above the field thus far that there is no question he is the definitive favorite.
Ride On Curlin
Although Ride On Curlin hasn't won any of his past five races, he is a consistent horse who always seems to find his way to the front. Pacing will be of the utmost importance in the Belmont Stakes, but there is no question that Ride On Curlin is among the horses with the potential to reel in California Chrome late.
It's difficult to say how much the horses are aware of the big stage, but Ride On Curlin is no stranger to it. According to Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman, Ride On Curlin is one of just three horses to run in all three Triple Crown races this year:
That experience should be helpful as should his performance in the Preakness Stakes. Ride On Curlin finished second to California Chrome in that race, but he made a late charge that made many California Chrome fans sweat.
Ride On Curlin may have been able to usurp California Chrome had that race been a little longer. That will be the case in the Belmont Stakes, so maybe those extra 2.5 furlongs will make all the difference in the world.
Very few had Commanding Curve on their radar in terms of horses who could potentially contend at the Kentucky Derby. When the dust settled, however, the long shot made a late charge and finished second behind California Chrome. Although California Chrome won that race with relative ease, Commanding Curve is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
If Commanding Curve takes a similar approach in the Belmont as he did in the Kentucky Derby, then he could very well pose a late challenge to the leaders. If nothing else, Commanding Curve is well rested after skipping the Preakness Stakes in favor of running at Belmont.
The horse racing public may not believe that Commanding Curve has a legitimate chance to win this race, but owner Terry Finley exudes confidence, according to Jennie Rees of USA Today (per The Courier-Journal):
The last thing we want to do is knock California Chrome. ... Either we're going to look back and say he had a chink in his armor and that chink was exploited in the Belmont, or that he's a superstar. We're not intending to rain on anybody's parade. But we're looking to start our own parade.
Commanding Curve surprised a lot of people by pushing California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby, so the next logical step is to overtake him. It won't be easy, but Commanding Curve seemingly has a style that could give California Chrome some nervous moments.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter