As even newcomers to the sport are now fully aware, the post positions draw is just as important as the race itself in any event—which goes double for the lengthy final leg of the Triple Crown known as the Belmont Stakes.
Entering the draw, California Chrome's odds at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 were unexpectedly improved as a contender withdrew from the field, as captured by David Grening of Daily Racing Form:
Kid Cruz "definitely not running in the Belmont," per Linda Rice. "We may enter in the Easy Goer and take a look at that."— David Grening (@DRFGrening) June 3, 2014
In the wake of a contender backing out, the 11-horse field is now officially set after Wednesday's draw. Here is a look at the order, how Vegas feels about each participant and some storylines to boot:
|Post Positions||Horse||Trainer||Jockey||Updated Odds|
|1||Medal Count||Dale L. Romans||Robby Albarado||20-1|
|2||California Chrome||Art Sherman||Victor Espinoza||3-5|
|4||Commanding Curve||Dallas Stewart||Shaun Bridgmohan||15-1|
|5||Ride On Curlin||Billy Gowan||John Velazquez||12-1|
|6||Matuszak||Bill Mott||Mike Smith||30-1|
|7||Samraat||Rick Violette||Jose Ortiz||20-1|
|8||Commissioner||Todd Pletcher||Javier Castellano||20-1|
|9||Wicked Strong||Jimmy Jerkens||Rajiv Maragh||6-1|
|10||General a Rod||Mike Maker||Rosie Napravnik||20-1|
|11||Tonalist||Christophe Clement||Joel Rosario||8-1|
Belmont Stakes broadcast
Top Storylines with Field Set
Ride On Curlin's Chance at Redemption
While the No. 5 post position is a mixed bag thanks to traffic, there are bigger things at play on Saturday for Ride On Curlin.
For one, Ride On Curlin is simply due. The most consistent horse this calendar year outside of California Chrome has finished in the top three in five of his past six graded events, with the highlight being a second-place finish at the Preakness Stakes.
In Baltimore, Ride On Curlin was a hefty challenger for the No. 1 spot until the final leg, where he simply ran out of gas.
This time around it will be jockey John Velazquez atop Ride On Curlin, and his status as a two-time Eclipse Award winner and first-place finish in the Belmont Stakes back in 2007 means Saturday may be the day California Chrome's rival gets over the proverbial hump.
Will a Surprise Entrance from General a Rod Might Pay off?
With a speedster like Kid Cruz out of the proceedings, the field is open for another front-of-the-pack horse to grab an early lead and possibly stay there until crossing the finish line.
Odds are, that horse will be late entrant General a Rod. Trainer Mike Maker told Jennie Rees of The Courier-Journal that patience proved to be a virtue in regards to his horse:
I see no reason not to go. There was no reason to rush into a decision, in my opinion. We waited it out, and the horse told us to go… I felt good before the Preakness and I feel good before the Belmont. One of these times we’re going to have a clean run and go from there.
The good feeling resulted in a fourth-place finish in Baltimore by just a head, meaning General a Rod is now just one of three horses to participate in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.
Led by jockey Rosie Napravnik, who has been on a hot streak of her own as of late, the No. 10 post is just fine for the speedster.
Napravnik herself sounds ready to team with General a Rod once more:
All things considered, Maker and Co. may have made the best possible choice once the final results come in on Saturday night.
California Chrome's Final Hurdles
Add post position No. 2 to the list of obstacles in California Chrome's way on Saturday, even if it has birthed 11 winners since 1905.
Will California Chrome prevail and seize the Triple Crown?
Honestly, the sport's best horse and jockey Victor Espinoza could have drawn the best historical slot and still been the subject of much scrutiny in regards to their chances.
That's simply how it goes when so much is at stake. It also explains why coughs, nasal strips and even an opossum have been the subject of over-analysis on California Chrome's journey to date.
Through all of the overwhelming media coverage is a horse simply more talented than the rest of the field and a jockey who knows precisely how to extract the very best from his horse in each race. That would explain why California Chrome looks great at a distance he has never encountered, per Mike Welsch of DRF:
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
As long as Espinoza can expertly navigate heavy traffic once more, it is hard to imagine any horse in the field can beat out California Chrome in a lengthy sprint to the finish line.