The post positions are set for the 2014 Belmont Stakes, and we now know how the field will look as California Chrome shoots to complete his Triple Crown.
After dominating the Kentucky Derby and capably holding off Ride On Curlin at the Preakness, Chrome has easily established himself as the best three-year-old racing. That said, he comes to Elmont without experience competing over a mile and a half, a grueling distance that has undone 12 Triple Crown bids since Affirmed last completed it in 1978.
When the post draw went down, you couldn't tell from the morning line how daunting the task facing Chrome is. Set to run from the second post position, he has 3-5 odds to pull off the Triple Crown sweep, still the prohibitive favorite in the field.
|1||Medal Count||Spendthrift Farm||Dale Romans||Robby Albarado||20-1|
|2||California Chrome||Perry Martin, Steve Coburn||Art Sherman||Victor Espinzoa||3-5|
|3||Matterhorn||Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners||Todd Pletcher||Joe Bravo||30-1|
|4||Commanding Curve||West Point Thoroughbreds||Dallas Stewart||Shaun Bridgmohan||15-1|
|5||Ride On Curlin||Daniel J. Dougherty||Billy Gowan||John Velazquez||12-1|
|6||Matuszak||George J. Prussin||Bill Mott||Mike Smith||30-1|
|7||Samraat||My Meadowview Farm||Rich Violette||Jose Ortiz||20-1|
|8||Commissioner||WinStar Farm||Todd Pletcher||Javier Castellano||20-1|
|9||Wicked Strong||Centennial Farms||Jimmy Jerkins||Rajiv Maragh||6-1|
|10||General A Rod||Skychai Racing, Starlight Racing||Mike Maker||Rosie Napravnik||20-1|
|11||Tonalist||Robert S. Evans||Cristophe Clement||Joel Rosario||8-1|
Win: California Chrome
Not only is California Chrome trying to succeed where no horse has in 36 years, he's running from a Belmont position that has gone longer without producing a winner than any other.
The last Belmont Stakes winner to come from Post 2 was Tabasco Cat in 1994, 3 days before the last Stanley Cup won by the @NYRangers— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 4, 2014
That stat is less scary than it looks at first glance, though, representing more of a historical anomaly than a real reason to doubt Chrome.
When you break down Belmont champs by post position, the No. 2 post boasts 11 all-time winners, tied for fourth of any position and one spot over from the winningest post; 23 winners have come from the rail position.
It stands to reason that, while starting position matters less on a longer track, being able to run close to the rail for as long as possible definitely benefits a Belmont hopeful, reducing the distance he has to run if he can stick to the inside.
Given how Chrome can burst out of the gate and accelerate into open space, he should be able to beat Medal Count to the best rail positioning. He certainly won't try to go wire-to-wire, but if he can set himself near the front early, then conserve his energy for a charge down the stretch, Chrome has too much talent to be beaten.
Place: Wicked Strong
If Wicked Strong pushes Chrome, it won't be due to his comparable athleticism, but to an advantage in energy level.
After finishing fourth at Churchill Downs, albeit distantly trailing the winner, Strong did not give Chrome another challenge at the Preakness. By opting not to race again at Pimlico, Strong's camp has given the horse five weeks' rest since the Derby rather than just three for Chrome.
Entering a track that demands endurance as well as skill, rest is key.
So while Strong can't beat the favorite in a sprint, he can keep it close just by virtue of having more in the tank when they reach the stretch run. He'll be right with Chrome as they approach the line, but he probably won't have quite enough to upset the Triple Crown aspirant.
Show: Ride On Curlin
Though Ride On Curlin pushed Chrome at Pimlico more than any other horse has in Triple Crown competition, California Chrome still dispatched him for the win without much difficulty, just as he did at Churchill Downs.
But make no mistake: Curlin has plenty of ability, and he'll try to establish himself up front before the final push in the hope that he has enough strength to carry through to the finish.
In all likelihood, he doesn't, and he'll fade down the stretch. As long as he can create traffic for the stronger horses later in the race, he'll be able to finish near the leaders at the line, if not crossing first himself.
That strategy might not lead to a victory, but such an ambitious effort would give Ride On Curlin the best possible chance and should still land him in position for some winnings.