Just a few days remain between now and history as 11 horses trot out at the Belmont Stakes, but just one, California Chrome, has hopes of accomplishing the Triple Crown.
The Golden State colt has already routed the field at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but has aspirations of completing the historic feat. It has been 36 years since Affirmed won the trio of races in 1978, but California Chrome is just 1.5 miles away from ending the drought.
With the race kicking off on Saturday night, here's a look at the morning line along with analysis of the horses and jockeys viewed as the favorites.
|2014 Belmont Stakes Field|
|1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||20-1|
|2||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||3-5|
|4||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||15-1|
|5||Ride On Curlin||John Velazquez||12-1|
|9||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||6-1|
|10||General A Rod||Rosie Napravnik||20-1|
California Chrome, Victor Espinoza
While every horse racing fan already knows this, California Chrome comes in as the No. 1 contender at Belmont Park.
Mounting the majestic colt is Victor Espinoza, a jockey all too familiar with entering the Belmont Stakes on the cusp of history. He accomplished the feat with War Emblem, but was unable to capture the Belmont Stakes on the horse.
Unfortunately, Espinoza's record at Belmont Park is not as promising as California Chrome's odds. Newy Scruggs of NBC Sports Radio provides a look at his previous record:
But if any horse can trump that record, it's California Chrome. The stallion has overcome adversity from being on the inside at the Derby and Preakness, and will once again try to do so from the No. 2 post.
Coming into the weekend, California Chrome also looks stronger than he was at the two previous races. Espinoza spoke with reporters, as per the New York Times, about his horse ahead of the race, saying, “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.”
Given a second shot at glory and a colt that has captured the world's interest, expect Espinoza and California Chrome to triumph over the field on Saturday.
Wicked Strong, Rajiv Maragh
After an unfortunate run at the Kentucky Derby, Wicked Strong is ready to contend again at Elmont.
The colt got off the blocks from the final post at Churchill Downs with a stumble, but wasn't able to recover past a strong field. Kevin Martin of CBS New York provides some background and a prediction for Wicked Strong:
Wicked Strong was the second choice among the bettors when the gates opened for the Kentucky Derby last month. He had a troubled trip and ran well to finish fourth. Wicked Strong then skipped the Preakness and will be racing at Belmont for the first time since he won his first career race there last year. He is the biggest threat to ruin this year’s Triple Crown attempt.
Luckily for Boston's favorite horse, Wicked Strong has a slightly better starting position at Elmont with the No. 9 post. With just 11 posts at the Belmont Stakes, it certainly helps to be closer to the middle.
J.J. Hysell of the Courier-Journal passes along analysis about the post for Wicked Strong:
While Rajiv Maragh has never won a Triple Crown event, the Jamaican is familiar with Wicked Strong. After bringing the horse back from an early stumble to finishing fourth at the Derby, look for Maragh to run down California Chrome if his horse gets off to a hot start.
Ride On Curlin, John Velazquez
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
After a disheartening showing at the Derby with Calvin Borel having mount, Ride On Curlin placed second at the Preakness with Joel Rosario. The stallion will now have a third different jockey in Hall of Famer John Velazquez at the Belmont Stakes.
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.
Unlike Espinoza, Velazquez has a great record at Elmont. The Puerto Rican has two Belmont Stakes wins, with the most recent coming in 2012 aboard Union Rags.
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. With Velazquez having mount, this might truly be a horse to watch near the front of the pack.
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