June is one heck of a month for sports fans. The World Cup is about to kick off, the NBA and Stanley Cup Finals are upon us, the NBA draft will soon follow, the French Open is in full swing and the baseball season is humming along.
But amidst all of that, there is history in the offing at the Belmont Stakes, as California Chrome will look to break one of the longest droughts in sports. Standing in his way in New York will be 10 other horses, hoping they aren't remembered in the record books alongside names like Al Downing.
But who are those horses? And what are their odds? And does anything other than the chance at history really matter in this race?
Let's find out.
|5||Ride on Curlin||12-1|
So perhaps you've heard that a little horse named California Chrome is trying to become the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown. I know it isn't talked about often, the whole Triple Crown thing, but that's what will be at stake at this year's Belmont, apparently.
Sarcasm aside, outside of those who bet on other horses, the only thing that really matters at the Belmont is Chrome's race for history.
Every other little detail about the race and the field directly connects to the Triple Crown storyline. The fact that the top five finishers from the Kentucky Derby will be in this race? That makes California Chrome's task a bit more daunting. Ditto for the top four finishers in the Preakness all being represented in this field.
The problem with worrying about the field, of course, is that the field hasn't managed to beat Chrome in six straight races. Horses don't know what momentum is, of course, but we can all recognize a superior horse when we see one. We need only look at his recent history on the track to see how dominant Chrome has been.
He also has the jockey best suited to ride him to victory, Victor Espinoza, per Reid Cherner of USA Today:
This is not Espinoza's first Belmont rodeo. He finished second in 2001 on AP Valentine and 9th on Sacred Light in 2006. But is his 8th place finish on War Emblem that makes him dangerous. War Emblem was also going for the Triple Crown but the front runner stumbled out of the gate and never got himself into contention. You can't pay for that kind of experience. But most important Espinoza and California Chrome are just a great fit. Like Ron Turcotte on Secretariat, Jean Cruget on Seattle Slew and Steve Cauthen on Affirmed, Espinoza seems a perfect fit on the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. Not only undefeated on the horse, Espinoza and the colt have never been seriously challenged and California Chrome is content to race at whatever pace Espinoza asks for and then explodes when the jockey decides it is go time.
Of course, working against California Chrome is the fact that the last 12 horses to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness have either lost at the Belmont Stakes or failed to run at all. The most elusive achievement in sports will not be easy for Chrome to conquer. Far from it.
Keep in mind, the other horses in this race are fresher than Chrome. Only Ride On Curlin and General a Rod have run both the Derby and Preakness. Weariness from a demanding track schedule could play a part in Chrome's demise.
Not that Chrome looks particularly weary.
‘‘I thought he looked better now than he did after the Preakness,’’ trainer Art Sherman told Mike Farrell of the Associated Press, via The Boston Globe. ‘‘I couldn’t believe how much weight he put on. Going on the Triple Crown trail, it’s kind of rough. He’s an amazing horse."
He is an amazing horse, no two ways about that. But there have been amazing horses that have come close to winning a Triple Crown since 1978, and bad luck has befallen many of them.
It sounds overly simple, of course, but a stumble out of the blocks or a bad trip stuck in the middle of the pack have overcome more talented horses. The old idiom "it's better to be lucky than good" is really only true when the good happen to get unlucky. Give me a good horse on its best day over an average horse on its luckiest any day of the week, yes, but carry your four-leaf clovers close to your heart during the Belmont nonetheless.
That's what we'll be banking on when Chrome lines up for the Belmont, that his best will be enough to prevail and, well, that he won't get unlucky. There isn't a more talented horse in the field, and it may not be close. If Chrome isn't weary, if he gets a good trip, if he doesn't run into bad luck or some other act of god, he should end the Triple Crown drought.
Finally. And mercifully.