California Chrome is one win away from becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner in American horse racing history. The only thing standing between him and a place alongside some of the best horses ever is the 12-furlong endurance test known as the Belmont Stakes.
Although the extremely talented colt cruised to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the Belmont is a completely different test. If the star of the Art Sherman stable finds the winner's circle on Saturday, there's no doubt he will have earned his spot in history.
With that in mind, let's check out a complete list of horses slated to challenge California Chrome at Belmont Park, along with the morning-line odds. The chart is followed by a look at the favorite's chances and predictions for the top finishers.
Field for 2014 Belmont Stakes
|1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale L. 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|
California Chrome Outlook
California Chrome was the best horse in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Thanks to terrific work from jockey Victor Espinoza, he received clean rides around the track in both of those races. In turn, his victories in the first two legs came as little surprise.
The Triple Crown hopeful is once again the best horse in the field. Yet, there are more question marks surrounding the final leg of his journey. Winning three marquee races against strong fields in the span of five weeks is a very difficult task.
Not only is it impossible to know how he will respond to the heavy workload, but the field is an intriguing mix of returning rivals and new shooters. Once again, if California Chrome comes out on top to win the Triple Crown, he'll have earned it.
That's an important point to drive home because there's been talk about a weak three-year-old group making the task easier.
In particular, he didn't face Hoppertunity again after the Santa Anita Derby, where they finished first and second. He was the oddsmakers' second choice in the Derby before getting taken off the Triple Crown trail due to injury.
Yet, there have still been some very talented horses in the fields. Ride On Curlin, Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong among them. Tonalist will join the list on Saturday after not taking part in the first two legs.
California Chrome drew the No. 2 post. While not ideal, it's nothing something that will be a major hurdle to success as long as he avoids a terrible break from the gate.
The Daily Racing Form passed along comments from Sherman, who believes the distance means the jockeys matter more than the starting slot:
ESPN Stats and Info provided an interesting tidbit about the No. 2 post:
Last Belmont Stakes fav to break from Post 2 was Silver Charm in 1997, also going for Triple Crown. Silver Charm finished 2nd to Touch Gold— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 4, 2014
The pressure is definitely on Espinoza at the start. He's done a nice job handling California Chrome, who previously had some breaking issues. Getting a clean start is more essential here than either of the other legs, so he needs to replicate the quick exit from the gate.
Will California Chrome win the Belmont?
After that, Espinoza will want to settle in behind the leaders and keep a very moderate pace. If one or two horses break away from the pack, there's no reason to chase, given the distance. He's going to need every ounce of energy for the final push.
One other thing to watch is California Chrome's place in regards to Wicked Strong, the other horse with plenty of late speed. The Wood Memorial winner is also coming off extra rest after skipping the Preakness, so Espinoza will hope to maintain an edge on him throughout.
Ultimately, the timing of Espinoza asking California Chrome to go will be key. Normally, they have been making their move right as the turn for home begins, but the stretch run at Belmont is extended, so waiting a little longer is probably the plan.
The good news is that, in the Derby and Preakness, it seemed like he still had more to give when the race ended. It bodes well for outpacing Wicked Strong and Co. down the stretch to end the Triple Crown drought after nearly four decades.
1. California Chrome
2. Wicked Strong