Now that the field is set for the 2014 Belmont Stakes, it is much easier for fans and analysts alike to make predictions as to how the final standings will look.
The 146th running of the Belmont Stakes will feature history in some capacity.
California Chrome has won the first two jewels of the Triple Crown and seeks to be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to accomplish the rare feat. Conversely, Chrome could also make history by joining the list of horses to falter after winning the first two races of the circuit.
We won't know the actual outcome until after the race concludes Saturday evening, but here are my predictions for the race.
Post Positions and Picks
|5||Ride On Curlin||12-1||2nd|
Belmont Stakes Draw Broadcast; Kenny DeJohn
California Chrome is the favorite for more reasons than one. First and foremost, a horse earns that honor after winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Second, jockey Victor Espinoza is brilliant atop Chrome. He enacts a strategy that has worked in multiple races—not just the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes—making him one of the smartest riders in the sport.
Most importantly, though, Chrome already looks good at Belmont. David Grening and Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form tweeted their impressions of his workouts:
After schooling in paddock, California Chrome galloped a tad more than 2 miles, picking it up the last 1-2-mile or so. Just like always— David Grening (@DRFGrening) May 29, 2014
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
If Espinoza and Chrome can execute their strategy to perfection as in previous races, the Triple Crown is all but locked up. The No. 2 post position is a semi-favorable one, with 11 winners from the spot since 1905. For a complete history of each post position, click here.
While I don't think anybody will catch Chrome, the horse with the best chance to do so is Ride On Curlin.
The colt will be running out of the No. 5 position with another new jockey. This time, it'll be John Velazquez atop him. Calvin Borel rode him at Churchill Downs, and Joel Rosario did so at Pimlico Race Course.
Rosario led Ride On Curlin to a second-place finish at Pimlico, just 1 1/2 lengths behind Chrome. The colt is fast and should be able to keep up with Chrome for much of the race. He's already shown off his speed at Belmont, courtesy of this video from the NYRA:
What gives Curlin an edge over the rest of the field in challenging the favorite is his composure. Trainer Billy Gowan knows it'll aid the horse in his pursuit of a Belmont win, via HorseRacingNation.com:
One good thing about the horse is that he's easy to ride. He relaxes when he gets around horses, and he doesn't get speed crazy or anything. He can pretty much ride him any way he wants to. I've told all his riders that. He's probably the easiest horse you've ever ridden in your life. He showed that today. He was nice and relaxed. He doesn't get too worked up about anything, but when you ask him he's still full of run.
This composure, coupled with the speed referenced above, will allow Ride On Curlin to finish highly at Belmont. He'll come in second.
Rounding out the money will be Wicked Strong, who has been great in workouts so far, according to Frank Angst on ESPN.com:
In two breezes at the training track to date since the Derby, Wicked Strong worked five furlongs in 1:01.84 May 18, eighth fastest of 20 moves at the distance that day; and one mile in 1:39.59 May 25 in the only work at the distance that day. [Jimmy] Jerkens, who is stabled away from the main track at Belmont and typically uses the training track, was pleased with the one-mile work in which Wicked Strong galloped out 1 1/8 miles in 1:54.
The colt sat out the Preakness after failing to win the Derby, so aside from his workout schedule, the horse has had little action in weeks.
This will ensure that his legs are fresh.
Starting out of the No. 9 spot will hurt Wicked Strong's chances of winning, so I think he'll fall just short by coming in third.