On Saturday, will California Chrome take the transcendent step from great horse to legendary horse?
Since Affirmed's Triple Crown victory in 1978, 12 horses have come within reach of achieving the historic accomplishment, only to falter at the last hurdle, per ESPN Stats and Info:
California Chrome is the 13th horse to win first 2 legs of Triple Crown since 1978, when Affirmed was last Triple Crown winner.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 17, 2014
Two-thirds of the way to the Triple Crown, California Chrome has looked great. He broke free from the pack late at the Kentucky Derby and followed that up with a dominating win in the Preakness Stakes.
None of that will matter at Belmont Park, though, where the slate is wiped clean and a fresh batch of contenders are looking to ruin history.
Below are the post positions for all 11 horses in the 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|
One of the biggest road blocks in California Chrome's way is the sheer distance of the track. At a mile-and-a-half, the Belmont Stakes is the longest among the three Triple Crown events. The conquering colt is known more for his speed than his ability to run long distances.
Trainer Art Sherman remains as confident as ever, though.
"I feel better about this race than I have any other race, to be honest with you, just looking at the horse and saying, 'Wow,'" he said, per Phil Janack of NYRA.com, via Belmont's official website. "I see how far he's advanced. I know it'll be tougher going a mile and a half, but this horse is a good horse. I think he's the real McCoy. They better worry about me, I can tell you that."
Although getting drawn in the No. 2 post position, it's far from a death sentence for California Chrome. With only 11 horses in the field, this isn't the same as getting stuck at No. 2 at Churchill Downs.
According to the Belmont Stakes, 11 horses have won from the position, which is fifth-most among all post positions:
Since 1905, 11 winners of the #BelmontStakes have started from post 2, trailing only 1 (23), 3, (15), 5 (14), and 7 (13).— Belmont Stakes (@BelmontStakes) June 4, 2014
Of course, even if you have the utmost confidence in California Chrome's ability, should you bet on the colt at 3-5 odds, you'll get hardly any return on your investment. In order to maximize your profits on race day, betting on a long shot, or even a top contender would be a much more worthwhile gamble.
Below is a look at each horse's odds and how much a $2 bet would pay out.
|Ride On Curlin||12-1||$26.00|
|General A Rod||20-1||$42.00|
Wicked Strong is one of a few horses to have skipped the Preakness in order to be fully prepared for Belmont. Two weeks is a tough turnaround time between races of such magnitude, so you wonder if the likes of Commanding Curve, Samraat and Medal Count will be better off having taken the extra weeks to wind down from the Derby and then get ready for Belmont.
According to Marty McGee of Daily Racing Form, seven of the last 14 winners of the Belmont Stakes lost the Kentucky Derby and then skipped the Preakness Stakes.
McGee credits D. Wayne Lukas with starting the trend, after he trained 2000 Belmont winner Commendable, who lost the Derby and then was absent at Pimlico.
Lukas said that "probably the biggest factor in your favor is you get to train your horse into the Belmont, as opposed to tweaking or adjusting or fine-tuning, whatever you want to call it. You get back into the kind of rhythm you’d like to have going into any other race."
Among that group of Preakness absentees, Wicked Strong sticks out the most. Although he was a bit of a disappointment at Churchill Downs, it doesn't change how strong he is. The colt has a strong enough finishing kick as long as he doesn't fall too far back from the pack early in the race.
Wicked Strong shouldn't worry about starting well out of the gate. Daily Racing Form's David Grening thought he did perfectly when training his start on Wednesday morning:
Wicked Strong was perfect in gate schooling session on training track this morning. Went in twice, stood quietly pic.twitter.com/r5iWpjuv9J— David Grening (@DRFGrening) June 4, 2014
Another contender to watch will be Samraat. He's a fast horse, and more importantly, jockey Jose Ortiz is smart enough to know when to pull up on the reins and when to let the colt run. The key for Ortiz will be not getting antsy too early. Over a mile-and-a-half long, he needs to ensure that Samraat will have enough left for a late push.
At 20-1 odds, Samraat is a solid bet. He's a strong enough horse that his chances of winning aren't slim, but his odds are such that you could reap a bountiful reward.