For the last 35 years, Belmont Park has turned into a factory for crushed hopes and dreams.
Affirmed last won the Triple Crown (of Thoroughbred Racing; thanks, Miguel Cabrera) in 1978. Since then, 12 horses have been victorious at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, only needing a win at the Belmont Stakes to entrench themselves in the history books. Since then, 12 horses have left Elmont, New York (I'll Have Another never actually made it there) disappointed, serving as a minor blip on the "Almost Did It" page in those same history books.
California Chrome will change that.
But before we dish out all the juicy secrets, let's take a look at the entire field the chestnut colt will be up against in his bid for the elusive achievement.
2014 Belmont Stakes Field
|2014 Belmont Stakes Field|
|1||Medal Count||Robbie Albarado||Dale 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|
|2014 Belmont Stakes Predictions|
|Show||Ride On Curlin|
Jockey Victor Espinoza has been in this position before. In 2002, he rode War Emblem to wins at the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, only to stumble to eighth at Belmont.
However, as he told reporters, via USA Today, Chrome is a different specimen:
With War Emblem, he only had one way to go: in the front. It was not that easy for me to ride him; it was difficult (which is) typical when you have a front-running horse. You don't have many options. If something happens, that's it. Your chances are gone.
With California Chrome, it's different. I have a lot of options with California Chrome. I believe I have a better chance than I did in 2002 because I have a different kind of horse.
Therein lies the magnificence of this horse: His versatility. He was dealt a historically slow pace at the Kentucky Derby and a quick one at the Preakness yet responded with two very similar, dominant trips.
However, handling the length of Belmont's 1 1/2-mile track is a completely different beast, especially with horses in the field that are either rested after skipping the Preakness or bred specifically for distance. There's a reason the race is dubbed as "The Test of the Champion."
Trainer Art Sherman isn't worried, though:
As HRTV's Jeff Siegel also added, the absence of Social Inclusion—who finished third at the Preakness and looked to be gaining momentum down the stretch—should only benefit California Chrome:
The post position, which was revealed on Wednesday morning, isn't exactly ideal—at least from a historical perspective. Tabasco Cat was the last horse to win from the No. 2 stall, and that came exactly two decades ago.
Again, though, just like the care-free thoroughbred he's making history on, Espinoza is taking everything in long, galloping strides.
"I like number two," he told reporters after the draw. "Hopefully, it's my lucky number."
Luck won't have much to do with it, but being on the inside of nearly every horse in the field will help read the early pace. And as we've seen at the previous two Triple Crown races, as long as Espinoza and his vastly talented horse are able to get a clean read and establish an early position to their liking, they can win any style of race down the stretch.
Even the one that has alluded the very best for the last 35 years.