California Chrome's improbable journey continues on Saturday at the 2014 Belmont Stakes.
After his owners spent just $10,000 on the California-bred's sire and mare, the possibility of their offspring obtaining the first Triple Crown victory in 36 years was more than just unlikely.
But the colt continues to defy the odds.
With two sparkling performances in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in the books, a 1 1/2-mile race is all that stands between California Chrome and immortality.
Although, despite being the race's early favorite, the odds are stacked against him once more.
Since Affirmed won the coveted Triple Crown in 1978, 12 horses entered the Belmont Stakes with the same aspirations—none emerged victorious.
California Chrome is looking to make the 13th time the charm.
Well, history certainly doesn't bode well for Triple Crown contenders at Belmont Park.
In 1979, Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin the day of the race, according to Gary Mihoces of USA Today. Charismatic suffered a broken leg in 1999, jockey Kent Desormeaux mysteriously eased up on Big Brown at the top of the stretch in 2008 and I'll Have Another was scratched the day before the race in 2012.
Here's a look at Big Brown's unfortunate outing:
Needless to say, California Chrome could use every advantage he can get heading into Saturday's race.
Fortunately, the colt lucked out once again during Wednesday's post-position draw.
California Chrome drew the No. 2 position, which is a tad inside, but doesn't pose a severe threat of being caught against the rail due to such a small field and extra room to maneuver.
Jockey Victor Espinoza has been masterful atop California Chrome over the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, and his expertise and experience will come into play once more at Belmont Park.
Starting inside should help California Chrome in the long run.
After all, trainer Art Sherman remains confident, according to a tweet from Andrew Bensley of Sky Racing:
Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome says he's not afraid of any other horse in Sunday morning's Belmont Stakes. Draws gate 2.— Andrew Bensley (@AndrewBensley) June 4, 2014
With the Belmont Stakes significantly longer than the two previous Triple Crown races—it's 1 1/2 miles compared to the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby and 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes—it's important to shorten the track as much as possible to salvage the colt's endurance.
This becomes even more significant due to the heavy workload California Chrome has taken on, as he is set for his third race in just five weeks.
This year's field is stacked with fantastic closers.
We saw Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong produce great surges down the final stretch of the Kentucky Derby, and Ride On Curlin did the same at the Preakness Stakes.
In each occurrence, California Chrome was able to hang on for the win; however, an extra quarter-mile could make a huge difference this time around.
The Baltimore Sun tweeted several potential hindrances to California Chrome's Triple Crown bid:
Fatigue, fresh field, 1 1/2-mile distance: California Chrome faces challenges in quest for Triple Crown. http://t.co/aQHLyLntBR— The Baltimore Sun (@baltimoresun) May 31, 2014
This is where his post position comes into play once more.
In this lengthy endeavor, Espinoza can settle California Chrome on the inside just behind the lead pack for the majority of the race. He's been patient in this regard through the first two legs of the Triple Crown, and that should pay dividends this time around.
As horses continue jockeying for position—and burning energy—Espinoza can keep California Chrome on a stable pace. This sets the duo up for their late-race surge to the front of the pack.
If enough stamina is saved over the early segments of the race, and California Chrome jumps out to his signature multilength lead, the colt has a legitimate chance of fending off a surge from other competitors who may be a bit quicker down the final stretch.
Take a look back at the Preakness Stakes. This tactic was employed against Ride On Curlin with fantastic results:
Even though Ride On Curlin appeared to be the stronger horse late in the race, California Chrome built a significant lead and had enough endurance left to stay well ahead of his surging competitor down the final stretch.
Will California Chrome win it all?
We've seen what Espinoza can do on the reins of California Chrome, and Sherman is no stranger to these situations—he's won over 2,000 career races as a trainer. Expect a flawless strategy to emerge as final race preparations are made.
Could we finally see an end to the 36-year Triple Crown drought?
We'll know in short order. However, one thing is for certain: Things are looking up for California Chrome.