Belmont Stakes Draw: Breaking Down Challengers That Can Beat California Chrome

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Belmont Stakes Draw: Breaking Down Challengers That Can Beat California Chrome
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Heading into the Belmont Stakes, it seems like everyone is predicting a win for California Chrome. However, there are a bunch of other contenders capable of shocking the world with an upset victory.

California Chrome is attempting to make history this weekend as the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Not only has he posted impressive victories at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but he has won six starts in a row and seems unbeatable.

The problem is that many others have come into the Belmont Stakes attempting to join the elusive group of Triple Crown winners only to fall short. Between the hectic schedule, the longer track and simply bad luck, there is a lot that can prevent the favorite from winning.

Here is a breakdown of the full field for Saturday along with the top contenders to leave with a victory.

2014 Belmont Stakes Post Positions
Post Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Medal Count Dale Romans Robby Albarado 20-1
2 California Chrome Art Sherman Victor Espinoza 3-5
3 Matterhorn Todd Pletcher Joe Bravo 30-1
4 Commanding Curve Dallas Stewart Shaun Bridgmohan 15-1
5 Ride On Curlin Billy Gowan John Velazquez 12-1
6 Matuszak Bill Mott Mike Smith 30-1
7 Samraat Rick Violette Jose Ortiz 20-1
8 Commissioner Todd Pletcher Javier Castellano 20-1
9 Wicked Strong Jimmy Jerkins Rajiv Maragh 6-1
10 General A Rod Mike Maker Rosie Napravnik 20-1
11 Tonalist Christophe Clement Joel Rosario 8-1

via BelmontStakes.com

 

Top Contenders

Wicked Strong

After starting in the outside post at No. 19 in the Kentucky Derby, jockey Rajiv Maragh could only bring Wicked Strong to fourth place. However, it would have been difficult for any horse to have a better finish in this crowded race.

The fact remains that the thoroughbred has loads of talent and should be able to fare much better with room to move around.

Trainer Jimmy Jerkins passed on the Preakness and instead did his best to prepare Wicked Strong specifically for the Belmont, via Frank Angst of ESPN:

We wanted to keep him on the training track to prevent him from going too fast. We wanted to keep that two-turn kind of a mind frame going into the Belmont, try to increase our chances of him settling early in the race and saving something for the end.

[...]

I guess in the backs of our mind, we always thought that the Belmont would be his best shot to win of all the Triple Crown races. It's right in our backyard and the distance is probably more up his alley than some of the others in there.

The 1 1/2 mile distance at Belmont usually ends up being the deciding factor in the prestigious race. It is a longer track than most horses run in their lives, and it causes many top contenders to fall apart late.

If Wicked Strong can succeed at this distance, he has a real chance to beat California Chrome.

 

Commanding Curve

Peter Morgan/Associated Press

Like Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve skipped a trip to Pimlico after running at the Kentucky Derby. The difference is that he had more success at Churchill Downs with a second-place finish at the prestigious event.

California Chrome was the clear winner in that race, but Commanding Curve finished strong and almost caught up to the leader before simply running out of track.

He will not have this problem on the longer course as he will be able to come on hard at the end and beat anyone in the field. 

Chris Dachille of WBAL thinks that the distance will help him get over the top:

The biggest issue is that Commanding Curve has only a single win in his career, which does not bode well for his chances to win this competitive event. On the other hand, he has finished in the top three in five of his last six starts.

This makes him a risky pick to win, but bettors might be happy to take him to place or show.

 

Tonalist

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

Tonalist is one of the bigger unknowns in this race after missing each of the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Despite this, a dominant showing at the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park last month proved that he has the ability to beat anyone in the field.

Onlookers have been quite impressed with the horse's warm-ups leading up to Saturday. Most impressive has been Tonalist's endurance to maintain speed throughout the runs:

Mike Welsch of Daily Racing Form even noted that the thoroughbred can pick up his pace late:

The horse is inexperienced compared to others in the field, but he is also fresher than anyone. The lack of travel will help him get out to a good start and remain strong throughout the event.

Tonalist has impressive pedigree, and he was essentially bred for longer races. It will be difficult to come all the way from the outside post, but veteran jockey Joel Rosario will be able to have plenty of room to navigate the field and come away with a surprising win.

 

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