The 2014 Belmont Stakes will be all about California Chrome and the horses that figure to be his most dangerous challengers in his pursuit of the elusive Triple Crown. Since this is one of the premier horse races in the world, though, there are several long shots who figure to threaten for a spot in the money at Belmont Park on Saturday.
Dark horses placing in the top three can lead to massive payouts for those wagering some coin, so it's worth getting acquainted with the strongest candidates to pull off a surprise in Elmont, New York.
Some entries in The Test of the Champion have run in previous Triple Crown races this season yet are still being discounted by oddsmakers. Just about anything can happen on the lengthy 1.5-mile jaunt that this race demands, as all 11 horses will be dealing with unprecedented distance to traverse.
Here is a look at the complete post positions and odds, along with several standout underdogs that are worth consideration as potential contenders.
|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|
Commanding Curve (15-1)
Apparently finishing second in the Kentucky Derby wasn't good enough for Commanding Curve to command better than 15-1 odds. This is rather shocking, and it's something bettors should take advantage of as quickly as possible.
Churchill Downs is no quick breeze at 10 furlongs to Belmont Park's 12. Commanding Curve not only proved himself in a pressure-packed race, but he also flashed amazing closing speed in bypassing the two other horses projected to finish behind California Chrome in Louisville.
Thoroughbred expert Bruno De Julio provided his analysis as to why he believes Commanding Curve will fare well in the Belmont Stakes, based on his trip at the first leg of the Triple Crown:
Start off who the best horses in the race are: California Chrome, of course. Commanding Curve only one in Derby that make long sustained run— Racingwithbruno (@Racingwithbruno) June 4, 2014
Also, Commanding Curve ran against the profile of the track that day and into a very strong headwind in stretch and ran super.— Racingwithbruno (@Racingwithbruno) June 4, 2014
Commanding Curve is physically strong enough to weather any elements New York may throw his way, be it a sloppy track or a stiff wind attempting to stifle him. Among the horses with longer odds, he has the best chance to vanquish California Chrome's Triple Crown bid.
Trainer Dallas Stewart also has experience from last year, when he had a long shot in Golden Soul place second in the Kentucky Derby before disappointing in ninth place at the Belmont Stakes. Stewart will be seeking massive improvement from that result, and Commanding Curve has the tools to get it done.
General a Rod (20-1)
At the very least, General a Rod is trending upward, following up an 11th-place finish at the Kentucky Derby by placing fourth in the Preakness. He came extremely close to edging Social Inclusion to finish in the money at Pimlico, and now he'll look to do so at Belmont Park.
After having Javier Castellano aboard in the first two Triple Crown races, Rosie Napravnik will take over in the irons in Elmont. Trainer Mike Maker feels confident—presuming General a Rod has a smooth trip—per USA Today's Jennie Rees:
I see no reason not to go. There was no reason to rush into a decision, in my opinion. We waited it out, and the horse told us to go… I felt good before the Preakness and I feel good before the Belmont. One of these times we’re going to have a clean run and go from there.
The Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman provided the historical significance of a potential Napravnik winner:
.@RosieNapravnik rides General A Rod. If they win, Napravnik would become second female rider to win Belmont, after Julie Krone (1993)— Jay Privman (@DRFPrivman) May 31, 2014
General a Rod joins Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin and, of course, California Chrome as the only other horse to compete in all three Triple Crown showcases this season. This could very well be his best result, because there is more time to recover from traffic issues in the early going, which devastated him at the Kentucky Derby in particular.
A smaller field, similar in size to the Preakness, along with Napravnik providing a fresh change in the saddle should lead to a strong trip from General a Rod.
What helps him the most is that he's sandwiched between Wicked Strong and Tonalist to his outside. Those are the second and third morning-line favorites, and that should put General a Rod on course from the beginning for a strong run.
The speedy Samraat was thought to be slightly more of a pacesetter for the Kentucky Derby than a legitimate contender, but he wound up riding to a respectable fifth place.
And that finish was more impressive than meets the eye, despite being 5 3/4 lengths off the winning pace. If not for Commanding Curve's late surge down the final stretch and the smallest of margins in being bested by Wicked Strong, Samraat could have easily gotten show in Louisville.
HRTV's Jeff Siegel noted how Social Inclusion's exclusion from the Belmont Stakes field should allow the likes of Samraat to break at his own pace:
With Social Inclusion not likely for Belmont, pace scenario just got a whole lot softer. Samraat, Tonalist, & California Chrome benefit.— Jeff Siegel (@HRTVJeff) June 2, 2014
Which dark horse will fare best at the Belmont Stakes?
There is reason to believe Samraat's odds will be shortened before the race commences. Even though his style lends better to sprinting and shorter tracks, he's rested up after not running in the Preakness. Thus, he should be able to cruise at a swift enough pace before jockey Jose Ortiz turns him loose toward the end.
These three dark horses offer plenty of hope for their connections. With such a prohibitive favorite in California Chrome hoping to make history as such a big favorite, there is some discouragement in entering a long shot in the Belmont Stakes. However, there is also a chance to pull off a remarkable upset by toppling the potential prolific champion.
Between Commanding Curve's demonstrated Triple Crown capabilities, General a Rod's positive progression and Samraat's better-than-advertised trip at Churchill Downs, this trio is formidable. Don't be surprised if one of them finishes in the top three. Whether they're good enough to topple California Chrome and deny yet another Triple Crown hopeful horse racing's premier prize is a bit more of a stretch, though with the volatile results this industry tends to foster, it's definitely possible.