Each of the 11 contenders at the 2014 Belmont Stakes has the chance to come away the winner, but some horses are smarter picks than others.
California Chrome comes into the final leg of the Triple Crown as the overwhelming favorite after winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Affirmed was the last horse to win all three events in 1978, though, meaning that this final test will likely be the toughest.
As a result, gamblers will be looking for alternatives that could possibly provide a bigger payout than the 3-5 currently assigned to California Chrome. However, it is important to avoid those that have little chance of winning and are not worth the risk.
Here is a breakdown of the worst bets in the field, followed by a few jockeys who are worth betting on for Saturday.
|2014 Belmont Stakes Field|
|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|
Horses to Avoid
Medal Count (20-1)
There are times when the inside post is helpful, but that will not be the case at Belmont on a 1 1/2-mile track. There is enough time for the top horses to jockey for position before getting into the final stretch.
However, the biggest issue for Medal Count is not just that he is on the rail, but it is that he is right next to the fastest horse in the field in California Chrome. As a result, he could end up being trapped early on.
Professional handicapper Keeneland Dan points out that this was one of the worst draws for any horse at Belmont:
Meanwhile, trainer Dale Romans has learned to respect the favorite in this race, via Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal:
Medal Count has won on turf and on synthetic surfaces, but he has never finished above fifth place in three starts on dirt. This just adds to the reasons why he will not be the one to surprise people on Saturday.
General a Rod (20-1)
One of the major reasons no horse has been able to win the Triple Crown since 1978 is the schedule. Three races in five weeks in addition to the travel can be draining for any competitor.
Christophe Clement, trainer of top contender Tonalist, spoke with the NYRA about his advantage in this race:
While this is mostly discussing the ability for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown, it is important to remember that he is not the only horse competing in all three events, according to Jay Privman of Daily Racing Form:
None of the last eight winners of the Belmont Stakes competed in the Preakness, which shows that being fresh is important.
General a Rod finished in 11th place at Churchill Downs before improving with a fourth-place finish at Pimlico, but neither race should provide any confidence he has the ability to top the favorites.
Rosie Napravnik has been one of the most consistent jockeys in the world, but she has yet to win a Triple Crown race. Aboard General a Rod, this will likely not change.
Jockeys to Trust
Javier Castellano (Commissioner)
Although Commissioner has yet to get a win in four graded races, he has been near the front almost every time. More importantly, the experience will only help him compete against the top horses at the upcoming event.
After finishing second in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, it is clear Commissioner has a good feel for the track. The lack of travel should also keep him fresh heading into the final leg of the Triple Crown.
Still, the biggest advantage the horse has going for him is jockey Javier Castellano. The veteran has been the best in the sport over the past year, leading all jockeys with over $9 million in earnings in 2014. He has earned a top-three finish in 61 percent of his starts, which is the best of anyone with at least 500 races.
David Greening of Daily Racing Form also points out how good the jockey has been lately:
Even though Joel Rosario and Tonalist defeated Commissioner the last time out, Castellano will have the advantage in this longer race. He will find a way to get in good position to charge in the final stretch and at least challenge for a spot in the money.
Victor Espinoza (California Chrome)
Although California Chrome has been getting the credit he deserves as a great race horse, it is important to note that Victor Espinoza has done his part as well. The jockey is undefeated in six races aboard the talented horse and should be able to continue this level of success at Belmont.
In the past two starts, he did a great job of navigating his horse through traffic to get him in position to charge late. On a bigger track at Belmont, this should be even easier.
Interestingly, this is the second time in his career that Espinoza will have a chance to win the Triple Crown. He also rode War Emblem to victory at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2002 before falling at the Belmont.
However, he believes this time will be different. He explained to Ed McNamara of Newsday:
I’m more confident this time. War Emblem had only one way to go: in the front. It was not that easy to ride him, which is typical when you have a front-running horse. You don’t have any options, and if something happens, that’s it. Your chances are gone.
With California Chrome, I have a lot of options. I think I have a better chance than I did in 2002 because I have a different kind of horse.
His ability to control the thoroughbred gives him a great chance to break the losing streak for Triple Crown hopefuls and come away with a win at Belmont.
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