The 2014 Belmont Stakes is going to be epic regardless of the outcome. That's because California Chrome is in position to become the first Triple Crown champion since 1978 on Saturday. His pursuit of history will be as highly anticipated as it gets in horse racing, but there are several contenders that could pull an upset at Belmont Park.
While it's hard to go against reason, prior results and the oddsmakers' heavy allegiance to the California Chrome hype, this is still a Triple Crown race. The other 10 entries' connections will be keen to play spoiler in Elmont, New York.
Wednesday's post position draw gave a better lay of the land in The Test of the Champion. Gauging how the race will shake out becomes easier knowing where the horses will start from. Here are some updated predictions for win, place and show.
|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|
Win: California Chrome
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner will make good on his promise and pull off the Triple Crown by racing to his best performance yet at Belmont Park on Saturday.
California Chrome has not been pushed to his full potential by jockey Victor Espinoza—because he hasn't had to be. Even the horse's B-game has been good enough to outclass the best fields horse racing has to offer.
Churchill Downs was more of a test of endurance, as the Belmont Stakes' daunting 1 1/2-mile jaunt will be. In that instance, California Chrome managed to pull away entering the final turn and slowed up at the finish with the Run for the Roses well in hand.
Although the Preakness margin at Pimlico was a bit closer, the time was still the swiftest by a winner in seven years. That should put to rest criticism that California Chrome was gifted the Kentucky Derby due to a slow pace.
ESPN's Dick Vitale seems confident California Chrome will seize the premier, elusive feat in horse racing:
California Chrome will be up to the big test of the Belmont & do what Affirmed did 36 yrs ago . #TripleCROWNBABY— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) June 4, 2014
The 3-5 morning-line odds California Chrome was spotted suggests that no one else even has a chance of catching him, with Wicked Strong being the closest at 6-1. That should prove to be the case when California Chrome crosses the finish first.
As the race wears on, the best, fastest horses figure to rise to the occasion. California Chrome overcame traffic issues in Louisville to start his Triple Crown run, and there aren't nearly as many horses at the Belmont Stakes. With even more time to make up ground at this track, he figures to get into the winner's circle even with a tricky No. 2 post position.
Jockey Joel Rosario has experienced success aboard Tonalist just last month at Belmont Park, which can only aid his cause in finishing in the money. It speaks volumes about Tonalist's speed that he is the No. 3 morning-line favorite despite no Grade 1 starts under his belt.
A recent win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes with Rosario in the irons bodes well for Tonalist's chances. The margin of victory was substantial, as he still pulled away from fellow Belmont Stakes entry Commissioner after an underwhelming start.
Assistant California Chrome trainer Alan Sherman acknowledged that Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin offers a stiff test for the Triple Crown hopeful. But he also named Tonalist as a legitimate threat, per the Daily Racing Form's Marcus Hersh:
Interesting Alan Sherman says Ride on Curlin & Tonalist toughest CChrome foes, no mention of Wicked Strong.— Marcus Hersh (@DRFHersh) June 5, 2014
With only four career starts, Tonalist is a total wild card. Trainer Christophe Clement was wise to seek out a savvy rider in Rosario, the winner of the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb. Rosario knows how to handle a lightly run, superior physical specimen.
Stamina will wind up being Tonalist's undoing, but he could very well hold the Belmont Stakes lead as late as the 1 1/2-mile mark. From there, it will be California Chrome's time to surge and charge toward the Triple Crown, as Tonalist has too much ground to make up coming from the far 11th post.
Show: Commanding Curve
Most impressive about Commanding Curve's run to second place at the Kentucky Derby was how quickly he strode down the final stretch. In the process, he cruised past two of the top challengers to California Chrome in Danza and Wicked Strong.
For some reason, Commanding Curve is seen as a bit of a fluke runner and was 15-1 to open the morning line. Given how formidable he was on Churchill Downs' dirt track, there seems to be a level of disrespect going on here.
Bettors should capitalize on the long odds Commanding Curve drew. Starting in post No. 4 is also ideal to dictate the pace of the race, and he should be able to get out in front of California Chrome early amid traffic. Running alongside Ride On Curlin will keep his pace up, too.
The Daily Racing Form's Mike Hersch observed how well Commanding Curve—along with Tonalist—worked out Thursday on an arduous track:
Commanding Curve and Tonalist also continue to look happy and healthy skipping over the wet track this morning.— Mike Welsch (@DRFWelsch) June 5, 2014
Trainer Dallas Stewart has gotten a runner-up result in the opening leg of the Triple Crown, and figures to fare far better than he did with Golden Soul, who placed ninth in the 2013 Belmont Stakes.
The following quote from Stewart is rather telling regarding how heavy of a favorite California Chrome is, though.
Who will win the 2014 Belmont Stakes?
"All these horses are untested at that distance so it's going to be interesting to see how it sorts itself out," said Stewart, per ESPN.com's Amanda Duckworth. "It's going to be a great race. You can't take anything away from California Chrome. He does nothing but win, so he'll probably be pretty tough to beat."
Getting two finishes in the money in as many Triple Crown starts will be considered a massive accomplishment for Stewart and Co. When it comes to defeating California Chrome, there just won't be quite enough energy left in Commanding Curve's tank to take first and ruin the Triple Crown campaign.
Tonalist should wind up pleasing his connections by settling for second behind the prospective Triple Crown victor. California Chrome is just too tough, and he hasn't even shown his full might just yet.
There will be no reason for Espinoza to hold back Saturday, and becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner ever will bring a necessary jolt to the horse racing industry and revitalize the Belmont Stakes thanks to the heightened significance of this rare achievement.