The 2014 Belmont Stakes are upon us, and the odds prior to the race favor California Chrome to succeed in his quest for Triple Crown glory.
In the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes following it, California Chrome entered race day as the favorite. Both times, he went out and proved himself to be the most dominant horse in the field, combining a lightning-quick burst with elite top speed to power his way to a pair of convincing victories.
Now he just needs one more to secure a rarefied place in the history books. It won't be easy; in fact, the 1.5-mile track at Elmont and 11-horse field make this the most grueling challenge that Chrome has ever faced. The odds are on his side, but that doesn't mean it will be easy.
|2014 Belmont Stakes Field|
|1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale L. 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|
Chrome has proven himself over 1.25 miles and in stakes competition, but he has never competed in such a long race before. On top of that, given the amount of challengers he has to face, Chrome's facing a task at Belmont that no Triple Crown hopeful has ever completed.
Per the Associated Press (via CBS New York):
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will face 10 rivals on Saturday, not a good omen in the quest for racing’s ultimate prize. This would be the largest Belmont field ever beaten by a Triple Crown winner. The 11 previous Triple Crown champions never faced more than seven rivals in the 1½-mile Belmont, the longest of the three races in the series.
It stands to reason that in such an endurance battle, having to navigate a more crowded track and fend off more late chargers would make Belmont significantly more difficult. Running from the No. 2 post, Chrome can offset some of that threat by establishing his position on the rail early, but his job later on will be daunting regardless.
But for those excited at the prospect of seeing the first Triple Crown champ since Affirmed in 1978, FiveThirtyEight points out that Belmont's role in the historical drought defies the odds.
The last 12 horses to win the Derby and the Preakness have failed to complete the Triple Crown, which has a historical success rate of 33 percent. The current slump is unlikely: The odds of it happening by chance are about 1 in 130 – nearly the same as the 2011 Atlanta Braves failing to make Major League Baseball’s playoffs with 18 games remaining and an 8.5-game lead for the wild card.
That's not enough evidence to discount the enormity of the challenge and consider the race a Chrome victory lap, but it is encouraging. No horse in the field can match his athleticism or his track record, and he has the best chance to finish on the right side of history.
None of the horses he is competing against have established themselves as a bona fide rival at the Belmont Stakes.
Wicked Strong, sporting the second-best odds at 6-1, finished a distant fourth behind Chrome at Churchill Downs and is banking on rest giving him an edge after skipping the Preakness. Ride On Curlin stuck with Chrome late at Pimlico, but his vain late charge did not inspire confidence in his chances on a longer track. Tonalist has 8-1 odds, but did not race either the Derby or the Preakness and has raced just four times in his career.
Given those would-be usurpers, it's no surprise Chrome's odds are better than even money. It only takes one horse to end his Triple Crown campaign, but arguing with any confidence that any given horse will beat him is difficult.
California Chrome has too much talent to bet against, even considering how unforgiving the Belmont Stakes are. He's fast enough to break late and push for the lead down the stretch, preventing a fade that could follow charging too soon.
When the Test of the Champion is complete, expect him to have earned a place next to Affirmed and the greatest racers of all time.