California Chrome is once again the heavy favorite in a Triple Crown race as he looks to complete horse racing's greatest feat at the 2014 Belmont Stakes.
Dominant performances at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes have led Chrome to this moment. He has established himself as hands-down the most talented three-year old racing today, and he has been rewarded with odds better than even money at Elmont.
That said, don't expect him to just breeze through Belmont. While Chrome has excelled on a 1.25-mile track, he has zero experience racing 1.5 miles. Belmont's length has been the undoing of 12 Triple-Crown hopefuls since Affirmed last won it in 1978, and the packed field for the 2014 race won't make things any easier.
|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|
Facing 10 challengers will add a challenge for Chrome that no Triple-Crown hopeful has ever overcome. As the Associated Press reports (via CBS New York) no horse attempting to finish off a bid for the Triple Crown has ever done so against a field so large.
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.
That said, racing from the No. 2 post should help Chrome overcome that difficulty.
From the gun, Chrome has the acceleration to jump out ahead of Medal Count and establish position on the rail with as little traffic in front of him as possible. That tactic would allow him to limit the distance he has to run by keeping to the inside, then conserving energy by easing up as he runs the rail before charging down the stretch.
The logic makes sense, but recent history is not on his side. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Chrome's starting position has not produced a winner in decades.
So which factor weighs more heavily—the No. 2 post's 20-year drought, or Chrome's closeness to the rail?
In all likelihood, the latter does.
Looking at race winners by post position for the entire history of the Belmont Stakes, Chrome's post is actually tied for fourth all-time with 11 victories. The all-time winningest post is one spot over on the rail, lending credence to the idea that Chrome can excel by beating Medal Count inside.
If Chrome does, he'll gain a distinct edge, with a significantly shorter distance to run than his freshest rivals.
After skipping the Preakness and resting up, Wicked Strong enters the Belmont Stakes as Chrome's closest rival by the odds, though he was a distant fourth at Churchill Downs. Following Strong is Tonalist, who has raced just four times in his career and didn't compete at either the Derby or the Preakness.
In an endurance race like the Belmont, that extra rest could be vital, but their draws neutralize that advantage. Tonalist will have to fight through the entire field to get inside, while Strong won't have it much easier coming from the ninth post.
California Chrome has the edge in athleticism over every horse he'll face, and what amounts to a favorable draw to boot. No horse in the past 36 years has been able to do what he's trying to do at the Belmont Stakes, but it really is his race to lose.