Though numerous horses have threatened to win the Triple Crown in recent years, California Chrome has carried a vibe that suggests he is the likeliest contender to break horse racing's 36-year drought.
Headed into the Belmont Stakes, Chrome remains a significant favorite. Having won his past six starts, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner paces a field that includes a handful of solid secondary favorites, according to Odds Shark:
|Ride on Curlin||11/2|
|General A Rod||22/1|
via Odds Shark as of June 6, 4:00 p.m. ET
The odds may portray the public perception headed into the race, but the 12-furlong length makes the race especially difficult to predict. With that caveat in mind, here are some final pre-race predictions about which horses will come in to win, place and show on Saturday.
Win: Commanding Curve
With nearly every prognosticator picking California Chrome, it seems as though the Derby and Preakness winner is viewed as a lock. However, when looking for a potential upset, Commanding Curve presents an intriguing choice.
The Derby runner-up has raced in just three graded races but should be well-rested after skipping Pimlico. Known for closing hard down the stretch, ESPN's Lane Gold believes that an adequate start could allow Commanding Curve to take over down the stretch (subscription required):
The key for Curve to have a realistic shot to win is not falling too far behind. In the Derby, as well as his other 2014 races, the Dallas Stewart-trained colt has dropped to the back of the pack each time and made a furious late charge on each occasion. Even though Belmont is the longest race of the Triple Crown, it is difficult to make up a lot of ground late.
Starting from the No. 4 post, Commanding Curve is in a good position to start the race. Most of the Belmont champions have come from the first five posts (though No. 7 does have 13 winners), as needing to make up ground from a wide post can be extremely difficult in such a long race. As such, Commanding Curve should have an easier time staying with the early pace-setters like Chrome:
After drawing wide posts for most of the Triple Crown trail, Commanding Curve is in the inside tier. Predict he'll be closer to the pace.— J.J. Hysell (@trifectabox) June 6, 2014
With jockey Shaun Bridgmohan in the saddle, Commanding Curve also has a guide who is extremely experienced at Belmont Park. Following a second-place finish at Churchill Downs, Commanding Curve looks poised to potentially upset Chrome and spoil his run at history.
Place: California Chrome
Though California Chrome is certainly the best horse in the field, that does not necessarily have to translate into a victory. For now, everyone in his camp is loose, as the horse appears ready for the grueling challenge:
Indeed, though favorites used to dominate the final leg of the Triple Crown, the past 20 years have seen plenty of underdogs prevail at Belmont Park. As ESPN's Chris Fallica notes, Chrome is attempting to accomplish an incredibly rare feat, based on his status as the favorite:
If California Chrome wins the Belmont, it will mark the first time since Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown in 1977 that the favorite won all three legs of the Triple Crown. It would also be the first time since 2007 the winners of the three Triple Crown races were single-digit odds. All winners in 2007 were less than 5-1.
Starting from the No. 2 post is not necessarily ideal, though it is not a significant disadvantage either. Much like Commanding Curve, Chrome should be able to continue his aggressive brand of racing and stay out near the front as he reaches the home stretch.
However, with so many top contenders in the inside posts, Chrome will have an extremely difficult time fending off so many high quality horses that are likely to be near the head of the pack. California Chrome is a deserving favorite, but the nature of the race and the Triple Crown circuit make him a less likely winner than many perceive.
Show: Ride on Curlin
A perpetual bridesmaid, Ride on Curlin has finished in the top three in five of his past six graded racesm but has never won anything besides a non-graded race. Nevertheless, trainer Billy Gowan remains confident that the Belmont represents his horse's best distance, according to the New York Daily News' Kevin Armstrong:
“I thought all along this might be (Ride on Curlin’s) best distance,” Gowan said. “He never really quits, so if California Chrome finds that long stretch tiring, we’ll be running at him.”
Forever in California Chrome’s rearview, Ride on Curlin is known to get hot. California Chrome’s more laid back. Gowan wants his horse to break clean from post 5 in the eighth race Saturday, and he schooled his colt again Thursday.
Like Chrome, Ride on Curlin has never raced at Belmont Park, though he is among the most experienced horses in the field. Though Ride on Curlin has proven he can contend either as a front-runner or from the back, Gowan believes his horse will stick close to Chrome and the rest of the lead pack:
After speaking to their trainers, expect Ride On Curlin to break just off Chrome and Medal Count to hang close too...#TeamAtBelmont— Joe Bianchino (@Joe_1045) June 6, 2014
That strategy is commensurate with his start at the No. 5 post, which has given rise to the third-most winners in the history of the race. Starting slightly outside Chrome and Commanding Curve, Ride on Curlin should be able to stick close through the latter stages of the race.
Ride on Curlin's track record suggests he will be in contention. However, it also indicates that he will ultimately fall short, though a pair of top-three finishes in the final two legs of the Triple Crown would be nothing to scoff at.