Belmont Stakes Predictions 2014: Last-Minute Picks and Analysis

Michael DempseyFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2014

Belmont Stakes Predictions 2014: Last-Minute Picks and Analysis

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Belmont Stakes is here, and all eyes are on California Chrome as he attempts to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 and just the 12th in history.

    It has been five years since we last saw a horse seek to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, but Big Brown failed to fire as the heavy favorite.

    From his modest upbringing pedigree to stardom, California Chrome has garnered a legion of fans that will be rooting him home on Saturday afternoon.

    Let’s go over a few last-minute predictions followed by my picks for the top four finishers in the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

Record Crowd, Perfect Weather

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Executives at the New York Racing Association are not making a prediction, but we could see a record crowd at Belmont Park on Saturday for California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid. 

    The current record is 120,139 people who showed up to root home Smarty Jones in his Triple Crown bid in 2004. Most left unhappy, as the colt was run down late by long shot Birdstone.

    The weather forecast for the area on Saturday is just about perfect. It will be mostly sunny with a high of 85 degrees.

    If you plan on making the trip out to Belmont Park, get there early and bring sunscreen and a wad of cash.

California Chrome Odds Will Be Less Than 3-5 Morning Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Everyone has officially jumped on the Chromie bandwagon by now. California Chrome went off at 5-2 in his victory in the Kentucky Derby and then 1-2 in the Preakness. The price is going to be short again in the third jewel of the Triple Crown. 

    From a small sampling of early money taken on Friday, the colt is 1-2 in the betting. It looks as if his final price could be south of his 3-5 morning line betting odds. The latest price at Odds Shark is 4-5, but when the real money starts pouring in on Saturday afternoon, expect to see the price lower than 3-5.

     

    Friday wagering:

    1. Medal Count, 21-1

    2. California Chrome, 1-2

    3. Matterhorn, 59-1

    4. Commanding Curve, 6-1

    5. Ride On Curlin, 11-1

    6. Matuszak, 47-1

    7. Samraat, 41-1

    8. Commissioner, 43-1

    9. Wicked Strong, 8-1

    10. General a Rod, 50-1

    11. Tonalist, 13-1 

NYRA Will Run out of Toner

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    If you plan on making a few wagers on the Belmont Stakes, get in line early. The track figures to set a record betting handle.

    With perfect weather, a Triple Crown up for grabs and six Grade 1 races, there will be great betting action throughout the day—not to mention everyone will be looking to take home a souvenir $2 win ticket on California Chrome, just in case history is made.

    The New York Racing Association might want to have Office Depot on standby, as there seems a good chance they could run out of toner printing those $2 tickets.

    If California Chrome is upset, I predict the NYRA will also run out of trash bags.

Stars Will Shine on Undercard

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    The stars will be out in full force in the early races on the Belmont Stakes card, with five Grade 1 races leading up to the big showdown.

    Look for Havana, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up to run big in the Woody Stephens, and My Miss Sophia will show why she may be the best three-year-old filly outside of Untapable in the Acorn.

    Beholder, Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches have won a combined dozen Grade 1 races, and it will be a baker’s dozen after the Ogden Phipps.

    Then we will see last year’s Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice roll in the Met Mile.

    "I think he's adaptable to different pace scenarios," said his trainer, Todd Pletcher, per Jon Forbes of the New York Racing Association. "He can sit off a fast pace, he can prompt a slow pace. He's pretty dangerous from a number of strategies."

    Now, on to the predictions for the Belmont Stakes.

Fourth: Wicked Strong

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    David Alcosser/Associated Press

    The fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby is back off of a five-week break after the colt skipped the Preakness. Seven Belmont Stakes winners since 2000 have lost the Derby, skipped the Preakness and come back to win the Belmont. 

    The colt did not have the best of trips in the Derby, beaten by 5 3/4 lengths, and he has been working smartly since that outing. The colt should be able to handle the extra ground and will be running late.

    According to a report by the NYRA, his trainer, James Jerkens, is ready to attempt to pull off the upset. "It's a mixture of exciting and nerve-wracking. I'll be glad when it's over," Jerkens said. "He's doing well. I don't see anything that I don't like."

Third: Tonalist

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    The newcomer to the Triple Crown, the colt won the Peter Pan Stakes in the slop over the Belmont Park main track on May 10. Tonalist is 8-1 on the morning line according to Odds Shark, but I am expecting him to take some action, which may make him the underlay of the race. 

    Ruler On Ice made his debut in the Triple Crown in 2011 and won the Belmont, returning his backers $51.50 for a $2 wager.

    Tonalist, "the great unknown in the Belmont Stakes," according to my colleague Jessica Paquette, is in good hands with trainer Christophe Clement, best known as a turf trainer, and has a top jockey in Joel Rosario, who is looking for his first win in the race.

Second: California Chrome

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Oops, were you expecting to see him in the first spot? While some have already given this colt the Triple Crown, do not forget he still has to travel 1 1/2 miles and beat 10 foes at very short odds. 

    The list of good horses that lost the Belmont Stakes at short odds is long, including Big Brown, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Sunday Silence, Alysheba, Pleasant Colony and Spectacular Bid.

    While there is no doubt I’ll be rooting hard for California Chrome to make history, my wallet will have a few tickets on a long shot.

First: Commissioner

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    If I am going to miss out on seeing a Triple Crown, at least I hope to cash a big ticket. 

    Commissioner is bred to run all day, sired by 1992 Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy out of the stakes-winning mare Flaming Heart, who is sired by Touch Gold, the winner of the 1997 Belmont. Go back a couple more generations and we see Seattle Slew and Secretariat in his pedigree, both Triple Crown winners.

    He has lost all four of his stakes tries this year, but last out was a decent second in the Peter Pan while racing down along a deep and dull rail.

    Trainer Todd Pletcher has won this race twice, including last year with Palace Malice.

    The colt reminds me of 2010 Belmont winner Drosselmeyer, who came into the race having lost his previous three starts. They have something else in common as well: They are both owned by WinStar Farms.

    The colt will light up the tote board if he can run down California Chrome in the deep stretch.