All anyone wants to know at the 2014 Belmont Stakes is whether California Chrome can complete his quest for a Triple Crown.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner comes into the final leg as the overwhelming favorite. He has won six starts in a row and has more talent than anyone else in the field.
However, the best horse does not always win Belmont. The 1 1/2-mile track causes even the best contenders to tire down the stretch, keeping everyone in the race. Any of the 11 horses has a chance to come away with a win, regardless of odds.
Here are predictions for what will happen in this exciting event.
|1||Medal Count||Dale Romans||Robby Albarado||20-1|
|2||California Chrome||Art Sherman||Victor Espinoza||3-5|
|3||Matterhorn||Todd Pletcher||Joe Bravo||30-1|
|4||Commanding Curve||Dallas Stewart||Shaun Bridgmohan||15-1|
|5||Ride On Curlin||Billy Gowan||John Velazquez||12-1|
|6||Matuszak||Bill Mott||Mike Smith||30-1|
|7||Samraat||Rick Violette||Jose Ortiz||20-1|
|8||Commissioner||Todd Pletcher||Javier Castellano||20-1|
|9||Wicked Strong||Jimmy Jerkins||Rajiv Maragh||6-1|
|10||General a Rod||Mike Maker||Rosie Napravnik||20-1|
|11||Tonalist||Christophe Clement||Joel Rosario||8-1|
While the speed of each horse is important, longer races have a lot to do with the jockeys. It is vital for each rider to get into a good spot and maintain a pace that allows the horse to challenge late.
Fortunately, Commissioner has one of the best jockeys in the field in Javier Castellano. The veteran has already amassed over $9 million in earnings this year to lead all riders, while finishing in the top three in 61 percent of his starts.
Add the experience of the jockey to legendary trainer Todd Pletcher—who has won two Belmont titles in his career—and this thoroughbred is well set up for a strong race.
Of course, Commissioner deserves plenty of credit as well. As Matt Bernier of Daily Racing Form points out, he was bred for longer runs:
Or what happens if Commissioner wins the Belmont (bred to run 14 miles) in a scintillating time of 2:32.61? (43-1 currently is way too high)— Matt Bernier (@bernier_matt) June 6, 2014
This will make a big difference as everyone else in the field tires down the stretch, and Commissioner will at least pull into the top three.
Place: Commanding Curve
While California Chrome had an impressive performance at Churchill Downs, his win was not a runaway. That was because Commanding Curve charged late to give the eventual winner a run for his money.
With a bit more track, it certainly seemed possible that Commanding Curve could have overtaken the lead. He will get that track at Belmont on a longer course that allows him to highlight his best skills as a closer.
Owner Terry Finley is excited about his thoroughbred's chances in this event, via Tom Pedulla of America's Best Racing:
I know physically he looks better than he did going into the Derby. He looks happy, he’s training well, he’s got good flesh coming into this.
If California Chrome beats us, it’s going to be a very legitimate win in the Belmont. If he wins, he will have beaten some really nice horses that took aim at him for a while.
After skipping the Preakness, Commanding Curve will be fresher than some of the others in the field and should be able to challenge for the win.
Win: California Chrome
It is hard to fight the truth. California Chrome is the best horse in the field and will continue his winning streak with a victory at Belmont.
Owner Steve Coburn is extremely confident about his chances:
Meanwhile, Reid Cherner of USA Today provides many reasons why California Chrome will complete the Triple Crown, including the horse's running style:
The distance of the Belmont makes it appear that a horse from the back of the pack has a great chance to make a stretch run for victory. But history doesn't bear that out. Just like a 1,500 meter runner doesn't sprint out of the blocks, the Belmont field won't be providing suicidal fractions out of the gate. That means the winner can usually be found running with the pack. In the last 14 Belmonts, only four winners were worse than fourth after mile. Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed were all first. California Chrome's running style has him stalking the leaders which has proved to be a winning formula.
Jockey Victor Espinoza came one win short of the Triple Crown with War Emblem in 2002, but he will be able to learn from his mistakes and do a better job of handling the competition this time around.
After winning six races in a row, there is no reason to believe this momentum will stop any time soon. California Chrome will keep up his impressive run and win the Belmont Stakes.
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