California Chrome is one win away from completing the trifecta and earning horse racing's first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978, but the 2014 Belmont Stakes field will look to knock him off the top spot that he has enjoyed for the past several weeks.
While every horse in the field technically has an equal shot at the winner's circle on Saturday, there are horses more favored than others. Chrome is the obvious favorite given his triumphs at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
The odds don't always dictate the finishing order, however. Sure, they're a good benchmark, but anything can happen on race day.
Below are the final Vegas odds for the event, along with my own personal projections as to how the horses will finish.
Final Vegas Odds and Projections
|5||Ride On Curlin||12-1||2nd|
BelmontStakes.com; Kenny DeJohn
California Chrome's camp is confident heading into the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Art Sherman stopped just short of guaranteeing a victory from the horse, via Jennie Rees of USA Today:
"He's a good horse, just needs to have a good trip and I really think you'll see the next Triple Crown winner. … He just might be that extra special horse that you need."
That said, Sherman is already thrilled for the horse. He said that winning the Kentucky Derby was an unforgettable moment, via Rees:
He's done everything that I ever could want a horse to do – and more. Once you get the Derby, it's something you never forget. When they write that horse's name on the top of that ledger there, with all the superstars, I'm just so elated that I'll be there and he'll be in the Derby Museum next year.
Chrome has truly been superb during this run, though the success in these past two races is nothing new for the colt. He's seeking his seventh straight victory on Saturday.
In order to win, jockey Victor Espinoza will have to stay the course and maintain the strategy that has gotten him to this point. If he stays behind the leaders and makes his push late in the race, there's plenty of reason to believe that Chrome will make history.
Tonalist pulled a disappointing outside draw for the Belmont Stakes, as he'll start from the No. 11 position. From the outermost position, it will be extremely difficult for the colt to make up ground quickly and contend.
That said, a horse as fast as Tonalist can surprise a lot of people—even if it means starting from the worst possible spot. Trainer Christophe Clement isn't worried about starting from No. 11, via HorseRacingNation.com:
I don't let myself worry about [the post]. I've just got to worry about the horse. [Joel] Rosario will come tomorrow and we'll discuss it, and we'll deal with it. The plus is you're in the gate last. He's a really, really big horse with a long stride, so he can basically run his own race without worrying about anybody else.
Tonalist is still favored highly in terms of his odds, so there are plenty of analysts out there who still like his chances. Clement hit on a positive of starting so far on the outside: the horse's long strides.
Without horses outside of him, Tonalist can run his own race, and Rosario can focus on getting as much speed and stride length out of the horse. It'll be difficult to maintain a quick pace through 1 1/2 miles, however.
Commanding Curve finished second in the Kentucky Derby, yet he still didn't get a ton of recognition when the odds came out for the Belmont Stakes, as Tim Wilkin of SFGate.com noted:
Despite his strong finish in Louisville, Commanding Curve did not get much respect from Eric Donovan, the oddsmaker for the New York Racing Association. Commanding Curve, at 15-1, is the fifth choice on the morning line. California Chrome is the 3-5 favorite.
Regardless of the odds, Commanding Curve is a horse that warrants watching. Even though his second-place finish at Churchill Downs was still nearly two lengths back of California Chrome, he was truly the only horse to make a run at Chrome down the final stretch.
In a competitive field with several fast horses, Commanding Curve sticks out because of his previous success over the past month. The colt sat out the Preakness to focus on preparations for Saturday, and we'll have to see if the layoff helps.