You're nervous. You're either nervous because there is this pit growing in the middle of your stomach telling you that you might not witness history tonight, as you'd hoped, or there is a pit growing in your stomach because that unwavering confidence you had in the horse you were going to wager on is starting to, well, waver.
This is the nature of horse racing—a whole lot of build-up to about two minutes of sheer excitement and drama. Few events thrive so fully on anticipation, and at this year's Belmont Stakes the anticipation is at a fever pitch because, once again, we have a horse one win away from ending a Triple Crown drought that dates back to 1978.
Is this the year? Or perhaps more importantly to you, will your horse win and earn you a few bucks in the process?
Let's take one last look at the contenders and the top jockeys in the field today. Just don't expect that pit in your stomach to go away anytime soon.
When: Saturday, June 7
Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, New York
Coverage Time: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET
Post Time: 6:52 p.m. ET
|1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||20-1||5|
|2||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||3-5||1|
|4||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||15-1||3|
|5||Ride on Curlin||John Velazquez||12-1||7|
|9||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||6-1||2|
|10||General a Rod||Rosie Napravnik||20-1||8|
While we break down some of the horses, let's also take a moment to recognize that there are some extremely decorated jockeys in this field.
Victor Espinoza is among them, but two things might play against him leading California Chrome to victory. Jerry Bossert of the New York Daily News outlines the first:
Since he began riding in 1993, Espinoza has won more than 3,100 races, while mainly riding on the Southern California circuit, but he is just 2-for-67 at Belmont Park, winning the 2001 Champagne Stakes aboard Officer and the 2004 Vosburgh Stakes on Pico Central.
'That’s my record?' Espinoza said to the Daily News. 'I don’t even know. I don’t follow records and I don’t really care about records. I just care about the horses I ride.'
The second, of course, is that in 2002, Espinoza was War Emblem's jockey as the horse attempted to win the Triple Crown. Instead, he finished a distant eighth.
The hope will be that history doesn't repeat itself.
The field is littered with talented jockeys. John Velazquez, aboard Ride on Curlin, has won over $303 million in purses in his career—the most ever according to Bossert. Joel Rosario, riding Tonalist at Belmont, earned the second-most money of any jockey in 2013.
And then there is Mike Smith, already a Hall of Famer, who has won every Triple Crown race including two triumphs at the Belmont (2010, 2013). He'll look to make it three aboard Matuszak.
But all eyes, of course, will be on Espinoza and California Chrome. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated passes along what is probably a very common belief about the horse today:
My heart says California Chrome wins the Triple Crown. My head says he gets caught late.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) June 7, 2014
On talent alone, Chrome seems the likely winner. After six straight wins and very strong showings at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the horse is going to be tough to beat. Plus, his style of running seems suited to this race. Check out this stat, per ESPN Stats and Information:
Since 1952, 18% of Belmont winners were outside top 3 after 1 1/4 miles; will California Chrome have the endurance? pic.twitter.com/FFd2uPtoSi— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 7, 2014
Chrome is generally a stalker who likes to be right on the leader's tail, so to speak, so he'll likely be in prime striking position down the stretch. But he'll also be facing a pretty deep field at Belmont and years of history suggesting he won't be able to pull of the Triple Crown feat, so all of the doubts are understandable.
They're also incorrect.
Wicked Strong is a good horse and suited for this distance, but he doesn't have the final push to beat Chrome. Commanding Curve will come on strong near the end, no doubt, but he did just that at the Derby and Chrome was still able to pull off the throttle at the very end. Tonalist is not be underestimated, but his starting position isn't ideal. Medal Count seems better suited to synthetics and grass.
Go down the list and you can find a pretty good reason to bet against any of the horses in the field. It's much, much harder to find reasons to bet against California Chrome beyond superstition. Yes, history indicates Chrome will lose, but look at the lines right now.
In a vacuum, without any other considerations, which of these horses would you choose to win this race? Which horse, at its best, is the likely winner?
The answer is California Chrome. The drought will end. A Triple Crown winner is upon us.