Belmont 2014: Early Predictions Post-Preakness

Jessica Paquette@jmpaquetteFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2014

Belmont 2014: Early Predictions Post-Preakness

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    Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    Now that the dust has settled from the Preakness Stakes, the world will wait in anticipation for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. History could be made—California Chrome stands to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.

    The brilliant red colt will have the hopes of the racing world on his muscular shoulders. For a sport that has been plagued by negative press and a declining fanbase, a Triple Crown winner could be the boost into the mainstream that the sport needs.

    Paul Lo Duca, former MLB catcher and current horse racing analyst, is a believer in California Chrome and was quick to refute his naysayers on Twitter post-race, saying he was "sick and tired of everyone saying he (California Chrome) got a great trip" and eyeing history in the third leg of the Triple Crown.

    It has been six years since a Triple Crown has been on the line in the Belmont Stakes. In 2008, Big Brown wound up last in a bizarre, disappointing race. Two years ago, I'll Have Another looked poised to compete for glory in the Belmont but had to withdraw the morning before the race.

    It will be an exciting three weeks as we build up to the Belmont Stakes. Read on for a preview and some early predictions on what to expect for the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

New Faces Will Be Dangerous

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    For most horses, successfully competing in three races in five weeks is a nearly impossible task. The spacing of the races, combined with the travel, is one of the biggest reasons that the Triple Crown has gone unclaimed since 1978.

    A fresh face is always a major threat. With California Chrome potentially being road weary after two brilliant efforts, several well-rested rivals are ready to play the spoiler.

    Todd Pletcher will have, as always, a loaded contingent, which is highlighted by a potential rising star in Danza. In addition, Tonalist, fresh off an impressive victory in the Peter Pan Stakes, may be the most interesting new addition to the Belmont competitors.

The New York Colt Will Make an Impact

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Samraat does not have the pedigree to go a mile-and-a-half. He does not have the pedigree for a mile-and-a-quarter either, but apparently no one told him that. He ran a dynamite race in the Kentucky Derby and gave everything he had to finish fifth, missing fourth by only a nose.

    Belmont Park is his home track, and he won the first race of his career there as a juvenile to begin an impressive five-race win streak. He is up against it in the Belmont Stakes because of the distance, but there is no denying this horse’s will to win.

    Sometimes that is enough to overcome other factors.

Distance Pedigrees Will Be Put to the Test

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    Garry Jones/Associated Press

    California Chrome has already outrun his pedigree, succeeding far more than anyone thought possible when his owners bred an $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion. Physically, he seems like a horse with the scope to complete a mile-and-a-half, and he has hardly seemed to be hitting his limit in his previous races.

    After his winning effort in the Preakness, the Daily Racing Form's Jay Privman tweeted that Art Sherman said he was "gonna be tired in the morning."

    However, he, like his rivals, will be trying the daunting distance of 1 1/2 miles for the first, and likely last, time in his career. There is no real telling how he and the other horses will handle it until they are deep into Belmont Park’s long stretch.

    Commanding Curve, the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, will likely garner some attention with his stamina-rich pedigree and come-from-behind style. Ride On Curlin made the winner work for it in the Preakness, and judging by how he finished, he will appreciate the added distance as well. 

Wicked Strong Might Be Wicked Tough

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    Morry Gash/Associated Press

    Wicked Strong had arguably one of the worst trips in the Kentucky Derby and still showed his class, rallying to finish fourth and proving his victory in the Wood Memorial was a legitimate one.

    This colt has all of the goods to be the spoiler. He is proven over the Belmont Park surface, he has the pedigree to handle the demanding mile-and-a-half distance, and his running style should work to his advantage.

    By skipping the Preakness and focusing on the Belmont Stakes, this colt has an advantage coming in fresh and should be ready to run a very big race.

Todd Pletcher Will Have Multiple Starters

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    It just doesn’t seem like a Triple Crown race without powerhouse trainer Todd Pletcher sending out multiple competitors. Danza, the fast-closing third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, is pointed to the Belmont Stakes as well as the impeccably bred Commissioner.

    Commissioner is known more for his royal pedigree than his actual accomplishments. He was an early buzz horse at the beginning of the year, but the shine began to fade as he struggled against stakes company.

    His recent runner-up finish in the Peter Pan Stakes was encouraging, and being a son of Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy and out of a daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold, he was essentially bred to win this race.

    Pletcher may also send out Kentucky Derby also-ran Intense Holiday, bringing his total to at least three starters in the Belmont Stakes this year.

The Belmont Stakes Won’t Be the Only Exciting Race

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    Belmont Stakes Day has grown into an epic event, and the New York Racing Association will offer total purses of $8 million and host 10 stakes races, including the Belmont Stakes. The day has become the second-richest day of horse racing in North America and promises not to be missed.

    There is something for everyone on the impressive card: the "Test of Champions" in the Belmont Stakes, the prestigious Met Mile and multiple graded stakes on the turf. The best horses in the country will assemble in New York to sort out who reigns supreme in their respective divisions at this point in the year.

A Full Field Will Compete in the Belmont Stakes

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    Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

    California Chrome revealed enough of a potential weakness in the Preakness Stakes to attract a full field of challengers in the Belmont Stakes. Ride On Curlin was making up ground on the chestnut champion, and the criticism may be that this colt could have distance limitations.

    Ride On Curlin's trainer, Billy Gowan, was quoted by the Lexington Herald-Leader on Twitter as saying he would continue on to the Belmont "if he comes out of the race good." 

    Because of that, a full field of challengers will likely line up for their shot at history. While winning the Belmont Stakes is an accomplishment in and of itself, there is a certain notoriety that comes with playing the role of spoiler in a Triple Crown bid. 

    California Chrome is not unbeatable. He will need to bring his running shoes to New York to come out on top in the mile-and-a-half test and be ready to take on a full field of opponents. 

California Chrome Will Win the Triple Crown

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Horse racing fans have endured many disappointments since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978. That drought could end in the Belmont Stakes this year as California Chrome is poised to take his place in history.

    Since Affirmed, there have been 12 heartbreaking near-misses. Some of the greatest horses in recent history—Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence and Silver Charm—all fell short in the Belmont Stakes and were denied their place among the true legends of the sport. This race will be by no means handed to California Chrome, because everyone will be trying to dethrone the king and go down in history as the horse that spoiled the Triple Crown bid in 2014.

    That being said, the Derby and Preakness winner has been just too dominant to overlook. He may be beating up on a lackluster crop that has been decimated by injury, but he is head and shoulders above his rivals. While Ride On Curlin may have been making up ground in the Preakness, the fact remains that California Chrome found a way to win—and that is what great horses do. 

    This horse has captivated America, and his popularity will likely continue into the Belmont Stakes. Owner Steven Colburn summed up his horse and the race to Blood-Horse's Tom LaMarra after the Preakness, saying, "I honestly believe this horse is America's horse. He's giving everybody that little light bulb, and when it clicks on, you know what? We can do this."

    Just a day after his Preakness triumph, though, buzz began circulating that there was a slight chance he may not even run in the Belmont. Part of his normal raceday equipment includes a nasal strip which is designed to help a horse breathe better, just as in human athletes. These are not allowed by the New York Racing Association.

    At this point, no clear decision has been made by either his connections on whether they would compete without one or by NYRA on whether it would be willing to bend the rules. Millions of dollars and a chance at history are at stake. This may be one issue where both parties compromise to give this horse a chance at destiny.