As one of the most coveted prizes in the sporting realm that last came around in , the Triple Crown is a strong possibility this year thanks to one California Chrome. After staggering triumphs at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, not to mention enforcing rule changes in New York for the upcoming Belmont Stakes, California Chrome has the eye of the globe. That includes Las Vegas, which lists the rag-to-riches story as a strong favorite at Belmont Park:. Note: Odds courtesy of OddsShark.
There is no legendary jockey, either, just Victor Espinoza, who before assuming the saddle had not experienced great success in years. Since the fateful pairing, the duo has won six races in a row by margins the sport has not seen in more than a decade. The spectacle in Kentucky was a complete rout, while the race in Baltimore had the look of a more competitive affair, but only because other contenders went all-in entirely too early. But there are issues that suggest California Chrome is not such a safe bet.
How California Chrome reacts to a lengthier distance is hard to say, but bettors can at least rest easy knowing Espinoza, who gets the most out of the sport's best participant unlike any other jockey has been able to do, will have a strong strategy entering the race. There are other likely contenders, too. Ride On Curlin was right with California Chrome at the Preakness before running out of gas on the final approach.
The , and renewals also had 10 other horses competing against odds-on Derby-Preakness winners Kauai King, Pleasant Colony and Real Quiet, respectively. All three of those horses lost the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome is by far the most talented member of this 3-year-old crop. He owns tremendous tactical speed, which should place him on or just off the early lead. Only Samraat and Tonalist, and to a less extent, General a Rod, have decent gate speed, so jockey Victor Espinoza will not have much of a crowd in front of him.
We will see if the colt is good enough to overcome what so many have failed to accomplish over the last 36 years. There are two horses that have no business being in the race - Matterhorn and Matuszak. The former has not won since last November while the latter hasn't won since September. Three other colts have better bodies of work than that pair but should still finish off the board. They are General a Rod, Commissioner and Samraat. It is true he had a terrible trip in the Preakness, but don't look for any improvement from a horse that might not have been entered in the Belmont if his stablemate, Intense Holiday, did not come down with an injury.
Commissioner showed more speed in the Peter Pan than he ever had before, but that may have occurred due to the sloppy Belmont surface that day. An argument could be made that a horse not expected to vie for the early lead could jump up and do so and this colt might be the one.
Either on the pace or off, don't expect the Todd Pletcher-trained 3-year-old to be around when the true running begins. Samraat ran a very good fifth in the Kentucky Derby - his second straight loss after opening with five wins in his first five outings.
His breeding does not suggest he will appreciate the added distance, so it is best to side with others. He is one of four horses in the field to have run in the Derby and pass the Preakness. Commanding Curve also had the easiest of trips in the first leg of the Triple Crown, unlike a few others entered in the Belmont. The son of Master Command has been training well and certainly is a horse to use in the exotics.
However, he is doubtful to cross the wire first. Ride On Curlin represents the closest finisher to California Chrome considering the latter has strung together six consecutive victories. Filling out the final spot in the superfecta will be Tonalist. The Peter Pan winner has done nothing wrong as a 3-year-old, winning two of three starts with a second to Florida Derby winner Constitution in his only other race - an allowance event on a speed-favoring Gulfstream Park track.
Three main reasons why he won't hit the board are: 1. Medal Count ran a very good eighth in the Kentucky Derby considering Danza cut him off approaching the eighth-pole. His momentum was completely stopped and he still finished less than two lengths from finishing fourth. The Dale Romans-trained son of Dynaformer not only should love the 12 furlongs, but he also has been working well at Churchill Downs. Finally, he has had five weeks off after racing three times in a month.
That leaves California Chrome and Wicked Strong as the two most probable winners. Not surprisingly, they are the top two choices on the morning line. Wicked Strong has been working out on the Belmont training track, but he is one of only three horses in the field with a win over the main track Samraat and Tonalist are the other two.
The fourth-place Derby finisher broke poorly from the far outside post position on the first Saturday in May and was caught very wide going into the first turn. He eventually closed from 14th to a fourth-place finish at the wire. A better trip is expected on Saturday.
It's been 36 years since Affirmed last won the last Triple Crown. California Chrome falls into the first category. If the pace is slow, he might be on the lead. If not, look for him to sit a couple lengths off, as he did in the first two Triple Crown races. A victory on Saturday will put to rest all the talk of having to alter either the distances or the span of time in between the three races. A loss and the discussions will ignite once again. Will he win?
That is the million dollar question. Is he a good bet to cross the wire first at odds-on? History says no. All money raised goes to education and literacy programs on Vancouver Island. Contests and offers from our advertising partners.
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I think he's the real McCoy. They better worry about me, I can tell you that. Wicked Strong was the second choice and drew post No. The colt finished fourth after an unlucky trip in the Derby, sat out the Preakness and comes into the Belmont off a five-week rest. Tonalist was made the third betting choice at odds and will break from the No. The colt has experience on the track, having won the Peter Pan Stakes, although he is new to the Triple Crown trail.
Ride On Curlin, the fourth choice, and shot General a Rod are the only other horses besides California Chrome who will have run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Much of the doubt starts with the longer, and more grueling, track at the Belmont Stakes. The strip allows the horse to breathe better, and California Chrome only uses it during races and not in training sessions. He's very funny about things like that,'' Sherman said.
We'll have to cross that bridge when we get there. There is of course concerns from the rest of the field at Belmont. California Chrome could face a mix of his toughest competitors from the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness on Saturday, June 7.
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