WASHINGTON -- Could 2014 finally be the year we see a Triple Crown winner?
We're going to find out on Saturday at 6:52 p.m. EST when the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes kicks off and California Chrome looks to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
While everyone in Elmont New York will be fired up and looking to celebrate this potentially rare feat, Triple Crown dreams have come to die 12 times since Affirmed's trifecta of wins. While California Chrome is the best horse on paper, on Friday afternoon his odds were 3-5, other horses who dreamed big after winning the first two races in the past 12 years have come up short, or in I'll Have Another's case in 2012 didn't have the opportunity to fail at all in the Belmont.
War Emblem lost by 19 and a half lengths in 2002. Smarty Jones broke America's heart when he was passed by Birdstone late in the Belmont in 2004 to finish second. Big Brown finished dead last by 25 ¼ lengths in 2008.
No Triple Crown winner has ever faced more than seven opponents in the quest to join the elite Fraternity of Triple Crown winners. The mile and a half run is a grind physically and mentally for both the horses and trainers, and California Chrome is running his third race in five weeks.
Now with all of the obstacles mentioned above, can California Chrome overcome the hurdles and become a national voiceless hero?
The answer is yes.
Here are my predictions:
Win: California Chrome
There is little question that California Chrome comes to his historic moment at Belmont Park on Saturday in excellent position to complete the elusive sweep of the Triple Crown. Even the horse's B-game is good enough to outclass the rest of the field on Saturday.
Chrome has essentially done nothing wrong since his six-race winning streak began at Santa Anita in December 2013. When it comes to the Triple Crown races, Chrome looked even better in the Preakness than in the Kentucky Derby, his time was the swiftest by a winner in seven years. After both races he galloped out with good energy and injury free.
As equally as impressive as the consecutive wins is that California Chrome has not lost one single pound of weight and has had strong training sessions since arriving at Belmont this past week. Art Sherman's son Alan Sherman sounds confident with his conditioning, mentioning that "within two days, he acted as if he had not even run in the Preakness."
Jockey Victor Espinoza has been brilliant atop Chrome, because he hasn't pushed him too hard at any point in his time as his jockey -- he really hasn't had to. The Belmont Stakes is all about stamina, and Espinoza has been masterful in his ability to manage Chrome's energy so he doesn't overly exert himself too early.
The No. 2 post position is a semi-favorable one, with 11 winners from the spot since 1905. And here's a stat not to be overlooked: California Chrome had the same post position for Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont as Secretariat in 1973 when he was a Triple Crown winner.
California Chrome is the best horse in this field, doesn't appear fatigued (although reports are that trainer Art Sherman and owner Steve Coburn appeared worn out from telling their story hundreds of times) and has run well on the track since arriving. Chrome will make history on Saturday and win the Triple Crown.
Place: Ride on Curlin
While I don't think anybody will catch Chrome, the horse with the best chance to do so is Ride On Curlin. He's been consistent and is a versatile horse who figures to be in the money.
Calvin Borel rode Ride on Curlin at Churchill Downs, and Joel Rosario did so at Pimlico Race Course. The colt will be running with another new jockey at the Belmont, this time it will be John Velazquez. Velazquez has two wins to his credit at the Belmont in his career.
Ride on Curlin has been described as very easy to ride. One trainer at Belmont called him the easiest horse he's ridden in his life. As far as any tiring (he ran in all three races in the Triple Crown), he's the son of a champion and can run all day. He's already shown off his speed at Elmont Park in some workouts this week.
He finished second at Pimlico, just 1 and a half lengths behind Chrome. His runner-up finish in the Preakness was his best race to date and the colt should be able to keep up with Chrome for much of the Belmont as well before falling short at the end.
Show: Commanding Curve
Commanding Curve finished 2nd at the Derby, despite a not so favorable No. 17 post position. Most impressive about Commanding Curve's run to second place at the Kentucky Derby was how quickly he strode down the final stretch. In the process, he cruised past two of the top challengers to California Chrome in Danza and Wicked Strong.
Trainer Dallas Stewart and the owners of West Point Thoroughbreds chose not to race Commanding Curve at the Preakness, giving the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby five weeks off, and being well-rested in a race as long as the Belmont has in recent years proved to be a winning formula.
Starting in post No. 4 is also ideal to dictate the pace of the race, and he has the ability to get out in front of California Chrome early amid traffic. Running alongside Ride On Curlin will keep his pace up, too. The key for Curve to have a realistic shot to win is not falling too far behind. In the Kentucky Derby as well as other races this year, he dropped to the back of the pack each time and made a furious late charge on each occasion. Even though Belmont is the longest race of the Triple Crown, it is difficult to make up a lot of ground late.
If you're heading to Laurel or Pimlico this weekend with $50:
- $10 to win: #5
- $2 Trifecta Box: 2-5-4
- $1 Superfecta Box: 2-5-4-9
- $2 Exacta Box: 2-9
© 2014 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.