by Charles Jay
There have been so many horses who have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, only to fail in the Belmont Stakes, that they run the full gamut from that which has been thrilling to that which has been severely anti-climactic.
Well, here we go again, with a field that is more crowded than most Triple Crown have found in the Belmont. But many people think we may be seeing a super-horse at work.
California Chrome goes after the Triple Crown on Saturday (post time at 6:52 PM ET), attempting to be the first one to do that since Affirmed in 1978, and although this looks like a race that sets up well for him, there is that great mystery – whether he can go the mile and a half distance. That is virgin territory for every competitor in the field, and so there is no horse with a “history” running this far. What they have is breeding, which leaves us with a lot of speculation.
Here is the field, with post positions and odds as they are posted at VietBet:
1) Medal Count +1750
2) California Chrome +115
3) Matterhorn +4000
4) Commanding Curve +825
5) Ride On Curlin +650
6) Matuszak +4000
7) Samraat +1700
8) Commissioner +3500
9) Wicked Strong +650
10) General A Rod +3000
11) Tonalist +825
Chrome, listed at +115 in the Belmont Stakes betting odds at VietBet, has some distance in his pedigree, and also has a flat-out record of performance on his side. He has won six consecutive races, including four graded stakes, and seems to have gotten out in front at the top of the stretch in all of them. that demonstrates what jockey Victor Espinoza has said about this horse really being able to “rate”; that is, keep pace in perfect position with those at the front and make a move at the right time.
This could well be another of those races, because there is not a lot of early speed. Therefore, Chrome should not be too far from exactly where he wants to be when it is time to move. And he’s got endorsements already; one nasal strip company is conducting a giant promotion in Belmont on Saturday, as Chrome has gotten clearance to wear one himself to improve breathing.
But the nature of horse racing bettors, including many of them at VietBet, will be to look to the beat the favorite, and in this case any other horse would pay a decent price. So who has a shot at it?
Well, Wicked Strong (+650 in Belmont Stakes betting), who stumbled in the Derby but closed to get fourth place, has been aiming for this race and posting outstanding works. His huge effort in the Wood Memorial, defeating Samraat, was very legitimate, as he posted a 104 Beyer Speed Rating.
Another horse who was impressive in preparation for this race is Tonalist (+825), a veteran of only four starts who won the Peter Pan by four lengths on a sloppy track at Belmont. No other starter in Saturday’s feature has won a stakes race on this course. Tonalist has improved his Beyer figure each time out, going 72-90-92-103. Can he get the distance? He has won twice at a mile and an eighth, pulling off in both.
Commissioner, which is priced at +3500 in the horse racing odds, is bred to run a mile and a half, as he is sired by A.P. Indy, the 1992 Belmont winner and Horse of the Year, with a grandsire (Seattle Slew) and dam’s sire (Touch Gold) who have both won this race as well. This horse was second to Tonalist in the Peter Pan, but is winless in graded stakes races.
Commanding Curve (+825 in horse race betting at VietBet) came on like a freight train in the Kentucky Derby, closing to within a length and three-quarters of Chrome with a big closing kick as a 37-to-1 shot. Like Commissioner, A.P. Indy and Seattle Slew are in his pedigree, so there is a good chance he can be comfortable at this distance. But as a big closer, he may be handicapped with the lack of early speed in the race.
Ride On Curlin (+650 in Belmont Stakes betting) will get some support, not only because of the way he came on in the Preakness, closing to be second, but because he should also be prepared for the distance – the sire was Curlin, a close second in the 2007 Belmont and a two-time horse of the year. This horse has won only twice – in a maiden and allowance race – but has been out of the money only twice in eleven starts, so expect him to be worked into a lot of trifecta and superfacta tickets.