Elmont, NY - One race stands in the way of California Chrome winning the Triple Crown. This will be his toughest challenge. No one seems to have an answer as to why winning all three legs of the Triple Crown is so difficult and why no one has won it in 36 years. There are certainly things that can mess up a horses chance of winning, the trainer, the jockey, weather conditions or a poor break.
While so much of the focus is on California Chrome, there are 10 other horses that are capable of impacting the field. Let's look at the field from the inside post out:
1. Medal Count Odds 20-1, Trainer Dale Romans, Jockey Robby Albarado He was this year's Kentucky Derby long shot and probably would have made a better run but was cut off by Danza in the stretch. He has steadily improved and it's probable he will be challenging in the stretch again.
2. California Chrome Odds 3/5, Trainer Dale Romans, Jockey Victor Espinoza He has won 4 graded stakes races and comes to Belmont looking to secure his place in history by winning the Triple Crown. So far, this horse has proven he's the best horse this year and no one has been able to beat him.
3. Matterhorn Odds 30/1, Trainer Todd Pletcher, Jockey Joe Bravo Had a fourth place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes and it doesn't seem as though this horse will be able to keep up with the rest of the field. Although, strange things sometimes happen in this race, it seems unlikely that this horses late kick will be enough for the distance.
4. Commanding Curve Odds 15/1 Trainer Todd Pletcher, Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan Had an amazing second place finish in the Kentucky Derby and had a good workout over the Belmont track. His pedigree dictates that the stretch shouldn't bother him. This horse is a closer and will have to save some energy to dig into the deep track.
5. Ride On Curlin Odds 12/1 Trainer William Gowan, Jockey John Velazquez Put in a good effort his last two races. His run in the Kentucky Derby was disappointing but made a great stretch drive in the Preakness. He was gaining in the stretch and has been the only horse to really challenge California Chrome so far.
6. Matuszak Odds 30-1 Trainer Bill Mott, Jockey Mike Smith He could be outclassed here, but I'm curious as to why Bill Mott has entered this horse in this race. Bill Mott and Mike Smith won the 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer and maybe they're looking for a repeat performance.
7. Samraat Odds 20-1 Trainer Richard Violette, Jr., Jockey Jose Ortiz This horse won the Gotham Stakes and Withers Stakes. This New York bred made a good effort in the Kentucky Derby running with California Chrome in the Derby around the stretch turn but could not keep up with him in the stretch. He'll probably be with the early pace. I suspect this will be a slower pace, so he'll have to watch his running style so there is something left at the end.
8. Commissioner Odds 20-1 Trainer Todd Pletcher, Jockey Javier Castellano He ran in the Peter Pan Stakes and finished 4th behind Tonalist. I believe the mile-1/2 may be out of his league. He was with this same level of competition leading up to the Derby and couldn't make anything happen. Not likely here.
9. Wicked Strong Odds 6-1 Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, Jockey Rajiv Maragh Won the Wood Memorial making a sweeping move coming off the turn. He could have been more forwardly placed in the Kentucky Derby but had to make adjustments when Danza went out in front of him. He's worked well this week over the Belmont side track. There is some buzz here that he could be the villain in this race and take the Belmont Trophy today. I liked this one in October of last year and have been following him since.
10. General A Rod Odds 20-1 Trainer Michael Maker, Jockey Rosie Napravnik He is one of the contenders who have run in all three races with California Chrome and Ride On Curlin this Triple Crown season. He'll probably run with the early pace. He has been improving with each race. However, he hasn't shown that he has been capable of keeping up with some of the other competitors in this race.
11. Tonalist Odds 8-1 Trainer Christophe Clement, Jockey Joel Rosario Recently won the Peter Pan Stakes Grade 2 Race. This horse has a front running style. I don't think the distance should be an issue for this horse. Jockey Joel Rosario was originally on Ride On Curlin and he wanted to stay with him but he has a commitment to Christophe Clement and had to stay on this horse. Rosario is a great jockey and knows the track. This is a step up in class for this team, he'll have to put in the same performance as he did a month ago, easing him, and urging him into the lead pace in the backstretch, and not let anyone gain on him to make something happen.
There are factors that put California Chrome in position to take this race and there are a few factors that could hinder his chances
today. He has won 6 consecutive races with three digit beyer speed numbers. He easily won his last two races. He has natural speed allowing him to run fast at the beginning and at the end of his race.
It has been 36 year since we have seen a Triple Crown winner. We could see the morning line odds shift throughout the day as California Chrome may go off at 1/5. These horses have never run this far in their career. The aspect of the track is not so much the stretch but the turns. The turns are very wide and can be deceiving. Tiiming will be everything here. I don't see any reason why California Chrome should not get the mile-1/2. He finished up his last two races very confident and with ease. Unless something goes wrong, I believe he'll be extremely difficult to beat.