There may not be a better chance over the past 36 years to break the Triple Crown drought than this year with California Chrome.
Given the horse’s strong runs at the Kentucky Derby and two weeks later at the Preakness, this horse seems primed to sweep the field. But as has been seen too many times since Affirmed in 1978, it is the hardest achievement in sports.
The hope for a sport that has fallen on hard times is that California Chrome can turn things around and give horse racing a much-needed shot in the arm.
With California Chrome’s strong finishes in those two Triple Crown races, it would seem that the daunting 1 1/2-mile track at Belmont Park may not pose as big of a problem for California Chrome as some past contenders.
The 3/5 opening-line favorite drew the No. 2 spot in Wednesday morning’s draw.
Metro’s preview of Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, which will be carried live on NBC:
1. Medal Count (20/1) — Like Wicked Strong, he sat out the Preakness after a sluggish Derby. But he has always found this class a bit much and will here again.
2. California Chrome (3/5) — It is easy to see why racing fans are so excited about this horse. With five wins in as many starts this year, no horse is hotter right now. But this is an unforgiving track for speed horses and given the pace of the past five weeks, the favorite may not be the winner. Still, he has breezed well this week and barring an injury like the one Big Brown suffered, he should be near the leaders by the final turn.
3. Matterhorn (30/1) — No wins this year about sums up this horse’s chances in such a top-heavy field of entrants. He made a very late push in the Peter Pan but that won’t be enough to take anything here.
4. Commanding Curve (15/1) — Like Ride on Curlin, this is a horse that can finish late, but there are question marks based off performance. In seven career starts, he has placed in the money five times but has just a single win. He might be outclassed here but also could be in the mix late.
5. Ride on Curlin (12/1) — He came from eight lengths back at the half-mile mark at the Preakness to finish a close second. There is potential here for this horse if the favorite loses pace at the final turn. Sired by Curlin, who won the 2007 Preakness and finished second at Belmont that year, he certainly has the pedigree to win.
6. Matuszak (30/1) — He has shown a willingness to come from behind, but this rarely tested horse will show it on Saturday. A mid-pack finish is the best to expected here.
7. Samraat (20/1) — Before the Derby, he came in with five wins in his previous six starts and a show performance in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Given a familiarity with New York tracks, he could be a contender here. Fifth place at the Kentucky Derby shows quality here. Could be a nice Superfecta play.
8. Commissioner (20/1) — He has run in four graded stakes starts this year and hasn’t won one yet. As encouraging as the second place in the Peter Pan was last month, that late kick wouldn’t win on this track with this field.
9. Wicked Strong (6/1) — He is another horse that has raced at Belmont, albeit last year. A disappointing fourth at the Kentucky Derby led to no trip to Pimlico after having to play catch-up after a slow start. There’s enough track here for him to make up ground if it happens again.
10. General A Rod (20/1) — No need to boo this horse, New York-area fans, he’s named after owner Armando Rodriguez, not the suspended Yankee slugger. He had a tough ride in the Preakness, but came out with a respectable fourth place finish.
11. Tonalist (8/1) — This colt is familiar with the track, with a win at the Peter Pan Stakes in mid-May, but this is a tough jump in class. Tonalist ran with the leaders in the entirety of that race at a pace that would see him fade back by the stretch in the Stakes.
Kristian Dyer’s picks: Ride on Curlin — California Chrome — Wicked Strong — Samraat
Kristian Dyer will be at the Belmont this weekend. Follow him on on Twitter @KristianRDyer.