by Jim Freer
Friday, June 6 – It seems like it will be downright un-American to root against California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
It also might be downright foolish to bet against the colt and his colorful owners as he attempts to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
California Chrome by all accounts still appears fresh following his wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, which earned him a bandwagon of followers and accolades as the latest “America’s Horse.” In those two victories, Victor Espinoza had him geared down near the finish. He should have gas in his tank for the 1 ½ mile distance, and should get another trip that would enable him to hold off any closers.
We will post our Belmont Stakes predictions and suggested bets on Saturday morning. A starting point for our handicapping is that California Chrome will again control the race, but in a slightly different way. Unlike the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the Belmont does not have entrants that will likely stage a speed duel that California Chrome will stalk for the first mile or so.
Instead, the versatile California Chrome could take an early lead and with his tactical speed prove difficult to catch.
The lightly-raced Tonalist was a fast winner of the 1-1/8 mile Peter Pan at Belmont on May 10. He did that on a sloppy track that apparently didn’t suit some rivals. On Saturday, the sandy and deep Belmont track will be fast and the competition will be tougher.
So with California Chrome almost certain to be less than even money, we are planning a strategy of exotic bets with him on top – and then determining the order of finish underneath him in the trifecta and superfecta wagers.
It also would be wise to bet some exacta boxes – including one with California Chrome and three other horses that would pay off well if two of the others finish first and second.
Here are pros and cons of several contenders:
* Commanding Curve – He finished second in the Kentucky Derby at 37-1, running a fast closing quarter mile as he surged past tiring horses without posing a threat to California Chrome. He did not run in the Preakness, and thus will be fresh in the Belmont. There are still plenty of doubters – thus presenting another betting opportunity.
* Ride on Curlin – His second place run in the Preakness was as impressive as Commanding Curve in the Derby. One concern is that the Belmont will be his fourth race since April 12. But he reportedly is looking strong, and might have the best chance to upset California Chrome. He will have his fifth jockey in as many races in John Velazquez. Joel Rosario, who rode him in the Preakness, is staying on Tonalist.
* Wicked Strong – He finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby despite a troubled trip. This aptly named high – strung colt has big upside potential, or could run a clunker.
California Chrome is the ninth horse since 1997 that has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Seven of the eight other horses lost the Belmont – with six of them leading or in contention as the field came out of the final turn.
For various reasons, these recent Kentucky Derby-Preakness winners came up short in the Belmont: Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003) and Smarty Jones (2004).