To be or not to be: will California Chrome make history in the Belmont Stakes? Can he continue his dizzying winning streak and prove all the doubters wrong yet again? He handled the chore of the Kentucky Derby like a pro and dismissed the field in the Preakness, but therein lies his greatest challenge: the test of the champion.
$1.5 million Belmont Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/2 miles on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, June 7 at 6:52pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Medal Count - Robby Albarado, Dale Romans - Argued by many to be or not to be a poly or a turf horse, the Dynaformer colt emerges from his 8th place Derby finish intact and ready for a better trip in the Belmont, whose distance should appeal to his pedigree. He is currently 1-for-4 on fast dirt and has logged two promising workouts at Churchill Downs. No Belmont prep? Best races came on poly or turf? Romans’ last Belmont hope was Dullahan, who bombed the race. I’m on the side that says “Medal Count is a turf horse. A good one that should stay there.”
2) California Chrome - Victor Espinoza, Art Sherman - No introduction needed! The champ has been on a roll since turning 3, racking up 6 straight wins on his way to immortality. His two prior races have both been very good with strong early action followed by solid stretch runs. His physical condition is bar none the best and he is definitely the one to beat strategically. As long as he nails the break, he has few legitimate excuses.
3) Matterhorn - Joe Bravo, Todd Pletcher - The Tapit colt is lightly raced, with just 4 starts with 1 win before being purchased by the owners of Danza for this race. He was 4th last out in the Peter Pan (II) but that could be tossed due to the long layoff and sloppy conditions, and he is game to improve on his second start back. Joe Bravo also has a positive ROI in routes.
4) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart - Really liked this Master Command colt back when he was preparing for the Risen Star (II), so it was a pleasant surprise to see him rallying on late in the Derby. Properly rested and ready for a race he could do well in, Curve hasn’t won since his maiden, but has been on the improving path as the distances have grown. Curve could upset, but I am interested to see if he’s a Churchill only horse as his top 2 performances both came at the Twin Spires. Everything else has just been “ok.”
5) Ride On Curlin John Velazquez, Billy Gowan - Curlin sired the surprise winner of last year’s Belmont Stakes, and there’s reason to believe RoC could get better with more ground as he made up some daylight separating him and California Chrome in the Preakness once he got some running room. Improving steadily and put in a position of reaching power, RoC could upset and he might not. While I would readily agree that he had the momentum going to beat Chrome, he seemed to stop gaining. I could be very wrong, but I get the sense he might be a “permanently second place” horse.
6) Matsuzak - Mike Smith, Bill Mott - Bernardini almost had a winner a few years ago with Stay Thirsty, further proving Bernies are a force on New York soil. Matsuzak hasn’t won since his maiden last year, but did improve to nearly win the Federico Tesio at Pimlico last month. With that said, he owns some really good late pace figures, but has some major class hurdles to clear. Exotics horse.
7) Samraat - Jose Ortiz, Richard Violette - The mighty New York-bred faces down the rest! The Noble Causeway colt owns a win at Belmont Park already and has the advantage of a good rest and a quiet place to train at Aqueduct, where he has logged several leisurely mile breezes as preps. I love Sammy, but he has yet to make some cracking figures going further than 9 furlongs and he is probably best going 7-9 furlongs. No further.
8) Commissioner - Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher - The victim of not being raced at his most advantageous conditions, the A.P. Indy colt last won a Gulfstream Park allowance in January going 9 furlongs before repeatedly finishing up the track in prep races. He made some headway missing by 4 to Tonalist in the Peter Pan (II). I have every reason to love Commissioner in this spot as an A.P. Indy son with Javier and Toddster on board, but c’mon, if you can’t win in the slop or at least get closer to the winner… I just…
9) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, Allen Jerkens - By Hard Spun and out of a Charismatic mare, it came as little surprise that Wicked Strong improved as the distances grew, and trainer Jerkens has been instilling long breezes of 7 to 8 furlongs in the colt since he was a 2-year-old. Thus, after sweeping wide to be 4th in the Derby, the colt is being taken seriously after a rest at his home base for the Belmont. Biggest concern for me is actually Rajiv Maragh, who seems too willing to give the colt the most wide trip possible and giving him too much work to do. Other than that, he looks very sharp and has every reason to do very well.
10) General a Rod - Rosie Napravnik, Mike Maker - By my own omission, I disregarded this Roman Ruler colt almost immediately, and he has come to buck my own opinions throughout the Derby trail by placing and or winning the Florida preps. He was 11th in the Derby, beaten some 8 lengths by Chrome, and was beaten around the same amount next out in the Preakness. He switches back to Rosie in his second start under Skychai’s colors, but honestly after all those races I’m not optimistic about his chances, even if he does place himself further up this time.
11) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement - This Tapit colt was among my top choices early on in the Derby trail, and I still think pretty highly of him. Lightly raced with just 4 starts, he won the 9-furlong Peter Pan (II) last out easily enough, kicking clear of Commissioner and the rest of the field on the turn to win easily by 4 lengths on a sloppy-sealed going. Clement would be breaking the mold if Tonalist can buck the Tapit trend of doing more than 9 furlongs and racking up dirt wins instead of grass wins. Tonalist has some coasting early speed, but will have to break well and quickly from the outer post and be able to hold off the rest when things get tough.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) California Chrome
2) Wicked Strong
3) Ride On Curlin
Pick 4: California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Ride On Curlin. If you’re feeling smarmy, shoot for Commanding Curve or Tonalist to spread.
Chrome can win, Chrome can lose. Like in the Preakness, he will have to be better than everyone else despite being in the vulnerable position of favorite with early pressure as well as horses who will be hunting him late. Should he blow the break, it may very well be over. If there’s pace much faster than :24 1/2 and :49, watch out for Wicked Strong, RoC, and Curve. Tonalist could arguably slow things down as an improving colt to win, but I think Chrome can outfoot him and outdistance him.