After one of the most thrilling Preakness Stakes wins in recent memory, California Chrome sits poised to take the first Triple Crown win since Affirmed in 1978. The majority of race fans wait with heavy anticipation for the possibility to witness history at the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
The excitement could cloud the judgement of many bettors and fans, since the Triple Crown is anything but an open-and-shut deal for California Chrome. No matter how commanding his Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins might have been, the Belmont is a race that truly separates the colts from the foals and is the main reason the Triple Crown is so difficult.
California Chrome has a few things going for him — the most obvious being seasoned jockey Victor Espinoza. Espinoza seems to know California Chrome about as well as any jockey can know his horse. His careful and deliberate positioning during both the Derby and Preakness show an acute sense of not only his horse’s abilities and limitations, but a magnificent race awareness and strategic vision.
Espinoza was able to maintain a great position for the majority of the running of the Preakness, keeping California Chrome in the front of the pack and allowing for the late break coming out of the final turn. This is thoroughbred racing 101 yet spectacularly difficult to pull off correctly. Knowing how much gas his horse has left in the tank and when to put the spurs to him is essential to any stakes race victory.
Not the least of California Chrome’s advantages is trainer Art Sherman. Sherman is by no means an unknown, having trained multiple race horses over multiple decades. However, he’s somewhat of an independent variable due to his outsider status. He’s not Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas or Todd Pletcher. He’s not even Doug O’Neill, who took I’ll Have Another just as far in 2012, only to scratch him from the Belmont. Sherman has the advantage of having never had a horse in this situation. For other trainers like Baffert and Pletcher to spend a lot of time figuring out what Sherman will do with his horse allows a lot of distraction.
However, there is absolutely no guarantee that California Chrome can hang with the sadistically long distance at Belmont Park. The Belmont is a mile-and-a-half, and compared to the Derby and Preakness, that’s a marathon.
Odds on California Chrome will depend on the other horses that end up running the Belmont. He will likely not have to worry about horses like Ride On Curlin or Danza that made serious challenges in the first two Triple Crown races. The one horse that Sherman must worry about is Commanding Curve, the Place horse of the Kentucky Derby.
As hard as California Chrome broke in the last turn up of the Derby, it was Commanding Curve that clearly had Chrome’s number and remained in position to challenge for the lead in the last few hundred yards. Many experts feel as though Commanding Curve would have closed the one-and-three-quarter length lead had he been given another furlong or two. Incidentally, he will get it in the Belmont, since trainer Dallas Stewart kept him out of the Preakness to focus on this exact thing.
The next few weeks should remain a wait-and-see game for fans of California Chrome and bettors in general. California Chrome’s unknown status should play in his favor, as many are unsure if his stamina will translate to the grueling Belmont. It may or it may not — nobody knows since it’s a complete question mark. The one thing nobody should do is put the champagne on ice just yet. Commanding Curve could easily waltz in and destroy history to end the storybook run of this amazing horse.