Picks by Shawn Rychling
This weekend's race, Saturday June 7
The Belmont Stakes
It's been 36 years since Affirmed outdueled Alydar in the stretch for the third straight race to win the Belmont Stakes and become the 11th horse to win the Triple Crown. That was 1978 and the feat had become almost routine on the heels of Secretariat winning it in 1973 followed by Seattle Slew in 1977.
Secretariat had broken a 25-year drought without a Triple Crown winner and after Affirmed, only four horses in the next 18 years came to Belmont Park with a chance to claim racing's greatest prize. And then, from 1997 through 2004, six of eight Belmont Stakes featured horses that had won the Derby and Preakness -- but not a single one of them was able to claim the third jewel.
Since then the excitement has dried up as only Big Brown, in 2008, had a chance and he flopped miserably in one of the strangest Belmont performances in memory. I'll Have Another won the first two races in 2012, but was scratched the day before the Belmont.
Saturday we'll get another opportunity at history when the heavily-favored California Chrome enters the starting gate for the 146th Belmont Stakes. The Derby and Preakness winner drew post 2 and was immediately made the 3-5 favorite in the field of 11. Wicked Strong, who ran a traffic-marred 4th in the Derby, drew post 9 and is second choice at 6-1 followed by Peter Pan winner Tonalist at 8-1 breaking from post 11. Preakness runner up Ride On Curlin is listed at 12-1 on the morning line will leave from stall number 5.
How we see the race
California Chrome, at first impression, probably could not have done better in the draw getting post position 2 with a late-running type to his inside. He should be able to get a stalking position and let the speedy Samraat and Tonalist go past him into the first turn. One question will be if any of Saturday's riders will be willing to try and pin Chrome down on the rail. If so, it may force jockey Victor Espinoza to be in the 2- or 3-path around the first turn. California Chrome's ability to relax and use his speed when asked in 'push-button' fashion has set him apart from the rest of this group and as long as he can rate we see no reason why he can't supply another burst of decisive energy as the field turns for home.
Wicked Strong had an absolutely brutal trip in the Kentucky Derby breaking from the far outside and then, when in with a late chance, he was practically running sideways in the stretch as he had to check several times to avoid rivals. Actually ran on after all that discouragement to get fourth. Connections skipped the Preakness to run here on his home track and is the prime threat as he will likely sit a few lengths behind the favorite and try to run him down late.
Ride On Curlin is battle tested with five straight starts against top competition and made a run at California Chrome in the Preakness only to fall short. Had a sense he was never going to catch the winner that day. Perhaps he can going 1 ½ miles this time. That said, he has a shown a disturbing propensity to fall too far behind early in his last three races with too much ground to make up.
Medal Count also skipped the Derby and was on a form upswing heading into that race before falling victim to the 19-horse traffic jam. Dale Romans has this one working well since and style is such that he can sit midpack and close strongly, much like our second choice. He is a must use underneath in your exotics.
Hot List Picks
1. California Chrome (A)
2. Wicked Strong (B)
3. Ride On Curlin (A)
4. Medal Count
For daily Hot List selections, click here.
Hot List Key
A List: A preferred horse to watch
B List: Secondary horse to watch
*C List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 1st through 3rd
*D List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 4th or worse
* minus-4 or more betting notches if 11-1 or more.
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