NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Trainer Billy Gowan let out a whoop when Ride on Curlin landed a midpack post for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
You look for any possible edge when facing California Chrome, the 3-5 favorite to become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown champion, and first in 36 years.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will face 10 rivals on Saturday, not a good omen in the quest for racing's ultimate prize. This would be the largest Belmont field ever beaten by a Triple Crown winner. The 11 previous Triple Crown champions never faced more than seven rivals in the 1½-mile Belmont, the longest of the three races in the series.
Since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, three Belmont fields with the same history on the line also drew 11 horses in 1981, 1988 and 2002.
None of that bothers Art Sherman, California Chrome's trainer.
"They better worry about me," he said.
But even his son, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, has admitted the Belmont will be a "tough race."
Ride on Curlin is one of the handful of challengers with a realistic chance of pulling an upset. Gowan's colt is the 12-1 fourth choice from post No. 5.
"I feel good about my post," Gowan said after the draw Wednesday morning. "My horse is doing really well. He's sound. He's happy. He's eating everything, so we're ready to roll."
After a trouble-filled trip to finish seventh in the Derby, Ride on Curlin uncorked a strong rally in the Preakness to get second, only 1½ lengths behind California Chrome.
"Hopefully, another five-sixteenths of a mile and we'll be able to catch him as opposed to the Preakness, but that Chrome is going to be hard to catch," Gowan said.
Ride On Curlin will have a new jockey for the Belmont in Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a two-time Belmont winner with the filly Rags to Riches (2007) and Union Rags (2012).
Post positions are not a huge factor in the Belmont. In a race this long over a track with sweeping turns, jockeys have plenty of time to strategically position their horses.
California Chrome will break from the No. 2 post under Victor Espinoza. Eleven Belmont winners have come out of that spot in the starting gate, the last being Tabasco Cat in 1994.
"I like No. 2," Espinoza said. "Hopefully, it's my lucky number."
Racing fans looking for an omen will see California Chrome listed No. 2 in the betting program, the same number as 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, who won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths while setting the track record of 2:24 that still stands.
As in all races, trainers and owners like to avoid the extremes: the inside and outside posts.
Medal Count, 30-1, wound up on the rail. He ran eighth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness.
Tonalist, 8-1, got post No. 11 as the third choice in his Triple Crown debut.
"I think we are fine with it," owner Robert Evans said.
The late developing colt was an impressive winner last month in Belmont Park's Peter Pan Stakes over a sloppy track. Tonalist has two wins in only four starts.
In contrast, California Chrome has already run 12 times with eight victories. He carries a six-race winning streak into the Belmont.
Wicked Strong was a distant second choice at 6-1 on the morning line and drew post No. 9. The colt is based at Belmont, and has one win in two previous races at the sprawling track.
Todd Pletcher recently became racing's leading money-winning trainer and owns two Belmont wins: Rags to Riches and Palace Malice last year.
Pletcher sends out Commissioner, 20-1 after finishing second in the Peter Pan, and 30-1 shot Matterhorn, fourth in that same race.
Matuszak was second in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on April 19, making him the most well-rested colt in the race. The 30-1 shot is trained and ridden by Hall of Famers Bill Mott and Mike Smith, respectively.
Ride On Curlin and General a Rod are the only other horses besides California Chrome that will run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. General a Rod, 20-1, was 11th at Churchill Downs and fourth at Pimlico.
Commanding Curve, the Derby runner-up, is 15-1 in his first start since then while Samraat, the lone New York bred in the field, is 20-1.
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