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Belmont Stakes Preview: California Chrome Runs for Racing History

California Chrome will go to the post around 6:50 p.m. on Saturday as the deserving favorite in this year’s Belmont Stakes in New York.  More importantly, he will attempt to become the twelfth Triple Crown winner in American racing history. Since Affirmed became the eleventh Triple Crown winner thirty-six years ago, a dozen colts have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but failed to win the Belmont.

California Chrome will run to finally end the long Triple Crown drought but he will face a formidable group of colts on Saturday. In addition to the obvious threats to beat Chrome, the Belmont Stakes has had its fair share of hard-to-figure winners including a few that spoiled Triple Crown attempts. In 2002, 70 to 1 Sarava won Belmont and ended War Emblem's Triple Crown run. Victor Espinoza rode War Emblem fourteen years ago and he will ride California Chrome on Saturday. Considering the race's recent history of longshot winners and Triple Crown flops, the heart will root for history but the head should look for a way to cash a big ticket should the favorite fail.

California Chrome’s resume is well known. He enters the Belmont Stakes on a six race winning streak and has been far and away the best 3-year-old colt this year. If he wins, he enters rarefied air. With a win he becomes number twelve and goes from the best colt of 2014 to one of the all-time greats -- the Triple Crown is that meaningful in securing a place among the legends. Needless to say, he is running for more than a share of the million and a half dollar purse.    

Here is a look at the contenders expected to line up against California Chrome for the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes:

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Ride on Curlin, along with General a Rod, are the only Belmont entries that have faced California Chrome in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Ride on Curlin, after a determined performance in the Derby, looked like he might catch Chrome in the stretch of the Preakness but settled for second, less than two lengths from the winner. In 2007, his sire, Curlin, finished second in the Belmont. He has the pedigree and the talent to spring the upset on Saturday.

Wicked Strong was the second choice among the bettors when the gates opened for the Kentucky Derby last month.  He had a troubled trip and ran well to finish fourth. Wicked Strong then skipped the Preakness and will be racing at Belmont for the first time since he won his first career race there last year. He is the biggest threat to ruin this year’s Triple Crown attempt.   

Samraat, like Wicked Strong, is a New York-based runner entering this year’s Belmont. He ran close to the pace in the Kentucky Derby and persevered to finish fifth beaten a nose out of fourth. Samraat has won five of seven career races and has yet to run a bad race. He is a relentless stretch runner and will be fighting when other horses quit late in the race. With the local money focused on Wicked Strong, Samraat is a legitimate win candidate with odds that could exceed 15 to 1.

Commanding Curve was the surprise second place finisher in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 37 to 1. He has only one win in seven race career but has had two solid races in a row with a third place finish in the Louisiana Derby preceding his second place at Churchill Downs. He has shown little early speed in his most recent races and his deep closing style has not been a recipe for success in recent runnings of the Belmont.       

Medal Count was a longshot in the Kentucky Derby and never threatened to finish among the top tier. He started in tenth and held his position in eighth place for the final quarter mile. He will be a longshot in the Belmont but his pedigree and even-paced running style make him an intriguing option to boost the payouts on trifecta and superfecta tickets.    

Tonalist is the lone entry among the colts that didn't run in either the Derby or Preakness that will have significant backers. He won the 1 1/8 mile Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park last month. That performance has some believing he's a legitimate contender in this year’s Belmont Stakes. He has just four career races with the Peter Pan being his lone graded stakes win. Without racing experience against this year’s best 3-year-olds, and likely odds of less than 10-1, he will offer little betting value.

Social Inclusion, the third place finisher in the Preakness Stakes, has not committed to run in the Belmont and is more likely to enter the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes for sprinters.  The Woody Stephens will be run on Saturday prior to the Belmont Stakes.

Rounding out the expected field for the 2014 Belmont Stakes are Commissioner, Matterhorn, and Matuszak who all look like they have no chance. However, recent history has shown that there is no such thing in the Belmont Stakes.

Kevin Martin is the founder of the thoroughbred racing history site Colin’s Ghost and a contributing editor at Hello Race Fans.

Learn how to handicap and bet the races at Hello Race Fans

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