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Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Belmont or Bust!
By Bruce Marshall

We'll be making the trek back to New York for the Belmont Stakes on June 7. After all, we've been there for the last three chances (Funny Cide in 2003, Smarty Jones in 2004, and Big Brown in 2008) horses have had at the Triple Crown. S2o we owe it to California Chrome to see if he can achieve what those three champions and countless others couldn't.

For us, the electricity at Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line is like no other sporting event we have witnessed in person. And we've seen plenty, from Super Bowls to Rose Bowls and the Kentucky Derby.

And if they can call the Kentucky Derby the most exciting 2 minutes in sports, they can call the Belmont the most exciting two-and-a-half minutes in sports.

Unlike the Kentucky Derby, where average race fans have almost no chance to show up on Derby Day at Churchill Downs and actually see the race, or Pimlico, where getting a view of the Preakness is almost impossible unless you can squeeze into the apron or get one of those hard-to-find seats in the grandstand, the Belmont really is a people's event. Anyone can attend, no reservations required (although they're suggested if you actually want a seat in the expansive grandstand).

Belmont's grand size has something to do with it. The big track can easily accommodate crowds over 100,000 without having to funnel fans into the infield (indeed, there is no infield seating, or standing, at Belmont). Moreover, when we say anyone can show up and see the race, we mean it; very affordable grandstand ticket sales the day of the race actually get patrons onto the apron, where if they can find a spot or otherwise crane their necks, they can watch the Belmont unfold right in front of their eyes. By spending a few more bucks, any fan can get into the Club House on Belmont Day and get a view closer to the finish line in a bit more comfy (but still crowded) surroundings. Showing up on race day for the Derby or Preakness might allow a fan to get on to the grounds, but not out to the apron to actually watch the race.

And though some have romanticized about the "infield experience" at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, we have long felt that spectacle is overrated; it often regresses into one more reminiscent of NASCAR events than a horse race, which is one reason Pimlico has stopped allowing patrons to being in their own beer for the Preakness. But we don't have to worry about that at Belmont, because the infield retains its dignity (meaning no patrons) at all times.

Moreover, transportation to the track is a snap via the Long Island Railroad; there's no reason to brave the Long Island Expressway with your car. Trains drop you off right at Belmont Park's own station, and plenty of extra trains are running from Penn Station on Belmont day. In the past, that's been the way to go on our trips up from Washington and Philadelphia; we'll just leave our car at the Metropark station off the Garden State Parkway, take an NJ Transit train into Manhattan, then switch to the LIRR at Penn Station. Convenient, somewhat comfortable, and without the sort of massive headaches associated with parking in Louisville for Derby Day, or in Baltimore for the Preakness, especially since there's no significant parking available at Pimlico even on a day without a big crowd.

Belmont Park, however, is almost palatial, a racing facility that wreaks of elegance and grandeur. When reconstruction was finished in 1968, Belmont Park became a real jewel in the horse racing world, and it still is today. It's also probably the last "mega-track" we'll see built in our lifetimes; facilities built since, such as the Texas tracks in Dallas-Fort Worth (Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie) and Houston (Sam Houston Park), have no use for such expansive grandstand seating. Indeed, the "new Belmont" (although even it is now 46 years old) will probably live on as the last great race track built in the States for a long, long time.

We remember plenty of exciting Belmonts where no Triple Crown was at stake, although we have to admit that there is something special about being out on Long Island when there's a chance a horse can complete the trick.

As mentioned before, We've been there for the last three tries (Funny Cide in 2003, Smarty Jones in '04, and Big Brown in 2008), and can say that the excitement and anticipation before those races exceeded that of any other sports events we've seen in person during our lifetime, including Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, and various other championship games.

The New York flavor permeates the track; we recall getting a kick out of seeing the Giants' Michael Strahan mingling with the masses on Smarty Jones' try at the Crown in 2004, and noticed how Jimmy Fallon was enjoying himself tremendously when hanging out with the crowd when Big Brown tried and failed to win the Triple Crown in 2008. And who couldn't notice Bo Derek (left) as she watched Big Brown in 2008, either. Other prominent New Yorkers make sure to be in attendance as well. In fact, we've been so enthralled by our Belmont experiences that when we are asked what are the top sports events someone should see in their lifetime, the Belmont, when a Triple Crown is at stake, now tops our list.

Indeed, the drama and allure of the Belmont is probably best exemplified not when the Secretariats and Seattle Slews and Affirmeds won the Triple Crown, but rather when all of the great horses have tried and failed. Follow along.

In the half-century that I've been following the sport, I've seen 19 horses try to win the Triple Crown. Only three of them, in a 5-year span in the mid '70s (Secretariat in '73, Seattle Slew in '77, Affirmed in '78), turned the trick. Almost all of those who came into the Belmont looked a good bet to win, just as Big Brown did in 2008, the last time a Triple Crown was on the line at the Belmont.

Those favored horses from the past included Spectacular Bid.

Veteran racegoers all roll their eyes when the name Spectacular Bid (right) pops up. This was a magnificent thoroughbred. Ask a lot of knowledgeable railbirds about who was the better horse between the Bid and Secretariat, and you'd be surprised at how many would opt for the Bid.

But he couldn't win the Belmont.

The year was 1979, and for all the world it looked as if we were going to have back-to-back-to-back Triple Crown winners. Seattle Slew was unbeaten when he turned the trick two years earlier, and Affirmed had proven, if nothing else, that he was as gallant as any thoroughbred champ when he outdueled Alydar in all three legs the year before. Neither, however, looked like Spectacular Bid when winning the first two legs of Crown. The Bid, dominant at the Derby and Preakness, would go off at 1/5 in New York, shorter odds than those on Big Brown in 2008 or any of the other Triple Crown hopefuls in recent Belmonts.

The Bid was Dr. Fager-like good, one of those etched indelibly in the minds of any racing enthusiast who ever saw him run. And he looked like he would put the Belmont into his satchel, too, especially turning for home 30 years ago, leading the field. But that final eighth can be a bear, and the Bid, who, like any three-year-old at this stage had never had to run this mile-and-a-half distance, began to waver. Jockey Ronnie Franklin hit the accelerator a bit too soon on the Bid, down the backstretch, and even though he looked clear at the top of the stretch, Franklin had asked for too much, too soon. Suddenly, William Haggin Perry's colt, Coastal, rolled up on the outside, and, to the astonishment of the crowd, went past the Bid in the final sixteenth. Coastal won; the Bid faded to third.

Had there never been a horse named "Upset" to deal Man 'o War his only loss, we might have instead had the word "coastal" instead of "upset" referring to that surprise-defeat term. But indeed, Spectacular Bid had lost. And though trainer Bud Delp lamented at the time that the Bid had stepped on a pin that morning and hurt his foot, most racegoers chalked that down to sour grapes on Delp's part. In the Belmont, The Bid had looked very much like a champ for 1 1/4 miles, 1 3/8 miles, even 1 7/16...but not at a mile-and-a-half.

The pin didn't beat Spectacular Bid. The Belmont did.

Like it has for a lot of great horses over the past 40-odd years. It has now been 36 years since Steve Cauthen and Affirmed (left) fought off Alydar in the stretch to win the '78 Belmont and become the last Triple Crown winner, and when the late, great race caller Chic Anderson, in his last Belmont, told viewers that "We'll test these two to the wire!" But in that span (since 1964), as mentioned above, 19 horses have won the first two legs of the Crown. Sixteen of those, including some truly great runners, have failed. We can remember back to 1964, when the great Canadian champ, Northern Dancer, destined to become the sire of all sires, won the first two legs, seeing off the classy Hill Rise in a grueling Kentucky Derby, then winning more handily at the Preakness. On to the Belmont Stakes, which, for a short span between 1963-67, was run at nearby Aqueduct, while the Belmont facility was rebuilt. An odd sight it was, those Belmonts at Aqueduct, where the race started at the head of the far turn at that 1 1/8-mile oval. And Northern Dancer, under Bill Hartack, was looking awfully good for a mile and-a-quarter in that '64 Belmont, and seemed poised at the head of the stretch to add the final leg of the Crown to his collection. But Hartack could not find another gear, where Roman Brother and eventual winner Quadrangle could.

It was much the same two years later, when Kauai King, a Native Dancer colt under the savvy Don Brumfield, won the first two legs and was ready to become the first since Citation in '48 to win the Crown. Amberoid, however, had other plans that afternoon at Aqueduct, and we would have to wait a bit longer for another Triple Crown winner.

Racing aficionados still cringe at what might have been when the Belmont Stakes returned to the refurbished and rebuilt Belmont Park in asterisk Triple Crown winner! That's because Calumet's Forward Pass had been "awarded" the Kentucky Derby win two days after finishing second in Louisville when Dancer's Image (another Native Dancer colt) had been disqualified after traces of bute were found in his post-race urine sample.

That controversy was one of the biggest in sports in a very controversial year. The bute, reportedly administered by legendary Churchill Downs track vet Dr. Alex Harthill the week before the race, should have flushed out of the Dancer's system in the intervening 152 hours (long before, in fact), but traces were found in the post-race sample. (Bute was legal at most North American tracks in '68, and had been legal the year before and year after in Kentucky, but not '68). Eventually, it took several trips through the courts before the fiasco was settled years later, and Forward Pass' name stayed in the record books as the "official" winner. Insiders have since told us that track officials were going to overlook the test and resultant controversy until Wathen Knebelkamp, then Churchill Downs' president, quickly went to the press with the news. The two weeks until the Preakness became quite a media circus, with Forward Pass now the winner (although it wouldn't become official for years and several trips to the courts).

As it was, the big, powerful Calumet charge went into Baltimore as the Derby winner, then romped home in the Preakness in Big Brown-like fashion, and the thought of the asterisk Triple Crown winner became very real. It was then off to Belmont Park, where the newly-refurbished, palatial facility welcomed back the Belmont Stakes that June 1. And for an awfully long time it looked like Forward Pass was in position to win, leading into mid-stretch, before local favorite Stage Door Johnny (right), under Heliodoro Gustines, found another gear and had just enough time to make a late charge, collaring Forward Pass in the last sixteenth and winning by less than a length. Racing enthusiasts sighed in relief, as there would indeed be no asterisk Triple Crown winner. But we still hadn't had a Crown winner since 1948.

Enter 1969, and that all seemed to change with Majestic Prince, under the irascible Hartack and trained by the legendary ex-jockey Johnny Longden (who won the Triple Crown in '43 with Count Fleet). Majestic Prince, for a time, was Secretariat before Secretariat. He was aptly-named and certainly looked the part of a Triple Crown winner, a big chestnut who prepped in California, and, undefeated, saw off the talented Arts & Letters in bruising Derby and Preakness stretch drives. This would be the one to win the Crown, or so many thought until Longden announced that he didn't want the Prince to run in the Belmont. He didn't like the way he came out of the Preakness, and thought the mile and a half was too much for the colt. Canadian owner Frank McMahon had other ideas, however; the Prince would run in New York.

But "The Pumper" proved prophetic. For a time, many blamed Hartack for the Prince's Belmont failure, allowing the pace to unfold snail-like (:26 first quarter!) instead of dictating the pace in a race that was there for him to take on a silver platter. Instead, it set up perfectly for Arts & Letters, under Braulio Baeza, to win handily.

Longden was right; the Prince wasn't ready for the Belmont. He was injured in the race and never ran again. The Belmont had claimed another would-be Triple Crown winner.

Except for that brief patch in the mid '70s, far more Belmont Triple Crown failures than successes ensued in the next four decades. South American Canonero II was the rage after romping in the Derby and Preakness in 1971. But he came a cropper in the Belmont, failing to fire at the top of the stretch while a longshot named Pass Catcher ran away and eventually held off the charging Jim French at the wire. A classy Pleasant Colony looked the part of a Crown winner in 1981, but finished 3rd to Summing in his try at the Belmont. Alysheba took his stab in 1987, but was outrun by Bet Twice and two others in New York. And then there was Sunday Silence, who had an Affirmed-Alydar type duel going with Easy Goer in '89 after narrowly winning the first two legs of the Crown. Only Sunday Silence wasn't Affirmed-like in the Belmont, Easy Goer romping home.

The last seventeen years have seen seven horses fail to win the Belmont after clearing the first two Triple Crown hurdles. The great Silver Charm, owned by Bob & Bev Lewis and ridden by Gary Stevens, looked worthy-enough in '97, and, after finally putting away nemesis Free House in deep stretch in New York, looked like a Crown winner. Except that the wily Chris McCarron had wheeled Touch Gold on the far outside, out of Silver Charm's view, and slipped past the grey horse to win narrowly in the last 50 yards.

That was little drama compared to 1998, however, when Mike Pegram's Real Quiet, trained by Bob Baffert, after impressive wins vs. good fields at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, was suddenly three lengths clear mid-stretch at the Belmont, cruising home, seemingly, under a giddy Kent Desormeaux. Only that Stevens would get his Belmont revenge, thrown back in the saddle by a violent stretch charge from his mount, Victory Gallop, who nailed Real Quiet at the wire (right). It was as close as a horse could come to winning the Crown, and not getting it. Would we ever see another Crown winner, some had to wonder?

Forward to 1999, when another Lewis horse, Charismatic, looked ready to nail the Crown after winning the first two legs. The Belmont proved too much, however, and the valiant colt faded late, broke down, and lost to Lemon Drop Kid. More of the same frustration a few years later, as first War Emblem, looking every bit Smarty Jones-like in winning the Derby and Preakness in '02, failed badly at the Belmont, a distant 8th behind winner Sarava. In 2003, New York was a dither with home-state bred gelding Funny Cide on the cusp of the Triple Crown, looking awfully hard to beat, too, after his Preakness win. But Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted wore down Jose Santos' mount in the stretch.

Then, Smarty Jones appeared a near shoe-in the next year in '04, with his contingent of vocal supporters having made the short trip up I-95 from Philadelphia and the rest of the Delaware Valley to cheer him on. But Smarty Jones found that last eighth of a mile a furlong too far. Birdstone, with Edgar Prado up, collared Smarty in the stretch. Again, we would have to wait, and after Big Brown's failure in 2008, when he pulled up on the far turn and Da'Tara romped home, the drought between Triple Crown winners had reached an all-time dry patch. Indeed, after Funny Cide failed in 2003, we exceeded the gap of 25 years between Citation (in '48) and Secretariat. This year marks 36 since Affirmed fought off Alydar and last turned the trick.

A reminder of how difficult it really is to win the Triple Crown is how many other great horses have tried and failed at the Belmont. Rare is the year when everything goes right for a horse in the Triple Crown quest, as it did for Secretariat in '73. That year, Secretariat had no real serious, Arts & Letters, Alydar, or Easy Goer-like challengers. The tracks rolled their surfaces hard in hopes of record-breaking runs. And the weather came up good for Secretariat, too, unlike stable-mate Riva Ridge the previous year (whose Crown bid ended at a muddy Preakness vs. longshot Bee Bee Bee), or the great Damascus in '67, whose Derby was ruined by an off-track (and a loss to Proud Clarion).

Remember, a lot of big names have only won two legs of the crown, 48 of them, in fact, compared to just 11 who pulled the hat-trick and won all three. Besides Damascus and Riva Ridge, other equine notables like Native Dancer, Nashua, and even Man O'War (who didn't run in the Derby), and dozens of others, only won two legs of the Triple Crown.

But as California Chrome might discover on Long Island, the Belmont can be a tough hurdle for even the greatest horses to overcome.

Like Spectacular Bid.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Fading California Chrome
By Anthony Stabile

If you’ve come here looking for another feel-good story about California Chrome and his quest to become the 12th Triple Crown champion as the racing world counts the hours down to Belmont Stakes 146 you’ve come to the wrong place.

If tales about how his mare cost $8,000 and $2,500 to breed to his sire, Lucky Pulpit, bring a tear to your eye or make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, this story isn’t for you.

If you’re rooting for his salt-of-the-earth owners who keep going to their day jobs, his jockey Victor Espinoza who’s getting a second shot at the Triple Crown or his 77 year-old trainer Art Sherman, who we all know by now, rode the train with Swaps to Kentucky for his Derby score as his exercise rider over 50 years ago, you may want to stop reading now.

You see, we’re not California Chrome fans in these parts. I don’t buy into him saving the sport with a Triple Crown win. We have plenty of problems and there are plenty of solutions but he’s not one of them. In fact, he’s served his purpose. He’s gotten the sport some mainstream attention, like the connections throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees game and Espinoza going on the Late Show with David Letterman. That’s all that’s really needed – the build-up and anticipation. Get people talking and get them into Belmont Park on the big day. 

If you’re still with me, I’m here to tell you why California Chrome WILL NOT win the Belmont Stakes this Saturday. And I’m going to lay it out the same way I did when I told you Big Brown wouldn’t win back in 2008. So put down the California Chrome Kool Aid, if you’re one of those partaking, and listen up.

THE PACE SCENARIO – Unlike in the Derby and Preakness where there was an abundance of early speed on paper and enough on the track for him to stalk perfectly, I think he’s going to be on the chase of General a Rod in the Belmont. Or, even worse, he may find himself on the front end, protecting his post 2 draw and hoping the old “you can’t get in trouble on the lead” adage rings true for just 12 more furlongs. Either way, it appears to me that he’s finally going to have to do some of the heavy lifting on Saturday.

VICTOR ESPINOZA – Last time I checked, Espinoza wasn’t one of the most revered or reliable riders in the country. In fact, he’s been on a downward trend the past few years on the national level and isn’t a guy that’s even on my radar. And the last time he was in this position, he completely panicked and dropped the ball after breaking poorly. Many will say I’m being harsh considering how bad War Emblem broke in the 2002 Belmont Stakes but I don’t think I am. You break poorly, you deal with it. You have 12 furlongs to figure it out!!! His ride was abysmal. Who knows how he’ll react if he faces some adversity again.

THE DISTANCE – Saying this horse is modestly bred is an insult to modestly bred horses nationwide. You’ll hear some people talk about going back in his pedigree and finding plenty of stamina, but that’s usually the case with every horse. The pedigree game can get tricky like that. It’s like when the ancients did a rain dance. The only reason the rain dances worked is because they danced until it rained. Go far enough back and you’ll justify this horse getting the distance.
Perhaps a bigger problem in this department is the fact that a few in here have excellent distance pedigrees. Commissioner’s sire and both grandsires won the Belmont Stakes, an insanely remarkable point. Tonalist has a ton of distance pedigree on his female side. Wicked Strong looks like a horse that wants to run all day. Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin, second in the Derby and Preakness, respectively, were both running at him at the end of those races.

TRENDS - It took well over 100 years for it to happen, but when Commendable upset the 2000 Belmont he became the first horse ever to win having last raced in the Derby. Since 2000, it’s happened six more times. Commanding Curve, Samraat, Wicked Strong and Medal Count all fall under that category this year.

Since 1996 only two horses that have won the Derby and/or Preakness have come back to win the Belmont. They are a pair of Preakness winners, Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005.

No Triple Crown winner has defeated more than seven rivals in the final jewel. Both Citation in 1948 and Seattle Slew in 1977 accomplished the feat. 10 challengers are set to face California Chrome.

Finally, each and every Triple Crown winner has had a race over the course prior to the Belmont.

EAST COAST BIAS – Forget about the fact that no horse based on the West Coast has ever won the Triple Crown. Rather than that, focus on the fact that this horse hasn’t been in his own stall at Los Alamitos in over a month. He’s called three places home in that time and has to up and move just as he’s settling in. Imagine a sports team being on the road for five weeks. Would you like their chances? Meanwhile, Commissioner, Matterhorn, Wicked Strong, Matuszak and Tonalist get to make the walkover from their home base while Samraat has just a short van ride over from Aqueduct.

MURPHY’S LAW – I dare you to find me a racing expert that can show you a horse attempting to win the Triple Crown that has had more perfect trips on the Derby Trail and in the first two Triple Crown races than this horse. At some point, the luck has to run out. California Chrome has a penchant for getting antsy and rocking back and forth in the gate. If that gate opens while he’s rocking backwards on Saturday, he’s done.

KARMA – Trainer Art Sherman started this, saying he’s not superstitious but that he brought his lucky suit with him for the Belmont, the same one he wore to the Derby and the Preakness. So I wasn’t going to evoke the images of the Racing Gods but he’s given me license to with the suit. The horse runs around the racetrack with a jockey on his back that’s wearing purple silks with a green jackass on his back and a “DAP” path on the front that stands for Dumb Ass Partners. Does anyone really think those silks should hang in the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs next to the blue and red of Calumet Farms, the pink, white and black of Harbor View Farms or the white and blue checkered silks of Meadow Stables? If they are out there, that Kool Aid must be REALLY strong.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Horse-By-Horse Belmont Breakdown
By: Mike Wilkening

Even if California Chrome wasn’t in range of the 12th Triple Crown in American horse racing history, the 2014 Belmont Stakes (post time 6:52 p.m. ET, NBC) would still be a compelling betting race. A competitive field has been assembled, with other well-regarded three-year-old colts, including Wicked Strong and Tonalist, set to take on California Chrome.

However, there’s no doubting the appeal of California Chrome’s Triple Crown chase. No horse has won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in succession since Affirmed pulled it off in 1978.

Here is where one could opine about horse racing needing a Triple Crown winner, that it could be a tonic for a sport that has some real short- and long-term concerns.

But for now, let’s focus on the matter of the race itself. Here is a primer on the 11 entrants for the Belmont Stakes. Runners are listed in order of the numbers they will sport and the post positions from which they will start on Saturday, not their morning-line odds or their predicted order of finish:

No. 1: Medal Count (Morning-line odds: 20-to-1)

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Robby Albarado

Assessment: Finished eighth, beaten 7.5 lengths, in the Kentucky Derby, but he endured significant trouble in the stretch, as eventual third-place finisher Danza came over and bumped him just outside the eighth pole. Medal Count’s sire, Dynaformer, is considered an excellent producer of stayers. The bad news? Medal Count has yet to win a race of significance on dirt.

No. 2: California Chrome (Morning-line odds: 3-to-5)

Trainer: Art Sherman

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Assessment: If Espinoza chooses, he could find himself on the lead; no horse is more likely to assert himself right out of the gate than the naturally-quick California Chrome. Despite the distance, taking the early initiative in the Belmont often leads to victories. Per ESPN, the last four horses to have completed the Triple Crown sweep led this race gate-to-wire, and 92 percent of Belmont winners since 1952 were first or second at the top of the stretch. Espinoza — who came to Belmont early and has three other mounts Saturday — could simply take back and sit right off the lead. He has the best horse, and he has plenty of time to plot his desired course. One last thing: California Chrome is very likely to be less than even-money at post time, as there will be many tickets purchased simply for souvenir value.

No. 3: Matterhorn (Morning-line odds: 30-to-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Won 2007 Belmont with Rags to Riches, 2013 Belmont with Palace Malice)

Jockey: Joe Bravo

Assessment: Finished fourth in the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 10, a race won by Tonalist. Matterhorn, who has not won since breaking his maiden in November, will try to churn his way into contention late.

No. 4: Commanding Curve (Morning-line odds: 15-to-1)

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Jockey: Shaun Bridgmohan

Assessment: Was the best of the late-runners in the Kentucky Derby, finishing second to California Chrome in a career-best performance. His Belmont chances are tied to the pace. If someone can keep California Chrome honest early, perhaps Commanding Curve can get a little closer to poking his nose in front this time.

No. 5: Ride On Curlin (Morning-line odds: 10-to-1)

Trainer: William Gowan.

Jockey: John Velazquez (Won 2007 Belmont on Rags to Riches, 2012 Belmont on Union Rags).

Assessment: Was second best in the Preakness behind California Chrome, losing by just 1.5 lengths in the strongest race of his life. However, he had much of the stretch to run down California Chrome, and he couldn’t do it. Ride On Curlin has been a closer in the Triple Crown races, but he’s also shown a good deal of speed in other races. The suspicion is Ride On Curlin lays mid-pack and tries to run on from there. Velazquez knows Belmont well and gave Union Rags a wonderful ride to win this race two years ago.

No. 6: Matuszak (Morning-line odds: 30-to-1)

Trainer: Bill Mott (Won 2010 Belmont with Drosselmeyer)

Jockey: Mike Smith (Won 2010 Belmont on Drosselmeyer)

Assessment: Matuszak is 0-for-7 since winning his debut at Churchill Downs in September, with four losses in stakes races. He’s well-bred for the distance, and the Mott-Smith connection is hardly a bad one to have on your side in a big race. But this is a stern test.

No. 7: Samraat (Morning-line odds: 20-to-1)

Trainer: Rick Violette, Jr.

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Assessment: Turned in a decent effort in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifth when staying closer to the pace than he had in any of his other races beyond a mile. If he relaxes and doesn’t expend too much early energy, he could be competitive.

No. 8: Commissioner (Morning-line odds: 20-to-1)

Trainer: Todd Pletcher (Won 2007 Belmont with Rags to Riches, 2013 Belmont with Palace Malice)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Assessment: He’s certainly bred for the distance; his sire, A.P. Indy, won the 1992 Belmont, while his dam sire, Touch Gold, won the 1998 Belmont. What’s more, Commissioner was a solid second in the Peter Pan. However, he has never won in stakes company.

No. 9: Wicked Strong (Morning-line odds: 6-to-1)

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens

Jockey: Rajiv Maragh

Assessment: Wicked Strong appears to be one of the primary threats to California Chrome. Like Samraat and Tonalist, Wicked Strong has a win at Belmont to his credit, and the track, with its long, wide turns, plays to his strengths. The Belmont Stakes distance could also play in his favor, too — he’s a grinder with build-up speed. Nevertheless, Wicked Strong was beaten more than five lengths by California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby, so he has some ground to make up on the king of the three-year-old colts.

No. 10: General a Rod (Morning-line odds: 20-to-1)

Trainer: Michael Maker

Jockey: Rosie Napravnik

Assessment: Had an awful trip in the Preakness, losing all momentum and all chance when a competitor started to tire in his path. However, General a Rod still showed a willingness to run after his trouble, finishing fourth, eight lengths behind the winner. General a Rod’s sire, Roman Ruler, was the sire of 2011 Belmont winner Ruler On Ice. The problem is, General a Rod hasn’t really threatened California Chrome in the two Triple Crown races.

No. 11: Tonalist (Morning-line odds: 8-to-1)

Trainer: Christophe Clement

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Assessment: If California Chrome isn’t leading when the horses hit the backstretch, Tonalist might well be in front. Both of this colt’s wins have been at a mile-and-an-eighth, and both wins were by multiple lengths, perhaps suggesting a little more ground to cover might be something he can handle. Impressed in the Peter Pan, showing more early speed than before while still having the late energy to draw off for a four-length win on a sloppy track.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Belmont Stakes Breakdown
By Anthony Stabile

The final leg of the "Triple Crown" takes place this Saturday as California Chrome will look to capture the 2014 Belmont Stakes and become the 12th horse to capture the Triple Crown. Anthony Stabile breaks down all 11 runners for the Belmont.

1 Medal Count 20/1 Robby Albarado (0-4) Dale Romans (0-4)

Romans waited until late last week to announce that this colt was running but I think a lot of people, including myself, think he was just looking for attention and to make a splash and figured this horse would be a part of the field. He’s just one for four on conventional dirt and that win came in an off the turf maiden race in his debut at Ellis Park. He’s much better on turf and synthetics and though he has some bright spots in his pedigree for this distance I think he’s a cut below these, maybe more.

2 California Chrome 3/5 Victor Espinoza (0-3) Art Sherman (Debut)

12 is the magic number that surrounds this colt when it comes to his date with destiny this Saturday. Will we have 12 Triple Crown winners when the sun sets Saturday night? Will he be number 12 to fail in their attempt to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978? Will the 12 furlongs be his undoing? As it has been for the past 36 years, that final question is the most important one. So many of the 11 had the lead at the quarter pole, the point where the Kentucky Derby ends. But that last quarter of a mile…….1,320 of the most important feet of his life. It’s there where the men are separated from the boys. Everything, and I mean everything, has gone perfectly for the past two months for this guy. Nothing and no horse have been able to stop him. But the worm may have turned a bit at the draw. He gets stuck in post 2 and Social Inclusion opts to run on the undercard and not in here. There really isn’t any clear cut speed in here and I wouldn’t be surprised if he found himself on the lead. Maybe for once, he’ll be forced to do some heavy lifting, especially in the early going. I think there is a horse that can stop him in here but ultimately I think it will be the added distance. The Triple Crown will go unclaimed for another year. As for wagering purposes, I’ll be using him on the bottom end of my gimmicks but not on top.

3 Matterhorn 30/1 Joe Bravo (0 for 2) Todd Pletcher (2-16)

He was recently sold to the connections of third place Kentucky Derby finisher Danza so it’s almost like he’s pinch hitting. They even put Bravo on him, Danza’s jockey. He’s eligible for an entry level allowance contest but it’s the Belmont Stakes. You might as well be ambitious and hope he wants that added distance. If he doesn’t, that allowance race will be waiting for him at the end of the month. Pletcher won this in 2007 with the fantastic filly Rags to Riches and last year with Palace Malice. He’s looking to become the first trainer to win consecutive Belmonts since his old boss D. Wayne Lukas did it three years in a row from 1994 to 1996. With all of that said, I don’t like him for a penny.

4 Commanding Curve 15/1 Shaun Bridgmohan (Debut) Dallas Stewart (0-3)

He’s one of the more popular answers to “If you don’t like California Chrome then who do you like?” A hard charging second in the Derby he has trained brilliantly the past five weeks. He’s fresh and it certainly it appears like he’s going to love the distance. But here is the problem with horses like him, deep closers: they don’t win the Belmont Stakes!! I know common sense dictates that if they come running at the end of a 1¼ mile race they’ll surely appreciate the extra quarter of a mile but there is very little place for common sense when it comes to horse racing. Can he get a piece of the pie? Absolutely. Can he win? Well, he would need the race to completely fall into his lap. I’ll use him on the bottom of my gimmicks but not on top.

5 Ride On Curlin 12/1 John Velazquez (2-17) Billy Gowan (Debut)

After a magical mystery tour courtesy of Calvin Borel in the Derby, things went a bit better in the Preakness, though Borel gave him the business early on aboard Ria Antonia, the main reason this guy was so far back. Despite the early annoyances, this colt came running on late and appeared to be a real threat to California Chrome turning for home. He, of course, never got to him but he should did put a bit of a scare into all of the Chromie Homie’s. His sire just missed in this in 2007 when he was beat by Rags to Riches, who was ridden by his new pilot Johnny V. Velazquez came back to win this again aboard Union Rags in 2012 and knows Belmont better than anyone. A lot of people say this is a riders’ race. If that’s the case, he may very well be in the best hands. I don’t think he’ll win but I would not be surprised if he did. Using him in all of my gimmicks.

6 Matuszak 30/1 Mike Smith (2 for 15) Bill Mott (1-5)

The team the brought you 2010 upset Belmont winner Drosselmeyer at 13-1 bring you an even bigger longshot here. Smith came back to win aboard Palace Malice last year and is looking to become the first jockey to win consecutive runnings of this since Laffit Pincay, Jr. did it three years in a row from 1982-1984. I’m the biggest Mott fan around and even I’m having trouble finding something good to say. He’s a plodder and I guess they’re hoping to grab a piece of it but I think it’s a stretch.

7 Samraat 20/1 Jose Ortiz (Debut) Rick Violette, Jr. (0-2)

Perhaps the New York-bred will stand up and defend his turf from the invading Californian looking for immortality. Hell, if things can go all Hollywood for the West Coast folks why not for the hometown hero? I know one thing, if this thing turns into a street fight on the far turn, this guy will be tough to get rid of. His biggest issue is getting to that point. I feel like he was one of a few in Louisville that didn’t have any trouble, he just didn’t fire in the lane. With the lack of speed in here, I’m also wondering if they revert to his old running style and put him in front. Too many question marks for me to endorse but I wouldn’t mind him getting some revenge for fellow New Yorker, Funny Cide.

8 Commissioner 20/1 Javier Castellano (0-7) Todd Pletcher (2-16)

As it is every year, the biggest question these horses all have to answer is whether they’ll handle the distance of “The Test of the Champion” or not. One thing is for sure….if this race was based on pedigree, it would be all over and they’d declare this guy the champ now. He’s by A.P. Indy, who was by Seattle Slew and out of a Touch Gold mare. All three of those horses won the Belmont!!! All three!!! You get Castellano and Pletcher, you’re defending Eclipse champs in the jockey and trainer and trainer categories, at a price that will likely be in the 20-1 range on a horse that Pletcher has given every opportunity to show he belongs. The talent is there, he just needs that proverbial late bulb to go off. I’m not willing to bet that it’ll happen Saturday but I will use him in my gimmicks and will tell you that if you’re one of these people that just like to play the longer shots, this is your guy.

9 Wicked Strong 6/1 Rajiv Maragh (0-3) Jimmy Jerkens (0-2)

In 2000, Commendable became the first horse EVER to win the Belmont having last raced in the Kentucky Derby. Since then, it’s happened six more times. This year, Medal Count, Commanding Curve, Samraat and this colt will try to bump that number up. And when you look closely, Wicked Strong may have the best chance of them all. After a huge win in the Wood Memorial, he stumbled at the start, found some traffic trouble early and was stuck behind a wall of horses late from post 20 in the Derby last out, yet still kept coming to finish fourth. It’s funny to me that no one has even mentioned that fact that he probably bounced a bit in the Derby, which would set him up perfectly for a career best effort she he take that step forward. He’s had five weeks to get ready for this from the comforts of his own stall over a track he loves for a trainer who comes from one of the greatest racing families the game has ever seen. When a guy named Jerkens leads a horse over to the paddock, especially going a distance of ground, you can be sure they’ll be fit. I think he’ll be right there at the finish. Using him in all of my wagers.

10 General a Rod 20/1 Rosie Napravnik (0-2) Mike Maker (0-1)

Another who was a little late coming to the party, I’m wondering if his connections sensed that there would be a lack of clear cut speed in here if Social Inclusion defected, like he did, and if that was something they could take advantage of. Look, plain and simply the lead is his if he wants it. California Chrome’s people would LOVE a target, I don’t think Samraat’s folks really want to put him on the engine and I don’t see any other true speed type in here. He didn’t have the cleanest trip in the Derby and was stopped cold in the Preakness behind the fast fading filly Ria Antonia and came running late to be fourth. He’d have been much closer with a better trip. Again, my biggest issue with him is the distance. I don’t think he can get it and think the only shot he has a chance at getting any kind of piece is by stealing it on the front end. I’m passing but he may wind up being the most important piece of the Belmont puzzle this year.

11 Tonalist 8/1 Joel Rosario (0-3) Christophe Clement (0-1)

His biggest claim to fame is his Peter Pan win over a suspect bunch over a sloppy track he’s bred to love. He dragged Rosario to the lead that day and pretty much improved at every point of call. He has just a maiden win from three other starts but was second to Constitution in the Gulfstream “allowance race to end all allowance races” back on the Fountain of Youth undercard. His PPs aren’t super-imposing by any means. But these eyes know the real deal when they see it and he’s the real deal. His rider seemed to think so considering he gave Clement a two race call for the Peter Pan AND Belmont having not been on his back in almost six months. Speaking of Clement, sure he’s better known as a trainer of turf horses but the one thing you surely need when training a turf is to build stamina. He’s a fantastic trainer, period, and he’s brimming with confidence. I love his outside draw because he can see how it all plays out inside of him and make a decision from there. I truly think he’s the one that stops history from happening. My pick to win the Belmont Stakes.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

The Belmont Stakes: Horse-by-Horse Preview and Picks
By Bill Cloutier

As California Chrome looks to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed completed the hat trick in 1978, the pressure now falls squarely on the diminutive shoulders of jockey Victor Espinoza.

With a nation rooting for an underdog turned superhero, California Chrome has gone from a colt who won the Kentucky Derby because, as pundits feel, the field was weak, to larger than life status with his impressive run in the Preakness. Espinoza now bares the burden of not messing things up.

Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown. Can the West Coast sensation make it a dozen? Here's a look at the 11-horse field for the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday:

1. Medal Count (jockey: Robby Albarado, odds: 20-1): Had traffic problems finishing in eighth place in the Kentucky Derby and becomes an intriguing choice here. He's also worked very well since that race and enters Saturday's 1 1/2 mile event as fresh as can be.

2. California Chrome (Victor Espinoza, 3-5): Is the 13th horse since Affirmed won to have a shot at the Triple Crown after winning the first two legs. (I'll Have Another won the first two legs but did not run in the Belmont). Has great tactical speed and deserves to be the odds-on choice. The post also won't be a problem because the inside horses are late runners.

3. Matterhorn (Joe Bravo, 30-1): Todd Pletcher-trainee has one win in four lifetime starts and certainly seems to be up against it here. Well-bred and was a decent fourth in the Peter Pan on this surface.

4. Commanding Curve (Shaun Bridgmohan, 15-1): Avoided the trouble that hampered so many contenders to finish second in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 37-1. Has just one lifetime win and a middle-of-the-pack Beyer rating. Finished just 1 3/4 lengths behind Chrome in the Derby but the winner took his foot off the gas late.

5. Ride On Curlin (John Velazquez, 12-1):
His connections say the distance will suit him fine but how many horses are truly bred for the Test of Champions? You have to like his effort but he's certainly not fresh.

6. Matuszak (Mike Smith, 30-1):
Beyer speed figures are just awful for this one who's won just once. Closed for second in the Tesio Stakes but was not gaining on the winner. Pass.

7. Samraat (Jose Ortiz, 20-1):
Freshened since a fifth in the Kentucky Derby, this gritty colt loves New York but the distance really figures to be a major obstacle. Should be near the front but don't think he'll last.

8. Commissioner (Javier Castellano, 20-1):
Another Pletcher runner who certainly has the bloodlines (A.P. Indy and Touch Gold) to win this one. He was soundly beaten in the Fountain of Youth and the Arkansas Derby but I'd put a couple of shekels on him if his odds climb.

9. Wicked Strong (Rajiv Maragh, 6-1): Chrome's biggest contender had a miserable trip in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness with an eye on the Belmont. Posted a monstrous win in the Wood Memorial in New York and is a major player.

10. General a Rod (Rosie Napravnik, 20-1):
Has had legitimate excuses in the first two legs of the Triple Crown but that doesn't make him any fresher. He certainly fits with these horses but don't think he'll be able to get the distance.

11. Tonalist (Joel Rosario, 8-1): Figures to be too heavily bet for a horse which has not faced this type of competition. He has speed and a nice win over this surface. How long can he last?

Picks: California Chrome, Commissioner, Wicked Strong, Medal Count

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Belmont Stakes Picks
By: Marcus DiNitto

We’re as sentimental as the next guys – okay, maybe slightly less so – so we’ll be cheering along with everyone else for California Chrome to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in horse racing history and the first since Affirmed in 1978 in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes.

But as gamblers at heart, we’re apt to take a shot against a 3-to-5 favorite, no matter how compelling his story is.

To that end, The Linemakers on Sporting News' Brian Blessing and Vinny Magliulo, as well as three more of our handicapping friends, have weighed in with their picks for the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes.

Consider these selections, along with your own handicapping, and go hit some winners on Saturday!

Blessing will play No. 1 Medal Count to win and place, and will use him in an exacta box with California Chrome. Medal Count finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, but had it not been for such a rough trip around the Churchill Downs track, he should have finished third, perhaps even second, Blessing believes.

Magliulo also recommends No. 9 Wicked Strong and No. 7 Samraat, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers in the Derby, respectively. Both colts have wins over the Belmont surface and should be fresh with a five-week rest.

Thoughts and picks from the rest of our panel. . . .

Brad Telias, veteran horse racing writer, who’s attending his 50th consecutive Belmont Stakes on Saturday

No. 9 Wicked Strong stumbled in the Derby but still finished fast. He has the extra rest skipping the Preakness and showed it with sharp works over the sandy Belmont strip that he's won at a mile.

No. 11 Tonalist comes off a win in the Peter Pan, which is regarded as the ideal Belmont Stakes prep. Although lightly raced, he keeps improving and has a good distance pedigree. Belmont regular Joel Rosario boosts his chances even more.

No. 5 Ride on Curlin, after rallying and gaining on California Chrome in the Preakness, now has one of Belmont's savviest riders with Johnny Velazquez, who'll need to use the tractable speed this horse has shown in earlier efforts. Strong distance pedigree (Curlin) will no doubt help.

Telias has this to say about the Triple Crown hopeful: California Chrome has benefited from some soft trips, avoiding traffic and stalking the lead. He's had it easy so far, and there may be little left in the tank after two taxing races. Let's see when he encounters some adversity. And I still feel uncomfortable with Espinoza aboard. Despite a couple of fortunate quick decisions in the Preakness, I don't think he has it for the consummate jockey's race at a mile-and-a-half.

Don't misunderstand, I'll be happy for my 50th and a Triple Crown champion if I'm wrong, but Chrome has too much to overcome.

Mike Wilkening, writer, The Linemakers

No. 10 General a Rod. Was going well in the Preakness before running into major traffic trouble after six furlongs. With a clean trip, he’s capable of upsetting.

No 2. California Chrome. Will run his race, and he’s capable of winning this stylishly, but that final quarter-mile will be the litmus test.

No. 1 Medal Count. Talented and well-rested, and the distance shouldn’t be a problem.

No. 9 Wicked Strong. Picked up some pieces late in the Kentucky Derby, but he needs to improve on that to win the Belmont.

Chris Andrews, veteran Las Vegas bookmaker and handicapper

There's not much more to say about California Chrome. Part of me wants him to win for the good of the sport. But I've been around long enough to know the Triple Crown doesn't happen often because it's really hard. That sounds incredibly simplistic, but it's also true. Horses don't win three Grade I races in five weeks at any age. To ask a three-year old to do it is too much. So I'm going to try to beat the favorite.

My top choice is No. 11 Tonalist. Christophe Clement has an incredible record training horses to go a route. Most of his success has been on turf, but I have every reason to believe he can transfer that to the dirt for this horse in this race. Tonalist’s sire, Tapit, has not had tremendous success in breeding great stayers, but he has good stamina influences on his dam side. Tonalist might have finally arrived with his powerful performance in his last race, the Peter Pan. Years ago, the Peter Pan was a prime avenue for late-blooming three-year olds. Belmont winners AP Indy, Coastal, Lemon Drop Kid and Colonial Affair came out of this race, as well as other late bloomers Slew O' Gold and Seeking The Gold. I'm betting Tonalist adds to that list.

My second choice is No. 8 Commissioner. Todd Pletcher is another trainer who can get his horses to go a route. Commissioner was second to Tonalist in the Peter Pan, so I'm putting a lot of eggs in that basket. He's a bit inconsistent but looks like he's improving. He's also got the breeding. His sire, AP Indy won this race, as well as both his grandsires, Seattle Slew and Touch Gold. His bloodlines say distance won't be the problem. We'll have to see if he's good enough.

Third choice is No. 7 Samraat. He ran a pretty decent fifth in the Derby. He has been resting since then to train up to this race. He has a good chance to be on the lead, and speed horses have been known to steal this race or at least stick around for a piece. California Chrome is the only other horse who might challenge his lead, and I think they want to take him back a bit. He’s never ran a bad race, and he broke his maiden here at Big Sandy. He has a ton of heart, which he displayed in winning the Withers and the Gotham.

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

Belmont Stakes Breakdown
By John Valter

I labored long and hard over whether to attend the race in person. I have witnessed four prior attempts at a Triple Crown, and none were successful. Belmont Park after a horse loses the shot at a Triple Crown is a very sad place; indeed, I have never seen any more disappointed crowd at ANY sporting event than the folks at Belmont after Smarty Jones was run down by Birdstone 10 years ago. Ultimately, I decided that a) I’m a bad luck charm and b) as much I want to see a Triple Crown won, I don’t want to see one lost even more.

Here’s my opinion of the horses that will be chasing Chrome (listed in order of preference, worst to first):

Matterhorn – I have no clue why this Todd Pletcher-trained colt is entered here, other than that Danza & Intense Holiday are unable to go, so Pletcher feels the need to be multiply-represented here. He’s 0 for 3 in 2014, beaten a combined 34 lengths. Would need to take a huge leap forward to even hit the board.

General a Rod – Wasn’t a fan of this guy in the Derby, and he proved me right. Was less of a fan in the Preakness, and he ran credibly, missing 3rd by a head. Improving? I doubt it, and is more likely to be extremely taxed after 4 hard races in the last 3 months. Will probably be more a pace factor today with Rosie in the irons, but I think he be fading when the real racing begins.

Matuszak – Bill Mott doesn’t usually enter horses in spots where they are overmatched, but I still can’t find anything to recommend this guy. 1 for 8 lifetime, and beaten badly in his graded stakes attempts…he does indeed look overmatched here.

Commanding Curve – I had some good things to say about this colt before the Derby, and he lit up the exacta with a 2nd place finish. He’s been laying in wait ever since, and there seem to be an awful lot of people very high on his chances to pull off the upset. Do not count me among those. I have discussed it before, but there is a myth that deep closers benefit from the extra distance of the Belmont. In fact, deep closing one-trick ponies like this guy rarely win this race — Jazil in 2006 was the most recent. It’s not impossible, of course, but I’m not sure he’s really as talented as his Derby performance would have you believe. Plus, multiple handicapping sources I use indicate he is due for a regressive bounce here. Taking a major stand against his chances.

Commissioner – Certainly has the breeding, sired by 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy and out of a mare by 1997 Belmont winner Touch Gold, he should be able to get the distance without any difficulty. Problem is, he just looks too slow. He’s 0 for 4 in his graded stakes attempts, beaten by an average of 8 lengths. Because he can probably stay the trip, he could be an exotics candidate, but I give him little to no shot at a victory.

Tonalist – This begins the section of horses who I actually think are capable of producing the upset. However, in Tonalist’s case, I still find it unlikely. After his huge performance in the Peter Pan, he’s become something of a wise-guy horse, and could easily go off as the 2nd choice to Chrome. He earned a huge 107 Beyer figure for that win, but he beat a lousy field. He only has win over a fast track in his career. As I have talked about before, it’s not uncommon for a three-year-old to pair two huge numbers together, and he may well be sitting on that 2nd huge number. But he looks like very much of an underlay to me. If the price goes up, I might be interested, but there are other contenders I prefer.

Samraat - Very intriguing prospect. This feisty New York-bred has never run a clunker, and seems to give an honest effort every time. His 5th place Derby performance was probably even better than it looks on paper. He’s among a number of horses who’ve been waiting since the Derby for their revenge on Chrome. My problem with this guy is that I’m not sure he’s going to relish the added distance. The key factor for him is the race; if they are walking down the backstretch, I certainly think that favors Chrome, but I also think it brings Samraat in the mix. The price is likely going to be nice, and I think he’s in good shape to have a shot at a trifecta finish. An upset win seems unlikelier.
Medal Count ­– Another of those that have been resting since the Derby. He finished 8th in that one, with an incredibly troubled trip. I love the breeding on this one, and he’s been working sharply for astute trained Dale Romans in the time being. Needs to stay a bit more engaged early in this one, but I love his chances to run a big race at a big price. Leave out of exotics at your own peril.

Ride On Curlin ­– Ran a very nice Preakness, giving California Chrome something to think about down the stretch. I’ve gone back and forth about his chances here. On the plus side, he looks to be getting better and better every start, and the son of Dynaformer is bred to run all day. That said, he’s still never won a race at a distance beyond six furlongs, and he’s on a five-race losing streak. Finally, there’s yet another jockey switch, this time to John Velazquez. That’s not really a negative, but just something else to overcome. His daddy Curlin was edged out in this race by Rags To Riches in 2007. Can the son get revenge? I’m inclined to think he will hit the board, but ultimately suffer the same fate as Papa.

Wicked Strong – I’m not going to beat around the bush — I think this colt represents the biggest threat to California Chrome winning the Triple Crown. Indeed, I think he will prevent California Chrome from winning the Triple Crown. Overcame an awful trip in the Derby to finish 4th (albeit some of that can be attributed to a particularly reckless ride by Rajiv Muragh, who stays on in the irons today.) Has fantastic breeding for this spot, and comes in off a brilliant 5-furlong work last weekend. I may sound contradictory here, based on my earlier statement about deep closers, which Wicked Strong could possibly be characterized as here. Perhaps, but this colt strikes me as a much more versatile type, and not the proverbial one-trick pony that Commanding Curve seems to be. I think he’s going to be in a nice stalking position today, and if he gets a good trip, will be in perfect position to pounce in the lane. I envision a strong stretch battle between Wicked Strong & California Chrome, with shades of Real Quiet/Victory Gallop in 1998. If Chrome prevails, the entire racing community, myself included, will be overjoyed. But if it’s Wicked Strong that crosses the wire first, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Some head-to-head matchups I like:

Ride On Curlin -105 over Commanding Curve
Wicked Strong -175 over Tonalist
Samraat -140 over General a Rod

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Re: Belmont Stakes Betting News and Notes

In Belmont Stakes, place your sentiments on California Chrome; put your money elsewhere
By Andrew Beyer

Over the past three decades, as the public has cheered for horses to win the Belmont Stakes and complete a sweep of the Triple Crown, some racing purists have been reluctant to lend their voices to the chorus.

Those of us who remember the last three colts to accomplish the feat — Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) — know they were giants in the greatest era of thoroughbred racing in America. It would have been almost sacrilegious to put the names of runners such as Charismatic, Real Quiet, War Emblem and Funny Cide on a short list along with the sport’s immortals.

But as California Chrome tries to become the first horse since Affirmed to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, the old worries about blemishing the list of Triple Crown winners hardly seem relevant now. After 11 horses since 1979 have lost bids for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, any horse who accomplishes the sweep will deserve praise and respect — and a place in history.

If this happens Saturday, it couldn’t happen at a better time. The sport has been beset with so many problems that it needs a positive story. What better story could there be than one with a rags-to-riches hero such as the ill-bred California Chrome?

The colt has generated excitement, superlatives and high expectations, and it is hard for many fans to assess his Triple Crown bid dispassionately. But handicappers should not be swayed by sentiment. They are supposed to look at horses and races with cold-eyed objectivity. And an objective analysis would conclude California Chrome is not the standout the public thinks he is.

Many people now talk about California Chrome as if he dominated his opposition in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He didn’t. He won the Kentucky Derby by 13 / 4 lengths over Commanding Curve, whose major previous achievement was a five-length loss in the Louisiana Derby. Against a weak field in the Preakness (where most of the Derby runners didn’t show up), he finished 11 / 2 lengths ahead of Ride On Curlin, whose record in stakes competition had been 0 for 7.

In scoring these victories, California Chrome benefited from easy trips, stalking the lead, avoiding any traffic trouble. Like Affirmed, he possesses the quickness and maneuverability to make his own breaks. Nevertheless, handicappers know to be wary of horses who win with perfect trips; no horse can avoid adversity forever.

If California Chrome has proved himself superior to his main rivals in the Belmont by two lengths or so, this is a slender edge. Big Brown (2008) won the Derby and Preakness by about five lengths; Funny Cide (2003) and Smarty Jones (2004) each ran away with the Preakness by about 10 lengths. Yet they all failed at Belmont Park. Like them, California Chrome’s edge is almost certain to shrink — or disappear — at the longer distance of the Belmont. California Chrome was tiring at the end of the 11 / 4-mile Derby and was hard-pressed to maintain his margin over Ride on Curlin in the Preakness. It is hard to imagine he will be as good at 11 / 2 miles.

The four principal challengers Saturday all appear better suited to the distance than the favorite.

●Commanding Curve rallied strongly to finish second at Churchill Downs. His significant improvement over his previous starts suggested that running 1¼ miles and longer is his forte.

●Ride on Curlin rallied from far behind in both the Derby and the Preakness, and he may have the genes to help him Saturday. He is a son of Curlin, who lost a photo finish in the 2007 Belmont and sired last year’s winner, Palace Malice.

●Wicked Strong won a fast Wood Memorial and then rallied to finish fourth in the Derby after a difficult trip. His lineage is filled with distinguished distance runners.

●Tonalist missed the first two legs of the Triple Crown because of an illness but returned to action with an authoritative four-length victory in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.

History suggests California Chrome will face another disadvantage besides the Belmont distance. Not only is winning the Triple Crown difficult, but merely running in all three races is tough for modern-day horses. In the last 12 years, only a single horse has won the Belmont after competing in both the Derby and the Preakness. During that period, six horses ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness and won the Belmont. The extra rest is clearly an important edge.

Wicked Strong has that extra rest, plus solid credentials. He was considered California Chrome’s main rival in the Derby, but he couldn’t overcome the outside post position in the field of 19. Hung wide at the first turn, he never got into striking position, and he found himself in heavy traffic throughout the stretch run. Even so, he lost by less than six lengths. The Belmont figures to be a very different race.

My Belmont Stakes picks: 1. Wicked Strong. 2. Tonalist. 3. Commanding Curve.

I would be happy to be wrong, but California Chrome has too many obstacles to overcome. If he does surmount them, the sport will rightly hail a worthy champion.

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