Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome will break from the No. 2 post under jockey Victor Espinoza in Saturday’s 146th Belmont Stakes, vying to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Chrome will face a full field of 10 rivals, four of which come into the Belmont after a five-week break.
Commanding Curve (15-1) and Wicked Strong (6-1), who finished second and fourth in the Kentucky Derby, will have fresh legs for their upset bids in the mile and a half “Test of a Champion,” as the Belmont has become known.
With his closing style, Preakness runner-up Ride on Curlin (12-1) will take on the role of spoiler.
None of the horses entered have been asked to go this distance in their young careers and most will never run it again.
California Chrome will be leaning heavily on his paternal bloodlines for the stamina to stay the distance, a pedigree that includes 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew and 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, who won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths while setting a track record of 2 minutes, 24 seconds.
This would be the largest Belmont field ever beaten to capture the Triple Crown.
The 11 Triple Crown champions never faced more than seven competitors in the Belmont.
Here are five things to watch for:
1. Running style
California Chrome likes to stalk, sitting just off the leaders. If an early speed duel breaks out, look for jockey Espinoza to do his best to keep Chrome off the lead to conserve energy for the final turn.
2. All about the start
Chrome has been known to get off slowly in some of his starts, forcing him into poor position. He isn’t a fan of dirt in his face, and any horse near the back of the pack will get plenty of that.
3. Fatigue setting in
Only one of the last 12 Belmont winners have run in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Three races in five weeks is a lot to ask of a young horse.
4. Jockey’s final shot?
Espinoza rode War Emblem to victories in the 2002 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, but failed to win the Belmont after stumbling at the start. At 42, this will more than likely be Espinoza’s last chance to win a Triple Crown.
5. Spoiler’s role
Ride on Curlin finished second, a length and a half back of Chrome in the Preakness. Ride on Curlin was bumped by Social Inclusion on the stretch drive, causing him to drift slightly. If he gets a better trip in the Belmont, expect to see him near the lead at the finish line.