We are just three days away from the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes, which is scheduled to start at 6:52 pm EST on Saturday, June 7. The excitement surrounding the Belmont Stakes largely depends on whether or not there’s a horse in the field with a chance to win the Triple Crown. Luckily, that’s exactly what will be at stake in 2014, as California Chrome looks to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to pull off the historic feat.
If California Chrome can win the 2014 Belmont Stakes, it has the potential to put horse racing back in the spotlight. However, as many of you who follow the sport closely know, it’s a lot harder to win this race than you think. California Chrome is the 13th horse to have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown and none of them have been able to get the job done.
This race has also not been kind to the favorite. Over the last 35 years, the odds on favorite at the start of the race has won just 6 times. What makes the Belmont Stakes so challenging to predict, is that it’s hard to know whether or not a horse has the endurance for the grueling 1 1/2 race. Not only does stamina play a crucial role, but the jockey who mounts the horse decides how long to hold back and when to let loose.
With the post positions set and the field determined, here are my 2014 Belmont Stakes predictions.
Win: Wicked Strong (6 to 1)
I know this isn’t going to be a popular choice with so many fans desperately wanting to see a Triple Crown winner, but I’m not so sure we wouldn’t be talking about Wicked Strong going for history had he not drew the dreaded No. 20 post position at the Kentucky Derby. After finally getting into a spot where he could make a run, Wicked Strong put together a furious close at Churchill to finish 4th.
Backing up my point on Wicked Strong’s starting position potentially costing him the Derby, look at what Ride On Curlin was able to do at the Preakness. Ride On Curlin started out of post No. 19 and finished 6th at the Derby and then went on to nearly upset California Chrome at Pimlico.
I really thought this horse was the best in the field going into the Derby after his impressive win at the Wood Memorial. Wicked Strong has the size and closing speed to spoil California Chrome’s party and will have the fresher legs due to not racing at the Preakness. Each of the last eight horses to win the Belmont Stakes have not raced in the Preakness.
Place: California Chrome (3 to 5)
Don’t get me wrong, I would be happy to see California Chrome win this race and put and end to the Triple Crown drought, but when it comes to money I don’t make my decisions based on what I want to happen. Given the weaker field at the Preakness, I wasn’t all that impressed with California Chromes performance. I picked him to win the race, but I really thought he would pull away and win by more than 1 1/2 lengths.
If having history against him wasn’t enough, one of my biggest reasons for not picking California Chrome to win the Belmont is because of the fact that he will be ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza. Not to take anything away from Espinoza, who is one of the best in the business, he’s not had much luck at Belmont Park. In his 67 career starts on this track, he’s won just twice. This isn’t the first time that Espinoza has been on the back of a potential Triple Crown winner, as he rode War Emblem at the Belmont back in 2002 after winning both the Derby and Preakness. Espinoza didn’t just fail to win the race, he guided War Emblem to an 8th place finish.
The fact that I’m picking California Chrome is based on that I believe both him and Wicked Strong are a class above the rest of the field.
Show: Commanding Curve (15 to 1)
Deciding on which horse to pick to show wasn’t easy. In my opinion, there’s a handful of horses after California Chrome and Wicked Strong that could end up in third. In the end, I went with Commanding Curve who finished 2nd at the Derby, despite a not so favorable No. 17 post position. The fact that trainer Dallas Stewart and the owners of West Point Thoroughbreds chose not to race Commanding Curve at the Preakness is the biggest reason why I like him over the other contenders in the field.