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Belmont Stakes Preview Part I

Dylan Buell, Getty Images

The Triple Crown has become like the quest for the Holy Grail. Many have sought it, most have never came close, and the few who got within arm’s length let it slip through their delicate German fingers.

For 36 years the Triple Crown has gone unclaimed. Will that streak be extended to 37? Or do we finally have one worthy of its splendor? California Chrome has looked the part in his Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins, but the Belmont’s mile and a half run is a different beast.

Can he tame it? What will his competition have to say about the matter? Let’s find out.

1 – Medal Count – 20/1: This Dale Romans trainee went into the Derby a bit of a wise guy pick – a horse without much fanfare, but a trendy selection of the grizzled pros in search of betting value. I was a wise guy, and I was wrong – at least I was at the window. Medal Count’s supporters made no money on him the first Saturday in May, but said supporters would be eager to tell you how the colt was making a significant closing run and was cut off in the stretch, and that he would have had more of a shot without the traffic – they’d leave out that he was unable to step on the gas quick enough to take advantage of a sizable hole that existed before the traffic developed. Overall, having never won against the competition he’ll face Saturday, he’s a hard one to trust, but if he catches a good ride, he’s more than live at odds of 20/1.

2 – California Chrome – 3/5: The last time California Chrome lost a race you were still polishing off your kid’s Halloween candy. It’s been six straight wins for the pride of Dumb Ass Partners – six straight dominant wins, each coming by at least a length. There’s no doubt that Chrome is the class of the field, and no doubt, therefore, that he’s a just favorite. Is he, though, good enough to run the gauntlet that is the Triple Crown? Does he have enough left? That, my friends, is the question.

3 – Matterhorn – 30/1: No.

4 – Commanding Curve – 15/1: In the Kentucky Derby version of this very post, the comment I just gave Matterhorn was the exact one I dropped on Commanding Curve. “No.” That is what I thought of his chances, and he showed me what he thought of that when he ran on for a second place finish. It was an encouraging display of closing speed, but it’s hard to know whether that race was a sign of things to come for an improving horse, or an aberration brought on by a hot pace. He better hope it’s the former, because he won’t have that pace to run at on Saturday. Either way, I’m not sure I trust him at that price.

5 – Ride On Curlin – 12/1: After a questionable ride cost him any chance in the Kentucky Derby – though he did manage a respectable effort – Ride on Curlin rallied for a game second place finish in the Preakness. Which may be the best way to describe this colt: game. In 11 career starts, he’s finished outside fourth only once – the aforementioned troubled run in the Derby. He’ll be the wild card on Saturday; he could close or he could choose to lay close. I think he’ll pick the latter, but either way, he’ll be close and he’s live.

6 – Matuszak – 30/1: He’s raced almost exclusively against significantly inferior competition and still hasn’t managed a win since before Columbus Day.

7 – Samraat – 20/1: Like Ride on Curlin, Samraat is perhaps best described with one word: game. A winner of his first five races, the colt has been bested, in his career, only by two of Saturday’s favorites – Wicked Strong and California Chrome. He’s a gutsy three-year-old who shouldn’t be discounted, but, with the same opportunity Chrome had in the Derby – indeed, right along side him as the field turned for home – he seemed overmatched. I see no reason why that will change.

8 – Commissioner – 20/1: Wholly unimpressive on paper.

9 – Wicked Strong – 6/1: A closer, he’ll want more pace than he’ll get on Saturday, and I don’t see the traffic excuses others do when reviewing the Derby replay, but a decisive winner of the Wood Memorial on this very track two months ago, he’s no doubt a serious contender.

10 – General a Rod – 20/1: It’s hard to know exactly what to make this Mike Maker trainee. He ran in both the Derby and Preakness, but was shuffled out of contention early in the former, and was taken out of the latter by a badly stopping filly who had no business in the race. And before those runs – despite finishing no worse than third in the run-up to the run for the roses – serious questions remain about how much real quality he has. I won’t use him.

11 – Tonalist – 8/1: Those who were there raved about his dominant win in the Peter Pan a month ago. I, though, have come away less impressed. He ran, that day, over a sloppy Belmont track and did so without ever being challenged on an easy lead. He won’t be given that gift on Saturday. In fact, while I expect him to make the lead, if he’s going to win the Belmont, he’ll have to stare down California Chrome and beat back a charge no other horse has been able to withstand thus far in 2014. He is said to be training well, but I don’t think he has that in him.

For a full preview and prediction, check back Friday morning.

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