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Belmont Stakes Preview Part II

Patrick Smith, Getty Images

For longer than I’d care to discuss, I’ve been sitting here trying to think of something profound with which to open.  Something significant.  Something deep.

After all, I may well be penning this column on the eve of history, and I’m certainly doing it at the apex of a months-long crescendo.  My sense of nostalgia tells me I should honor that.

Philosophy eludes me on this night, though. And maybe that’s for the best.  I doubt very much that the connections who labeled themselves dumbasses would have much use for Socrates.  Maybe they’d just rather me tell them about their horse’s race on Saturday – how a wildcard pace could make all the difference, how it may all come down to guts, or how an old foe might be one standing between him and history.

The Race: Out of the gate, it will be the front-running winner of Belmont Park’s Peter Pan, Tonalist, assuming control of the race and taking the early lead.  He’ll be followed closely by New York veteran Samraat and Derby/Preakness runner General a Rod, with horse of the hour California Chrome and his only Preakness competition Ride On Curlin rounding out the lead pack.  Behind them, long-shots Matterhorn and Matuszk will settle in ahead of Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, Commissioner, Medal Count and Commanding Curve – the early trailer.

Around the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch, expect mild moves from final two – each looking to improve their position ahead of the forthcoming stretch run.  Of more significant concern in this early stage of the race, though, will be the pace.  Tonalist is likely the only horse in the field interested in leading, which should drag the race’s early tempo down and buoy up the chances of the Derby-Preakness winner.  However, with four others in close step just behind the likely leader, that pace could easily quicken and bring the closers like Wicked Strong and Medal Count back into contention.

Given the race’s length, I’m expecting the former.  And so it will be Tonalist on an easy lead down the backstretch with California Chrome assuming his now traditional position just off and to the outside of the early pack.  Around the far turn, as has become his way, Chrome will shift out of cruise control, into a more slightly more aggressive gear, and begin asserting himself.  Ride on Curlin will move as well, but at the top of the stretch, he’ll find himself no better than third, with California Chrome having pulled alongside Tonalist.

And here the race will begin.

From mid-pack, Wicked Strong and Medal Count will begin their stirs – counting on the long Belmont stretch to give them the time to run down the leaders – with a battle of wills developing at the front.  California Chrome vs. Tonalist vs. Ride On Curlin.  Is the former the champion we hope he is?  Does he have the mettle necessary to tear the crown from history’s reluctant hands?  Can the middle of the three withstand the pressure he never faced in his last win.  Does the latter finally have enough?

Yes.  No.  No.

In deep stretch, California Chrome will take control of the race, with Tonalist wilting beneath the strain of superior competition.  The ever game Ride On Curlin, as he was last time out in the Preakness, will be the one to challenge Chrome, but he just won’t have enough to beat the classier West-coaster.

Significant and worrisome charges will come from Wicked Strong and Medal Count – who, needing time and space to unwind and get into his closing run, will be greatly helped by the mile and a half distance.  In the end, they’ll challenge, but do no more.  California Chrome wins the Belmont, sweeps the late spring trifecta, and claims the Triple Crown.  Medal Count will be up for second, Ride On Curlin will stay for third, and Wicked Strong will rally past Tonalist to round out the superfecta.

The Bet:  I’m picking California Chrome to win, but the only reason you’d bet him is to collect a souvenir.  He’s a play in exotics, certainly, but only in exotics.

  • Exacta and Trifecta Boxes: I’ll play different combinations of California Chrome, Ride on Curlin, Medal Count, Wicked Strong, and perhaps Tonalist depending on their live odds.
  • Win-Place-Show Bets: 20/1 Medal Count and 12/1 Ride On Curlin are the both solid bets at those odds and will be my plays come Saturday.

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