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Features - RACING

Wicked Strong could spring the Belmont upset. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

By Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla

Bob Ehalt and Tom Pedulla became fast friends when they met on their first day at Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y., in 1971. Bob soon introduced Tom to the joys of Thoroughbred racing.

They have endured some rough moments at the track, with Tom taking exception when Bob repeatedly smacks him on the back with a program as one of their horses launches an all-out drive. Much to Tom’s chagrin and the amusement of onlookers, Bob has been known to call for security as he proceeds to cash a $27 triple.

They have owned a number of horses together. They are often seen carrying on at the track as if they never left their teenage years.

Here is their take on the Belmont Stakes:

PEDULLA: Bob, my heart is telling me one thing. My mind is telling me another. Of course, there is nothing we would like more than to see California Chrome nab the Triple Crown we’ve waited 36 years for. We were both taught that writers are allowed to root for their stories; there is not a better story out there right now than Chrome.

But once the fan in me quiets down, everything in my being says Chrome is about to join the 12 other horses who took the first two legs but were unable to complete the sweep since Affirmed outdueled your beloved Alydar in 1978.There is nothing in Chrome’s pedigree to suggest he gets a mile and a half. Victor Espinoza was forced to call on him fairly early in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. Another big negative. Beyond that, he has run six times since last Dec. 22, winning every time. Unfortunately, that is about to take its toll. I say he will do well to come in third.

EHALT: Hold on, I have to answer the doorbell. I think Rod Serling’s outside. I mean, I am in the Twilight Zone? How did I become the sentimental one? The man who never saw a favorite he didn’t like, believes California Chrome is going down in defeat? Sorry, Tom, I am now more convinced than ever that we’re going to have a Triple Crown winner. The way I see it, it will probably be another 36 years before the stars are once again aligned with me on the odds-on, 3-5 favorite and you backing someone else, so California Chrome has to win, right? Being the best horse by far in the field and a having a running style that’s perfectly suited for the Belmont will also come in handy. The streak stops at 36.

PEDULLA: As long as potentially volatile Wicked Strong does not blow the race before it begins, I see him getting the job done. The last eight Belmont winners skipped the Preakness. He can make it nine. Belmont is his home course; he earned his first career win here. His last serious work for this race was serious indeed for this son of hard-knocking Hard Spun.

EHALT: Really can’t argue with you. There’s a lot to like in Wicked Strong. I do wonder how he’ll react to loading in the starting gate directly in front of 120,000 screamers, but if there’s one horse in this field that push the Triple Crown drought into a 37th year it’s definitely Wicked Strong and the Son of the Giant Killer, Jimmy Jerkens.

PEDULLA: It will be another runner-up finish for Commanding Curve. He is just starting to show what he can do after gaining his first win last Nov. 30, in his fourth career start. The prolonged rally that allowed him to advance from 18th to second was most impressive in the Kentucky Derby and he overtook California Chrome when they galloped out. While I do not want to read a ton into that, it is worth noting. Missing the Preakness allowed trainer Dallas Stewart to put three solid works into Commanding Curve. Chrome had no such luxury.

RIDE ON CURLIN

Starr ROChero

EHALT: I don’t know, I’m afraid Commanding Curve will be a one-hit wonder, like Golden Soul before him. I’m going to play and it safe and side with the gutty and gritty Ride On Curlin for third. He wants no part of the winner’s circle, but he usually runs well enough to bring home a check so why not include him in the trifecta?  

PEDULLA: Tonalist, the Peter Pan winner, looks to be a nice horse in the making. I favor others with more seasoning, though, as he makes his first Grade 1 try. Tonalist will be fourth.

EHALT: As much as I rib you, my picks have been pretty chalky this Triple Crown season so let me go out on a limb here. I’m looking at either Commanding Curve or Medal Count. I’m lukewarm on Commanding Curve, but if his 15-1 morning line price holds up, he does offer value in the race. My own thought is that he’ll be less than that at post time and I’ll steer clear of him. The backup option is Medal Count. He certainly seems better on turf or synthetics than dirt but at a 20-1 price that’s more likely to rise than shrink, he’s somewhat attractive based on his pedigree and his connections’ willingness to try him in another Triple Crown race. It's a hunch, but years from now I can envision him as the answer to the Final Jeopardy question: “The horse that completed the superfecta when California Chrome swept the 2014 Triple Crown.”

$1.5-million Belmont Stakes

Saturday, Belmont Park, Race 11, 6:52 p.m. ET

1 1/2 miles, dirt, 3-year-olds

Television: NBC coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. ET

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Medal Count

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans

20-1

2

California Chrome

Victor Espinoza

Art Sherman

3-5

3

Matterhorn

Joe Bravo

Todd Pletcher

30-1

4

Commanding Curve

Shaun Bridgmohan

Dallas Stewart

15-1

5

Ride On Curlin

John Velazquez

Billy Gowan

12-1

6

Matuszak

Mike Smith

Bill Mott

30-1

7

Samraat

Jose Ortiz

Richard Violette Jr.

20-1

8

Commissioner

Javier Castellano

Todd Pletcher

20-1

9

Wicked Strong

Rajiv Maragh

Jimmy Jerkens

6-1

10

General a Rod

Rosie Napravnik

Mike Maker

20-1

11

Tonalist

Joel Rosario

Christophe Clement

8-1

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