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Features - RACING

Commanding Curve came out of his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby in great shape and has been training very well in preparation for the Belmont Stakes on Saturday. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

ELMONT, N.Y. — Trainer Dallas Stewart does his best imitation of retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day in saying, “They pay off at the wire.”

It is the good-natured Stewart’s way of dealing with the frustration of having Golden Soul and, this year, Commanding Curve finish second in the Kentucky Derby in consecutive seasons. Each time, Stewart had the irony of watching his horse gallop past the Derby winner after the finish line.

Such frustrations only stoke his fires as he looks to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday and spoil California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid.

“Every Triple Crown race has major significance to a horse’s career, the owners’ lives, a trainer’s career,” he said. “It’s what we train for, to win one of these races. This is why we don’t downplay any of them. It would be an honor.”

According to Stewart, he had trouble keeping weight on Golden Soul after the Derby. Although he skipped the Preakness, the 3-year-old was not up to the Belmont Stakes, a race known as the “Test of a Champion.” Golden Soul was never a factor in coming in ninth.

Stewart is much more encouraged about the prospects of Commanding Curve, who closed strongly at Churchill Downs and missed overtaking California Chrome by 1 ¾ lengths. Stewart and owner West Point Thoroughbreds quickly targeted the 1 ½-mile Belmont.

“He came out of the Derby in good shape,” Stewart said. “I was able to work him 13 days after the Derby. He didn’t back up on us at all.”

COMMANDING CURVE HAS MADE A NICE IMPRESSION
SINCE FINISHING SECOND IN THE DERBY

Commanding Curve Inside

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

The bay son of Master Command posted two solid workouts at Churchill Downs and looked the part of a top Belmont contender with a crackling half-mile drill on Sunday at Belmont Park. He was paired for the workout with Cost Effective, also a West Point horse, and finished one length ahead of Cost Effective while blazing four furlongs in :47.38. The workout ranked third of 25 at the distance on a fast surface.

“I know physically he looks better than he did going into the Derby,” said Terry Finley, who forms racing partnerships in the name of West Point Thoroughbreds. “He looks happy, he’s training well, he’s got good flesh coming into this.”

Commanding Curve shows signs of being a relatively late bloomer. He did not gain his first victory until the fourth and final start of his 2-year-old season. He debuted as a 3-year-old by finishing sixth in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Commanding Curve then ran third in the Louisiana Derby, also at Fair Grounds, in his second start of the year. In addition to his lone win, he was a runner-up twice with two third-place showings for career earnings of $542,434.

Finley is confident approaching one of the most highly anticipated renewals of the Belmont Stakes in the 146-year history of the race.

“If California Chrome beats us, it’s going to be a very legitimate win in the Belmont,” he said. “If he wins, he will have beaten some really nice horses that took aim at him for a while.”

$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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