Will Chrome Ace Toughest Test in Belmont?


Ride On Curlin is a top challenger to California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

The 146th running of the Grade 1, $1.5-million Belmont Stakes gives us an opportunity to see history in the making as Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome goes for the Triple Crown, not to mention his seventh consecutive victory. Horses that may have a chance to play spoiler include Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes winner Tonalist, Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin and Peter Pan runner-up Commissioner.

Other contenders include Derby fourth-place finisher Wicked Strong, who will try to bounce back to the form shown just before that race when winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. Derby fifth-place finisher Samraat, who won the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes in March, is another with top efforts early in the year that might make him competitive if repeated. Medal Count finished a troubled eighth behind California Chrome in the Derby but was competitive when second prior to that in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and could have a say in the outcome.

California Chrome showed the same burst of speed turning for home in the Preakness that he did in the Derby and in his four winning efforts prior to that. Opening up by three lengths with an eighth of a mile to go and holding Ride On Curlin to the same 1 1/2-length margin for the entire stretch, California Chrome duplicated the 107 Equibase Speed Figure earned in the Derby, his fourth straight figure of 105 or better.


Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Although the 1 ½-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes is far different than any race California Chrome has run in to date, the rest of the field has the same challenge ahead. Additionally, California Chrome has the kind of tactical speed that should allow him to either be in front from the start and running well within his ability or to sit second behind the other potential pacesetter, Tonalist. Having shown a winning spirit that has not allowed another horse to get within three lengths of him in early stretch since December, and with jockey Victor Espinoza aboard for the Belmont, the same as for all six wins in his streak, California Chrome has nearly everything in his favor.

Ride On Curlin ran the best race of his life three weeks ago when second to California Chrome in the Preakness, earning a 105 figure in the process. In the Preakness, Ride On Curlin made a big move from eighth with a quarter mile to go to get to second with an eighth of a mile left, but he could make no further progress against California Chrome. For the Belmont, jockey John Velazquez takes over after Joel Rosario opted to ride Tonalist. Velazquez won the 2012 Belmont aboard Union Rags and the 2007 Belmont aboard Rags to Riches and is a regular on the New York circuit, which could give him an advantage in this race and help Ride On Curlin to reverse the order from the Preakness and post the upset win.


Photo by NYRA/Susie Raisher

Ciommanding Curve rallied from 18th of 19 in the early stages of the Kentucky Derby to finish second behind California Chrome then sat out the Preakness, which may help him run as well or better than he did five weeks ago. Having improved from a 93 Equibase Speed Figure in his first start as a 3-year-old in February, to 94 and then to a career-best 105 in the Derby, Commanding Curve is the kind of horse that can make a lot of progress at the grueling 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont Stakes.

Likely to be far back, probably last or next-to-last, in the early stages of the race, Commanding Curve will begin to pick off horses one by one with about three-quarters of a mile to go. With eight less entrants to pass in the Belmont than in the Derby, Commanding Curve could be very close at hand at the finish and, just as I said in my Derby analysis, this is one horse I strongly recommend be included in any exacta, trifecta or superfecta wagers made in this race.

Tonalist was most impressive when victorious in the Peter Pan Stakes four weeks ago at Belmont, earning a career-best 108 figure in the process that was better than the 107 figures California Chrome earned in both the Derby and Preakness. On the other hand, that win was earned on a sloppy track in a seven-horse field and, although runner-up, Commissioner appears to be a horse of quality, the rest of the field may not have been, particularly the third-place horse, who is still a maiden and winless in eight races. Still, with few in this year's Belmont field having the desire to race on the lead or just off the pacesetter in the early stages, Tonalist could get an easy lead like he did in the Peter Pan and that factor alone gives him a shot to post the upset if he can clear California Chrome in the early stages and relax on an easy lead.


Photo by NYRA/Coglianese Photos

Three more horses – Medal Count, Commissioner and Wicked Strong - deserve honorable mention but all three have at least one significant question mark that might make them difficult to endorse as contenders to win. Medal Count earned a career-best 106 figure when second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April before an eighth-place finish in the Derby. Although troubled in the stretch in the Derby when cut off while rallying, the fact remains that all of his best races have come on either turf or all-weather surfaces.

Commissioner finished second behind Tonalist in the Peter Pan with a career-best 103 figure but was hard ridden with a quarter-mile to go and made no progress, with the horse he beat for second still a maiden.

Wicked Strong won the Wood Memorial in fine fashion with a career-best 107 figure then had trouble in the Derby. However, in between his maiden win last October and the Wood, Wicked Strong ran poorly in two races and there's no guarantee he would have run any better in the Derby even if he did not have traffic issues.

The rest of the Belmont Stakes field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures): General a Rod (105), Matterhorn (99), Matuszak (97) and Samraat (103).

My Selections:
California Chrome
Ride On Curlin
Commanding Curve

$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







Medal Count

Robby Albarado

Dale Romans



California Chrome

Victor Espinoza

Art Sherman




Joe Bravo

Todd Pletcher



Commanding Curve

Shaun Bridgmohan

Dallas Stewart



Ride On Curlin

John Velazquez

Billy Gowan




Mike Smith

Bill Mott




Jose Ortiz

Richard Violette Jr.




Javier Castellano

Todd Pletcher



Wicked Strong

Rajiv Maragh

Jimmy Jerkens



General a Rod

Rosie Napravnik

Mike Maker




Joel Rosario

Christophe Clement


newsletter sign-up

Stay up-to-date with the best from America's Best Racing!