Cali Crown: Can California Chrome sweep the Triple Crown at Belmont?

Belmont Park in Elmont, New York is the only place to be this weekend as not only will the sensational California Chrome be gunning to be only the 12th horse in history to complete a sweep of Horse Racing’s most covenant prize, the 2014 version of the Triple Crown, by winning the 2014 Belmont Stakes (a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in 35 years) but aside from the Breeder Cup in November, Saturday’s card at Belmont is biggest and best of the year.

We have a lot to go over in the Belmont Stakes, so I’ll just briefly touch on the other races Belmont will be running thru a 13 race card.

It starts with the second race, which is the mile and a sixteenth, $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes for three year olds. The stretch running Kid Cruz, who flopped in the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago, will be looking to bounce back with a win and I believe he will.

The third race is the Grade: 2 Brooklyn Invitational. This race will be run at the same distance as the Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ half miles for $500,000 for four year olds and up. Cat Burglar, who won his two previous races before finishing a close third to Revolutionary in the Pimlico Special three weeks ago, appears to be the one to beat in that race. Ground Transport, who won three on his last four races in wire to wire fashion will, once again, be a threat to take them all the way. Also, keep an eye on the stretch running Ever Rider, who was just a head behind Ground Transport in his last race (the May 4 Drosselmeyer Stakes) over this very track.

Race four on the card is the $300,000 Jaipur Invitational, which is a six furlong sprint on the turf for four year olds and up. You’ll get a chance to see win machine Ben’s Cat, who was bred, owned and trained by the great King Leatherbury, (how Leatherbury is not in the Hall of Fame is so far beyond me, it’s ridiculous) this now eight year old gelding has won an astonishing 26 times in 39 races and I look for him to make it 27 out of 40. The fleet of foot Marchman looks like he’ll be tough in that race and also, if you’re looking for a long-shot, keep an eye on Marriedtothemusic out of the Linda Rice barn. This colt goes back into open company after winning four of his last five vs. New York State Breds.

Race five is the Woody Stephens Stakes, a seven furlong sprint for three year olds and up for $500,000 and, on paper, appears to be a real barn burner.

A full field of 13 has been entered and I was glad to see the talented Social Inclusion entered here (as opposed to the Belmont Stakes). This gorgeous colt by Pioneerof the Nile will be getting exactly what he needs in this race…a somewhat softer field and a cut back in distance. I say somewhat softer field because he will still have his hands full with the Bob Baffert trained Bayern, who should also relish the cut back in distance and 2013 Champagne Stakes winner and Breeders Cup Juvenile runner up Havana. Other to watch include the unbeaten Meadowood, who looks to be a sleeper in this race as well as Tonito M, who won six of eight races in Puerto Rico before finishing a strong second in the Las Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita about a month ago.

Race six is the $750,000, Grade:1 Acorn Stakes for three year old fillies going a flat mile, where My Miss Sophia is the rock solid 6/5 morning line favorite. As far as morning line odds go, no-one is even close to her as the second favorite is Artemis Agrotera at 5-1. From there, everyone else is 8-1 or higher.

Race seven looks to be yet another great race in the Grade: 1, $1 million Ogden Mills Phipps Stakes. Only six were entered in the mile and a sixteenth race, but they include two time champion Beholder, Princess of Sylmar, who lost the three year old filly title in the Breeders Cup last year and the talented Bill Mott trained filly Close Hatches all scheduled to compete.

“This is a huge race,” Todd Pletcher said who trains Princess of Sylmar. “It’s a Breeders’ Cup quality field, and it’s exciting. We’re very respectful of how good Beholder is and Close Hatches. At the same time we’re excited about the opportunity to get to run against them on a track where Princess of Sylmar has had success.”

“That’s what racing is about; they don’t leave them in the stall and talk about it, you have to actually do it,” Richard Mandella said who trains Beholder, a five time Grade: 1 winner. “It’s not an easy race, I know how good both of these fillies are, and I’m sure there are some other good ones in that bunch as well, but I couldn’t love my filly any more. She’s done more than we’ve ever imagined, so we’re just excited to be here.”

Race eight is the Grade: 1, $750,000 Just A Game Stakes for four year old and up fillies and mares on the turf. This race looks fairly wide open as I don’t think Somali Lemonade should be as high as 8-1 coming off back to back wins, Stephanie’s Kitten, who looks to rebound off a poor performance in her last race, is still batting .500 in her career while winning seven of 14 starts, Discreet Marq is consistent as the day is long (14-6-4-2), and Better Lucky, who is just as consistent (15-5-3-5), all look like they should run well. On a side note, it’s sad to see the once great Unlimited Budget, who hasn’t been the same since coming sixth in the Belmont Stakes behind Palace Malice, in this race and listed as a rank outsider at 20-1.

Race nine is one of my favorite races of the year in the $1.25 million Metropolitan Mile. The Met Mile, as its nicknamed, drew a full field of 13 and also looks like it will be yet another great race. The aforementioned Palace Malice will spearhead the field while drawing the #1 post position. He will have his work cut out for him as one time Kentucky Derby contender Vyjack will line up right next to him in the two hole, the extremely fast and versatile Goldencents will be making his first start of the year, the speedy Moreno is also entered along with the late running Capo Bastone, who pops a big race now and again, and Normandy Invasion, who took the lead in the 2013 Kentucky Derby before being overhauled by Orb in mid stretch, all entered against him.

Race 10 is the Manhattan Stakes, a Grade: 1, $1 million race going 1 ¼ miles on the turf for four year olds and up. Imagining, who is eight for 16 lifetime, the veteran Grandeur, graded stakes winner Boisterous, Seek Again, who is a head shy of being unbeaten in this country and six others will go post-ward in yet another wide open race.

 

Saturday- June 7, 2014

Belmont Park

Race: 11

The Belmont Stakes

Distance: 1 ½ miles

Purse: $1, 500,000

For Three Year Olds

 

P# PP Horse A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 1 Medal Count 3/C L R Albarado 126 D L Romans 20/1
2 2 California Chrome 3/C L V Espinoza 126 A Sherman 3/5
3 3 Matterhorn 3/C L J Bravo 126 T A Pletcher 30/1
4 4 Commanding Curve 3/R L S Bridgmohan 126 D Stewart 15/1
5 5 Ride On Curlin 3/C L J R Velazquez 126 W G Gowan 12/1
6 6 Matuszak 3/C L M E Smith 126 W I Mott 30/1
7 7 Samraat 3/C L J L Ortiz 126 R A Violette 20/1
8 8 Commissioner 3/C L J Castellano 126 T A Pletcher 20/1
9 9 Wicked Strong 3/C L R Maragh 126 J A Jerkens 6/1
10 10 General a Rod 3/C L R Napravnik 126 M J Maker 20/1
11 11 Tonalist 3/C L J Rosario 126 C Clement 8/1

 

 

Analysis (In Post Position Order, Selections Below)

 

PP#1 Medal Count- I saw the great Steve Haskin likes this horse as a possible upsetter in this race. However, aside from recording a pair of enormous works the last two weeks, I just don’t see it.

He went five furlongs in :59.2 on May 24, but it was his last work, on May 31, that really caught my attention.

The Dale Romans trainee, by Dynaformer, went the first three furlongs in :34 flat; reached the five furlong marker in :57.2 before getting six furlongs in 1:10.3. He then promptly galloped out seven furlongs in 1:24 and one mile in 1:39.

Romans told the Louisville Courier-Journal on Tuesday. “He’s training well. I think he had a terrible trip in the Derby. I think he was the third-best horse at worst. He’s doing so well that we want to give him another chance with the big boys. He’s doing great!”

When asked what type of trip Medal Count would need to be able to win the Belmont Stakes, Romans said, “He should be laying fairly close going a mile-and-a-half because you can’t let them get away from you in that race.”

This is nice colt and he did have a horrible trip in the Derby, but with his breeding, he should be pointed more towards the grass. Heck, he’s already 1 for 1 over that surface.

Two facts remain that I just can’t seem to get past. One, he has yet to win a traditional dirt race of any significance and two, his speed figures don’t match up well against the top contenders…pass.

 

 

PP#2 California Chrome- really needs no introduction.

This big, leggy chestnut will be trying to sweep the 2014 Triple Crown with a win on Saturday afternoon, but there are a few things I’d like to talk about and point out here.

Let’s first talk a little more about his Derby win. I keep hearing how he was “lucky” that had a perfect trip. Let me go ahead and tell you, he wasn’t lucky, he just ran his typical race.

He’s blessed with an abundance of gate speed, yet he is ratable at the same time. He broke well and jockey Victor Espinosa did what he normally does, he let him run a little to secure a good position early, put it in “park” down the backside and then shake the reigns at him at the quarter pole and the rest, as they say, is history….bottom line is he made his own “luck” in the Derby. No-one handed him anything.

Now, in the Preakness, I’ve read and heard similar comments (about how well the race unfolded for him)….nonsense….the race did look easy on the surface but it was not at all….not even close actually.

Picking up the race from about the half mile pole, the talented Social Inclusion was to his outside and there were two speed horses in front of him. Social Inclusion “went” at that point and Espinosa, albeit sooner than he wanted, had no choice but to move with him.

He was able to outrun Social Inclusion (who is no slouch) to the quarter pole , he then inhaled the early leaders and still had enough left to fend off an oncoming Ride On Curlin’s late run, all while scoring a back to normal 105 speed figure (off the 97 in the Derby). ….The Preakness, folks, was quietly California Chrome’s best race yet.

“He had to be put in a drive at the half-mile pole. He couldn’t let that other horse take his path away,” trainer Art Sherman said, referring to Social Inclusion. “It was pretty impressive to me, coming back in two weeks. He overcame everything. He showed a lot of courage, this horse.”…indeed he did Mr. Sherman.

Is it possible that this colt by Lucky Pulpit is still improving? He has reportedly actually put on 30-40 pounds since the Preakness and yours truly was trackside for his work last Saturday when he went a half in :47.3 out in :59.2 and looked beautiful doing it.

“We measure his girth,” Sherman said, “Before the Derby it was 71 inches; before the Preakness is was 71 inches. Now he’s 72 inches.”…that, readers, is nothing short of mind-boggling.

Although I was not there for his works on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, my eyes at the track walked away shaking their heads at how good he looked.

“He looks good,” Sherman said Tuesday after watching California Chrome gallop a little more than two miles.

So what’s left? Will he like the track? Can he get the distance? What about PP#2?

Art Sherman was fine with the post. “At least he’ll be able to save some ground,” Sherman said.

Exercise rider Willie Delgado, a very nice and approachable man, answered the other two questions earlier this week:

Delgado said he “has even more confidence going into the 1 1/2-mile Belmont than he did before the first two legs of the Triple Crown.”

“I can tell you he loves this track, and I don’t see him (having) any problem getting a mile and a half,” added Delgado. “This is the strongest I’ve felt about him winning a race. I said it before, if he wins the Derby, we’ll probably go all the way. He’s starting to show he can go over this track very easy.”
Moreover, the last four Triple Crown winners (Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed) all won the Belmont in wire to wire fashion. Also, since 1952, 92% of the horses who won the Belmont (Triple Crown on the line or not) were either first or second at the quarter pole. ….This horse has the running style to be in either position.

Lastly, when you see him on the track, take a good look at him. If he wins, you might never see him on the racetrack ever again….if he gets beat, Sherman said on several occasions California Chrome will be “getting a long break after this race”.

 

PP#3- Matterhorn-trainer Todd Pletcher, by his own admittance, is taking a shot here.

This $625,000 yearling purchase by Tapit finished fourth in the Peter Pan at Belmont on May 10, (a race won by Tonalist) and other than that, he has not won since breaking his maiden in November (a total of four races).

“Hopefully, the equalizer for us is that we have two horses (Commissioner is the other) I believe will appreciate the mile-and-a-half distance,” Pletcher said Wednesday. “Are they as fast as California Chrome at a mile and an eighth? I don’t believe so. And maybe not at a mile and a quarter. But at a mile and a half …”

“We always thought that he’d stay the distance,” Pletcher said. “The Peter Pan was a step in the right direction. He got his best [Beyer] figure. Hopefully, he’ll be like A.P. Indy, who got better as he got older.”

I guess it’s possible that he didn’t like the sloppy surface in the Peter Pan, but even if I give him that, I still think this horse as a long-shot and I’m going to pass.

 

 

PP#4- Commanding Curve – I was surprised to see the morning line of this guy at 15-1, I was thinking more along the lines of 8 or 10-1 off his colossal stretch run in the Kentucky Derby.

In the Derby, this colt by Master Command, who normally likes running towards the front of the pack, came from 18th (of 19) at one point and uncorked a run from the quarter pole to the wire that saw him pass seven horse down the stretch. The way he galloped out afterwards makes me think the mile and a half distance on Saturday will only help him.

I do expect him to be a little closer to the early pace based off his last two breezes (May 23- 5F :59.4 and June 1 4F- :47.1) come Saturday but if he’s not, that’s ok too.

Trainer Dallas Stewart does not appear to have any concerns about how the race unfolds or this colt’s post position:

“We’ve got such a great rider in Shaun Bridgmohan,” Stewart said. “I’m sure he’ll stay in touch with the race and he’s got a lot of confidence in the horse, so I’m going to put it in his hands and we’re going to see but it’s going to be a great race. The Triple Crown on the line…a lot of excitement, so I hope we get a big crowd.”

As far as the draw:

“I think it’s good; kind of right in the middle of the racetrack so he should be fine,” said Stewart. “This horse came out of the Derby great; he never seems to get tired, so he’s had three works since the Derby. They’ve all been very good works. He’s doing great. He’s eating well. He’s a very sound horse and we’re very happy and proud to be here.”

When asked about skipping the Preakness:

“We wanted to give him a little more time, and hopefully that will benefit us in this race,” said Stewart “You can’t take anything away from California Chrome. All he does is win. He’s really tough to beat.”

“Commanding Curve is not a horse who is going to wow you in his breezes, which is why a lot of people jumped off him before the Derby,” said owner Terry Finley. “But when he gets in gear he keeps plugging away and coming and he gets along with (jockey) Shaun Brigmohan really well, so we’re going into the Belmont with a lot of confidence. Everybody in the race is conflicted to a certain extent. California Chrome has had such a positive effect on the business and has run so well, but if you have one good enough to run in these classics you go for it. They are tough to come by and the races are hard to win.”

I except a good race from this horse come Saturday, he must prove that his run in the Derby wasn’t a fluke (anyone remember Ice Box?) and I believe he will.

 

PP#5- Ride On Curlin –this late runner by two time horse of the year Curlin, is ultra consistent while showing a 11-2-3-4 career mark and ran a strong second to California Chrome in the Preakness his last time out.

Another nice colt who has had some really bad racing luck in a couple of his races this year (like having to go into the first row of the grandstand wide twice this year).

When his number was called during the draw, a loud “yes” came out from owner Daniel Dougherty and trainer Billy Gowan.

“I’m very confident,” Gowan said. “This might be his best distance.”

“I’ve gotten closer to California Chrome than anyone else has this year,” said Billy Gowan. “I think if my horse gets a good, clean run, he’s got a good chance.”

That maybe be true Mr. Gowan, the extra distance in the Belmont could very well help your chances tremendously. In fact, they probably will.

But…and that’s a big but….please note that this colt had a great trip in the Preakness, no excuses that I could see whatsoever. That being said, as they came into the stretch this horse had dead aim on California Chrome and just simply could not get past him. Also, that 2 for 11 lifetime record is a little bit of a deterrent

 

PP#6- Matuszak – won his racing debut in September at Churchill Downs but then promptly wentis 0-for-his next 7 with four losses in stakes races.

He’s well-bred (By Bernardini) for the distance, and the Bill Mott-Mike Smith connection is a good one.

He does show a series of good works and in those four stakes defeats I mentioned, he was making up ground late in all of them. (Hence you can see why he’s entered, it does look like he needs more distance)

Overall, he looks in over his head and his speed figures show he won’t even be in the same zip code at the finish of this one….if he wins, it’ll be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport……next.

 

PP#7- Samraat- is back home in New York where he’s done his best running while winningthe Withers and Gotham Stakes’ (at Aqueduct) and then was second behind Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial.

This good looking colt by Noble Causeway ran very well in the Kentucky Derby. He broke well, assumed a stalking position early and loomed boldly on the turn for home (He was shoulder to shoulder with California Chrome at that point).

He did wind up backing up a bit and finished fifth but was only beaten 5 ¾ lengths.

As I/we can say about any horse in this race, I’m not sure how is going to handle the 1 ½ miles but his training regiment and breeding suggest he should handle it just fine.

Take a look at his work line, trainer Richard Violette mostly puts mile works into him and then sprinkles in a few half miles works in there as well to keep the speed this horse possesses intact as well.

The dark bay or brown colt worked another mile in 1:47.2 on May 31.

When asked about his post and colt’s pedigree, Violette said:

“The post is OK, we would have preferred a little closer to the fence but I think it’s kind of mid-pack and we’ll see how the break goes and go from there”

“Pedigree-wise, he’s actually very suitable—Noble Causeway, (by the great Giant’s Causeway) on the top—and that certainly would give him some ability to get a mile and a half. But I don’t think anybody in the race right now, or probably after the race, is going to say a mile and a half on the dirt is his strong suit.”

Overall, I expect another good effort.

 

PP#8- Commissioner- to me, has been a bit of a disappointment so far by showing just two wins in (one vs. maidens and the other vs. high priced optional claimers) seven career starts.

He’s been thoroughly pulverized in the three of the four stakes races he’s run in thus far (losing by 10, 7, and 11 lengths) vs. horses that were of lesser caliber than what he has to face on Saturday. He did, however, run well in the Peter Pan slop to finish second, just four lengths behind the winner (Tonalist)

In fact, the more I looked at him the more I realized Pletcher is taking a shot here too and is relying on this colt’s breeding to get the distance if the other top contenders can not.

His breeding is impressive being by the great A.P Indy (Belmont Stakes winner) out of Flaming Heart, who is by Touch Gold (Belmont Stakes winner).

“Commissioner was always a horse we felt would improve with a little time and improve with a little distance and we felt the same way about Matterhorn. I think both of them ran respectable races on a sloppy track that maybe they weren’t their best on and the Peter Pan has been a good prep for the Belmont over the years” trainer Todd Pletcher said

Pletcher repeated what he said about Matterhorn in this colt’s case as well…“Hopefully, the equalizer for us is that we have two horses I believe will appreciate the mile-and-a-half distance,” Pletcher said Wednesday. “Are they as fast as California Chrome at a mile and an eighth? I don’t believe so. And maybe not at a mile and a quarter. But at a mile and a half …”

 

PP#9- Wicked Strong- appears to be California Chrome’s main rival.

Good looking colt that they paid $375,000 for as a yearling, I was track side when he worked the other day as well (5F- :59 flat…while getting the middle quarter mile in an eye popping :22.3) and I’ll go ahead and tell you, he looks fantastic.

Also, while looking thru his past performances I noticed he hasn’t run well outside the NY circuit racetracks. He did have several legit excuses in the Derby (stumbled coming out of the gate, bumped down the backside and has serious traffic issue in the stretch) and to only get beat 5 ¾ lengths in the Run for the Roses is a huge accomplishment.

Between his breeding (by Hard Spun), running style (late runner), trainer Jimmy Jerkens (he can train them) and the “home field advantage,” this race appears to set up very well for him

When asked about the post position and what his chances of winning are Jerkens said: “I’d have liked to have seen him a little more inside.”

“In the back of my mind, I thought the Belmont was the one he’d have the best shot in,” Jerkens added. “It’s in his backyard, and I think he’ll like the distance more than some of the others.”

However, Jerkens was quick to point out that “for California Chrome to be upset, someone will have to run the race of their life, and California Chrome will have to throw in a clunker.” ….you’re being modest Mr. Jerkens, make no mistake, your horse has a huge chance.

One more little tidbit of information that you may find interesting, in the 14 runnings of the Belmont since 2000, a total of seven horses have lost the Derby, skip the Preakness and won the Belmont, that’s an astonishing 50% success ratio.

The list includes Commendable (2000), Empire Maker (2003), Birdstone (2004), Jazil (2006), Summer Bird (2009), Union Rags (2012), and Palace Malice (2013).

Four starters in this year’s Belmont Stakes fit this profile: Commanding Curve, Samraat, Medal Count and yes, you guessed it….Wicked Strong.

 

 

PP#10- General a Rod – honestly, I’m not sure what this horse is doing in this race as I questioned his ability to get the classic distances in the Derby and Preakness and now he’s going to try to get a mile and a half?

Listen, he’s a fighter as he displayed in the Gulfstream Park Derby Jan 1 and the Fountain of Youth Feb 22, but as the distances got longer, he seemed to fizzle out.

That being said, he ran ok in the Preakness…he didn’t embarrass himself by any means but I just don’t think he’s going to get 12 furlongs. You never know until you try, but going in, I don’t like his chances at all.

Yet another really nice horse, I just think this distance is asking too much of him.

 

PP#11- Tonalist – if Wicked Strong represents the best chance to foil California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid, then I believe this colt by Tapit might have the second best chance.

I saw several things I liked about him, starting with the fact that both of his career wins came at nine furlongs, in both those wins he was much the best, it seems the longer he goes, the better he is and his stride is absolute poetry in motion.

He is versatile as he proved he can win while coming from behind (in his maiden win) or take them wire to wire (the Peter Pan).

I also saw he has a loss sandwiched between those two wins but looking at that race closer the distance was only a mile and a sixteenth and he was beaten a little over three lengths to Constitution, who would go on to win the Florida Derby in just his fourth career start, so you know that colt is talented.

His works are steady (including two strong five furlong move in 1:00 flat in the past few weeks) and love the upward trend in the speed figures. (72, 90, 92 and 103 in his four career starts). If he repeats that 103 figure on Saturday, he’ll be right there at the end.

The trainer/jockey combo (Clement/Rosario) are hot of late as well as they have recorded two wins, a second and three thirds the last six times they got together and it sounds as though Clement has complete trust and respect in Rosario.

“The good news is he’ll be the last one in the gate,” said Clement, “Rosario will be free to do what he wants.”

“I don’t let myself worry about (the post),” added Clement. “I’ve just got to worry about the horse. Rosario will come tomorrow and we’ll discuss it, and we’ll deal with it. The plus is you’re in the gate last. He’s a really, really big horse with a long stride, so he can basically run his own race without worrying about anybody else.”

“He trained today and looked well; he galloped a mile and a quarter,” said Clement yesterday (Thursday). “He schooled by the paddock, as well, on his way to the track. We’ll probably do the same tomorrow. We got lucky today because I trained just before the rain, so the track was still OK at the time he trained.”

Selections:

1) California Chrome

2) Wicked Strong

3) Tonalist

 

Honorable Mentions:

Samraat

Comanding Curve

Ride On Curlin

 

2014 Record: 12-30 = 40% 

 

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Little Bets N’ Pieces:

 

**** For those of you who ask me to keep you updated on some of my personal horses, I actually own a little bit of a pair of horses running Sunday at Belmont.

Mister Woolman is entered in the fifth and American Hero, who will be making his racing debut, will go in the last race and breaks from the #1 post.

Mister Woolman is a tiger, he always tries his best for us and I believe he is in a good spot on Sunday.

I am super excited about American Hero, we’ve been waiting a while to start him but he definitely appears ready to go….wait until you see him….he’s pretty intimidating under saddle.

 

Thanks for Reading….

www.knightsoftheroundstable.com

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