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If past performance has any relevance in horse racing, and really, that is what most choices at the track are based on, drawing the No. 2 post position is a very good omen for Belmont Stakes favorite California Chrome. In 1973, when Secretariat won the Triple Crown, he also came from the second post position at Belmont Park. As luck, and history, would have it, Secretariat also drew the No. 5 post in the Kentucky Derby and No. 3 in the Preakness—the same post positions for California Chrome in 2014. Cue the Twilight Zone theme song.
Post position coincidence aside, the bottom line is Secretariat in 1973 and California Chrome in 2014 were, and are, the best horses in their respective races. Secretariat won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness races by 2 1/2 lengths, and California Chrome won both of his two legs of the Triple Crown by 1 1/4 lengths. Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, can only hope to have a result similar to Secretariat’s Belmont win 41 years ago, when the son of Somethingroyal and Bold Ruler shattered the track record by more than 2.5 seconds in winning the third leg of the Triple Crown by an awe-inspiring 31 lengths.
The Belmont Stakes is the longest of the Triple Crown races (1 1/2 miles), and many in the industry question whether it is wise to ask 3-year-olds horses to run that distance at such a young age. In a long race with Belmont Park’s wide, forgiving turns, if California Chrome is to win the Triple Crown for the first time since Affirmed in 1978, the only question he needs to answer is whether he can endure the distance. “[The number 2 post] is a good post position,” said Sherman, “We’ll be able to save some ground early and see what the speed horses are doing.”
To no one’s surprise, California Chrome has been installed as the early 3-5 favorite for the Belmont Stakes. He will be challenged by 10 other entrants in the 146th running of the New York race. Wicked Strong, who skipped the Preakness but was one of the favorites in the Kentucky Derby before finishing fourth, is the next favorite at 6-1. He drew post No. 9. Next choice is the No. 11 horse, Tonalist (8-1) who did not run in either of the first two Triple Crown races. Ride On Curlin, a highly-regarded Derby entrant, will be in post position No. 5 and is 12-1. Derby runner-up Commanding Curve will be running from the No. 4 post and is 15-1.
The good omen of drawing the Number 2 post at the Belmont Stakes notwithstanding, there is confidence coming from all sides of the California Chrome camp about nabbing the Triple Crown in 2014. Jockey Victor Espinoza says the length of the race is a non-issue for his horse, “It’s very important for me that he save his energy for later on and California Chrome, he has that.” After tempering expectations weeks ago for the Derby and the Preakness, the 77-year-old Sherman has changed his tune for Saturday, “This is the ultimate race to win, the real McCoy, and he’s going to win this race.” Co-owner Steve Coburn agrees with his jockey and his trainer, “He has a lot of cruising speed. He can beat you either coming off the pace or on the lead…we have a pretty special horse.”
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky