Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winner California Chrome will attempt to gain the last jewel in the Triple Crown when he battles 10 others in Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY. A win would also make California Chrome the 12th Triple Crown winner and bring an end to the 36-year Triple Crown drought.
California Chrome, the California homebred of Steve Coburn and Perry Martin that’s trained by the 77-year-old former jockey Art Sherman, is no doubt the horse to beat in the 1 ½ mile route over the Belmont dirt. He’s amassed a six-race win streak since December which includes three grade one races and one grade two race. Since winning the San Felipe (G2) in early March, he’s earned consistent Brisnet speed figures in the triple digits. Additionally, while many horses tend to lose weight after a tough race, California Chrome has reportedly gained upwards of 40 pounds and is visibly gaining muscle.
Since California Chrome paired with jockey Victor Espinoza in December, he’s been unstoppable. Espinoza, who regularly rides in California, has ridden in three Belmont Stakes (2001 AP Valentine, 2nd, 2002 War Emblem, 8th, and 2006 Sacred Light, 9th). This is the second time Espinoza has been poised to take the Triple Crown. He won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2002 aboard War Emblem before a bad start in the Belmont cost him the race. He finished eighth.
“It helps that Victor has been riding here all week," said assistant trainer Alan Sherman earlier this week about California Chrome’s chances. "I'm sure they'll take a few different runs at him, like they did at Pimlico. As long as he doesn't get in any traffic problems, I don't think it will be a problem for him. You can't move too early on him; you just have to sit as long as you can."
Several of California Chrome’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness rivals will be waiting in New York to disrupt his dream run, including Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin. While California Chrome will likely be close to or on the lead, Ride On Curlin will be content at the back of the pack with the other closers in the field Commanding Curve, Matuszak and Matterhorn. Ride On Curlin has the speed and the heart to challenge California Chrome at the finish, but he’ll have to get to him to do it. The 1 ½ mile Belmont has not always been kind to late closers.