Horse Racing Betting Fans Assess California Chrome Triple Crown Chances

While most casual followers would enjoy seeing California Chrome add the Belmont Stakes to a sparkling resume that includes victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, allowing him to become thoroughbred racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, savvy horse racing betting practitioners will assess the final leg of the triad, held at Belmont Park in Elmont NY, June 7, with heartless, calculating and unbiased precision.

For California Chrome, the clock will strike 12 on June 7. Either the colt with four white stockings will conquer the demanding one and one-half mile distance of the Belmont Stakes to become thoroughbred racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978, or he will become the 12th thoroughbred since then to win both the Derby and Preakness only to come up short in “The Test of the Champion.” All told, 23 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but failed to capture the Triple Crown, the latest being I’ll Have Another, who was a late scratch from the 2012 Belmont. 

On the other hoof, with all 11 defeated Triple Crown prospects having been sent to the post as heavy betting favorites, beating one has led to some spectacular payouts. Savara paid $142.50 in defeating 6/5 War Emblem in 2007; Da’Tara paid $79.00 in denying 3/10 Big Brown in 2008; Birdstone returned $74.00 in besting 2/5 Smarty Jones in 2004; and Lemon Drop Kid earned his backers $61.50 for every deuce when he took the measure of 8/5 Charismatic in 1999. 

With California Chrome’s quest for immortality bound to interest folks who don’t know a fetlock from a furlong, the presence of unsophisticated money also could be a factor in swaying some horse racing betting advocates to avoid the favorite. After all, with popular sentiment yearning for a Triple Crown winner, it’s likely that California Chrome will be overbet.  

The most vexing problem facing any handicapper is anticipating the pace—a question in almost any race—and the Belmont Stakes specific concern over which horses will be able to handle the marathon distance and which will run the last furlong with their tongues on the ground.

Given the distance, and the desire of jockeys to preserve their horse’s energy as much as possible, the pace is apt to be slow, if not downright dawdling. A slow pace usually favors those at or near the lead and could auger well for California Chrome, a horse who, in both the Derby and the Preakness, has maintained presence with the pace before showing an excellent turn of foot at the top of the stretch to take the lead. That strategy might work well at Belmont Park, June 7.

Of course, rival jockeys have now witnessed that successful strategy on two successive occasions so one or more ambitious riders may try to get the jump on California Chrome and make an early, mid-race move. There’s also the possibility of a much faster than expected pace, which could compromise horses racing near those torrid fractions. 

These are the factors which make the Belmont Stakes so unpredictable. In fact, with just two favorites winning the last 14 Belmont Stakes, longshots certainly should have a place in the handicapping equation. Let’s look at some of them:

Tonalist: Enters the Belmont Stakes off an impressive four-length romp in the Peter Pan Stakes on a sloppy track at Belmont Park, May 10. Tonalist raced just once as a juvenile and has started just three times at age three. Prior to his win in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, Tonalist was second to the highly regarded Constitution in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Tonalist is fast, quite fresh given his limited race schedule, and, arguably, the main threat to California Chrome. Many expect Tonalist, who likes to race close to the pace, to be the second choice in the wagering. 

Wicked Strong: Fourth in the Kentucky Derby after drawing the horrible outside No. 19 post, this colt, who displayed a strong stretch kick when winning the Wood Memorial, should be closer in a smaller field. Interestingly, since the start of this century, six horses that did not finish in the top three at the Derby went on to win the Belmont Stakes, an unusual statistic that may cause longshot players to look more closely at Kentucky Derby also-rans Samraat (5th) and Medal Count (8th).

Ride On Curlin: Joins California Chrome as the only other Belmont starter to race in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. Closed to within 1 1/2 lengths of California Chrome at Pimlico but probably needs a hot pace and a clean trip to spring an upset.

Commanding Curve: Has been rested since finishing second to California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 37/1. Would have to improve but crazier things (Savara at 70/1 in 2007) have happened.

Others who could produce an upset include Peter Pan Stakes runner-up Commissioner, Preakness third place finisher Social Inclusion, a horse with speed who could be a significant pace factor, and Matuszak, the runner-up in the Federico Tesio Stakes who boasts the Hall of Fame trainer/jockey combination of Bill Mott and Mike Smith.

With a Triple Crown on the line, horse racing betting fans have much to consider at this year’s Belmont Stakes.