We’ve spent the past couple days exploring the Triple Crown—why it’s been decades since a horse has won it, and why the series may change to reflect the thoroughbred industry’s contemporary culture.
None of these questions may matter after Saturday afternoon. California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, takes on 10 challengers in the Belmont Stakes. If Chrome wins, the U.S. will have its first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
California Chrome is the heavy betting favorite for the Belmont. If the bettors are correct, one of American sports’ longest droughts will end.
So what are California’s chances, really?
We asked our panel of thoroughbred industry followers their thoughts:
Tom Law, managing editor for thisishorseracing.com and is the former managing editor of Thoroughbred Times
“California Chrome’s chances are pretty good considering he’s already defeated many of the opponents he’ll probably face Saturday. The key factors are the same as they always are for a horse attempting the sweep: How will he handle the very different racing surface at Belmont Park, how will he handle the 1 1/2-mile distance, and how much have his earlier races this year, including the Derby and Preakness, taken out of him?
“It often doesn’t show up until the race itself. Given past history, I’d lean toward betting against. But of course, this is a horse that already seemed to have a stacked deck against him, and he’s proven many wrong. Wicked Strong, a Grade 1 winner based at Belmont Park, seems to me the main threat based on his class, late development and his human connections.”
Eric Mitchell, editor-in-chief of Blood-Horse
“California Chrome has a very good chance to win the Belmont Stakes. The trainer and owners have done everything they can to put this horse in the best position to win. They shipped him to New York early to get accustomed to the track, and jockey Victory Espinoza will be riding some races at Belmont ahead of Saturday, so he becomes reacquainted with Belmont Park’s unique layout. California Chrome’s running style also is well-suited to the Belmont, and he’s proven he can get the distance. All the horse needs now is good racing luck.”
Alicia Wincze, turfwriter for the Lexington Herald-Leader
“The biggest keys in his favor are that he has a the perfect, tractable running style for handling the Belmont Stakes, and has appeared to thrive physically during what is supposed to be a grueling five weeks. On class alone, he is the superior animal in the field for the race. But so too was Spectacular Bid, and if circumstances could take him down in 1979, no one is a lock.”
Jim Mulvihill, director of media and industry relations for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association
“He’s proven to be a horse who can bounce back from peak efforts and win again and again. He’s won six races in a row. He’s shown this week in his workouts this Saturday, as well as his gallops, that he’s fit. I think there’s a very good chance we have our 12th triple crown winner on Saturday.”
The Belmont Stakes’ post time is 6:52 p.m. Saturday. The NBC broadcast begins at 4:30 p.m.