The California Chrome doubters who were talking about his slow Kentucky Derby time had to find something else to nitpick when California Chrome posted the fastest Preakness time since Curlin in 2007. And some who still remain doubters today have suggested that California Chrome's successes in the first two legs of the Triple Crown have had an element of luck in them.
Every clean trip is fortunate, of course, but California Chrome has a way of making his own luck. In the Derby, he stayed close to an honest pace and avoided traffic problems that doomed some others. In the Preakness, his luck turned bad when he had to move much sooner than he wanted in order to stay with Social Inclusion. It made for an exciting Preakness, but the result was the same.
The strongest of the potential spoilers in this year's Belmont Stakes are horses California Chrome faced in the first two legs.
As usual, a couple of horses come back with legitimate "if only" stories from the Derby. This year it is Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong who will be aiming to prove the Derby finish was a result of their bad luck. While it is true that both had tough trips in the Derby, it is also arguable that California Chrome was not really tested in the Derby and it would not have mattered.
Both of these two will be hoping for a fast early pace to set up their late runs. The pace figures to be honest, and the field will be smaller, so they will have no excuses this time.
Samraat is another coming back from the Derby. He should be part of that early pace and has the guts to carry his speed a long way if left uncontested.
Tonalist gets very flattering odds of 8-1 on the morning line despite nothing more to his credit than two wins in four races, once in a maiden race the second in the Peter Pan (Grade II). He could be a part of the pace for a while but probably does not figure in the final outcome.
What to bet
Although California Chrome is the indicated horse, this year's Belmont is a very nice field and the racing styles are varied enough that California Chrome cannot focus on just one horse to beat. Depending on how the pace unfolds, there are several who could be well positioned to win. But California Chrome has found a way to win so far, and a case could be made that he has not shown his best yet. If he gets to time his winning move on the final turn, he should win by several lengths. If the pace forces him into an earlier bid, he could be challenged late and have to gut it out to the wire, as in the Preakness.
Get your souvenir California Chrome win ticket because he should get the job done today. For value, include Commanding Curve, Samraat and Ride On Curlin in exacta and trifecta wagers.
[Editor's note: Liam Durbin is owner/handicapper of e-ponies.com and creator of the One Click Pony, Pro Picks Mobile and Exacta Max apps. He shares his Triple Crown picks and betting tips with The Baltimore Sun each year.]
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