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Belmont Stakes horse-by-horse analysis

California Chrome, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, wins

California Chrome, ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, wins the 139th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course, Saturday, May 17, 2014, in Baltimore. Credit: AP / Mike Stewart

Post 1: Medal Count

Trainer: Dale Romans

Jockey: Robby Albarado

Last 3: 8-2-1

Odds: 20-1

Comment: Inspired some buzz during Derby week, but a bad trip (shuffled back early, steadied at the eighth pole) canceled him. He wasn't going to beat California Chrome but would have been a lot closer if not for all that trouble. Romans is an excellent big-race trainer, and I'm willing to draw a line through the Derby. Son of top distance sire Dynaformer shouldn't have stamina problems, and although only 1-for-4 on dirt, I like him to finish strongly for second behind Chrome.

Post 2: California Chrome

Trainer: Art Sherman

Jockey: Victor Espinoza

Last 3: 1-1-1

Odds: 3-5

Comment: "The people's horse" is heavily favored to end the Triple Crown drought that began in 1979. If he doesn't, the racing world and his bandwagon of millions will be very disappointed. On paper, he's clearly best, but the past 11 Kentucky Derby-Preakness winners found a way to fail at Belmont. His tactical speed should help keep him out of trouble, unless the other jockeys gang up on him. The 1½-mile distance is always the great unknown. Maybe this time something bad won't happen to the most logical winner.

Post 3: Matterhorn

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Joe Bravo

Last 3: 4-3-10

Odds: 30-1

Comment: It would take a quantum leap for this 1-for-4 colt to have a peak experience. He hasn't been close this year (0-for-3, beaten 34 lengths), and if Pletcher's Danza were in top form and if Constitution and Intense Holiday hadn't gotten hurt, it seems unlikely that Matterhorn would be in the Belmont. If he finishes in the money, it will be a big surprise.

Post 4: Commanding Curve

Trainer: Dallas Stewart

Jockey: Shaun Bridgmohan

Last 3: 2-3-6

Odds: 15-1

Comment: Deep closers usually are up against it in the Belmont, with Jazil (2006) the most recent to go from last to first. He's also only 1-for-7, and it seems unlikely there will be a strong pace to set up his late run. Closed well to be second at 37-1 odds in the 1¼-mile Derby, but it would be a rookie mistake to assume the extra quarter-mile of the Belmont will favor him. It's counterintuitive -- but true -- that the longer the race, the better it is to be within striking distance of the lead. I don't like his chances.

Post 5: Ride On Curlin

Trainer: Billy Gowan

Jockey: John Velazquez

Last 3: 2-7-2

Odds: 12-1

Comment: Rallied in the Preakness, and for a few strides it looked as if he might get to California Chrome. The 1½-length margin is the smallest for "Chromie" this year, yet how a big finish at 13/16 miles translates to 1½ is anyone's guess. Always tries hard, in the money in four of five graded stakes at 3. Still, he's 2-for-11, winless past 6 furlongs, and on a five-race losing streak. Pedigree (Curlin out of a Storm Cat mare) is excellent for distance. Mixed signals produce more skepticism than confidence.

Post 6: Matuszak

Trainer: Bill Mott

Jockey: Mike Smith

Last 3: 2-3-3

Odds: 30-1

Comment: I always give Hall of Famer Mott's horses second and third looks, regardless of their past performances, but it's hard to have faith in a 1-for-8 colt who's lost seven in a row. He's never been in a Grade I and wasn't close in two Grade II tries. On paper, he's one of quite a few throwouts in this "Test of the Champion.''

Post 7: Samraat

Trainer: Rick Violette

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Last 3: 5-2-1

Odds: 20-1

Comment: Very tough, speedy New York-bred never has run a bad race, and gave his typically gutsy performance when nosed for fourth in the Derby. Likely to be near the pace, and if it's moderate he should be lurking at the top of the stretch. Don't know if he wants to go much farther than 11/8 miles, but few modern thoroughbreds do. A horse with heart and tactical speed always has a shot, regardless of the distance, and the colt bred in the Hamptons will give his backers a run for their money.

Post 8: Commissioner

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Last 3: 2-6-3

Odds: 20-1

Comment: Distance pedigree couldn't be better (sired by 1992 Belmont winner A.P. Indy out of a mare by 1997 Belmont champ Touch Gold), so he should like 12 furlongs better than most. His 0-for-4 record in graded stakes, with an average margin of eight lengths, inspires zero confidence. I could see using him underneath in exotics, because he might be plodding on late past exhausted horses, but forget a win bet.

Post 9: Wicked Strong

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens

Jockey: Rajiv Maragh

Last 3: 4-1-4

Odds: 6-1

Comment: Many handicappers are touting this deep closer, especially after his brilliant 5-furlong work Sunday, even though the Wood Memorial is his only strong stakes performance. Had a bad trip in the Derby and stayed on to be fourth. If he has to stay nearer the lead, it may blunt his finishing kick, and his late-pace figures aren't great. Like Tonalist, he strikes me as an underlay. Of course, they could finish 1-2, because I gave 13-1 winner Palace Malice no chance last year, although I had Union Rags the year before.

Post 10: General a Rod

Trainer: Mike Maker

Jockey: Rosie Napravnik

Last 3: 4-11-3

Odds: 20-1

Comment: Front-running colt had bad trips in the Derby and Preakness, when he couldn't establish his usual early position and never contended. Expect Napravnik to set or press the pace, and he'll run hard for as long as he can stay. He could be over the top after three hard races in Florida plus two classics. Likely to be in the mix to the top of the stretch, and if the fractions aren't taxing, may last a bit longer before fading.

Post 11: Tonalist

Trainer: Christophe Clement

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Last 3: 1-2-1

Odds: 8-1

Comment: The drums have been beating for this inexperienced colt. Freaked in the sloppy Peter Pan, posting a 103 Beyer Speed Figure in his stakes debut, but he didn't beat anybody. He's only 1-for-3 on fast tracks, although he did run second to subsequent Florida Derby winner Constitution. Maybe he's the real thing and ready to peak, but he looks like an underlay to me. Warning: He's the wise-guy horse, and they rarely win -- see Intense Holiday (12th, Derby) and Kid Cruz (eighth, Preakness).

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