Will we have another Triple Crown winner, the first since Affirmed in 1978, tomorrow? I hope so, because the Sport of Kings could certainly use a booster shot.
A win in tomorrow's Belmont Stakes by California Chrome and its blue-collar owners would certainly help resurrect the image of the sport held by so many of us baby boomers and beyond.
Even though we've been through such a drought, the feeling here is that California Chrome is the real deal, even though he won't be my top pick. That's not to say the modestly-bred son of Lucky Pulpit won't win tomorrow's mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, but at less than even-money odds, a person can't pay the mortgage on such a bet.
He's done everything asked, winning six consecutive races, while thriving these last three weeks at Belmont Park, putting on weight and working like gangbusters. He may be a freak of nature, much like Seattle Slew in 1977. I'll be advocating using him over and under other horses in exacta bets. There certainly will be a multitude of people buying $2 win tickets on California Chrome to frame or hand down to future generations.
That can only help your odds if you are playing against the favorite to win.
The way I see tomorrow's race shaping up, there are five horses which could vie for the lead, and six others which will make a late move. In other words, it will be a rider's race, where the jockey will have to judge the early pace while staying clear of trouble, and then not move prematurely on the sweeping final turn, holding his or her mount until the quarter pole so as not to use too much gas too soon.
You know what the price of gas is these days, especially for a purse of $1.5 million dollars, not to mention stud fees down the road.
California Chrome, Samraat, Commissioner, General a Rod, and Tonalist have the tactical speed, while Medal Count, Matterhorn, Commanding Curve, Ride On Curlin, Matuszak, and Wicked Strong will try to pick up the pieces at the finish line. The run down the backstretch of the Elmont Long Island track should be very instructive.
Lowell's Rick Violette trains Samraat, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby to California Chrome by less than six lengths and then skipped the Preakness Stakes two weeks later to freshen up for tomorrow. Samraat's workouts have been designed to keep his edge while enhancing stamina.
Samraat started his career with five consecutive wins and was second behind Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial. The Noble Causeway colt prompted the pace in the Derby, staying with California Chrome until the furlong pole, where he weakened slightly. The rest should help him.
"He deceptively galloped out real good after the pressure was up (after the wire) following the Derby," said Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Stable. "I don't think we would change a day or a stride. Everything has been eerily spot on. His breeze the other day (a mile in 1:47 and 2-5 seconds), he doesn't break stopwatches but it was a goosebump breeze, as easily as he accelerated and galloped out. I wouldn't change a thing."
Jockey Jose Ortiz, who knows the Belmont surface well, has the mount.
However, my pick is Wicked Strong, another horse with Massachusetts connections. Trained by James Jerkens, son of Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, Wicked Strong is owned by a syndicate put together by Don Little Jr. of Centennial Farms, of Beverly, Ma.
They originally wanted the name Boston Strong, after the Boston Marathon tragedy of 2013, but the name had already been claimed by Sovereign Stables and the Gatses family of New Hampshire, for one of their yearlings. So, the Adams family of the Boston Bruins, friends of the Little clan, suggested the moniker because everything in Beantown is wicked this or wicked that.
Centennial Farms will donate 5 percent to tomorrow's earnings to the One Fund to help expenses for those families affected by the Boston Marathon tragedy. There certainly is a lot to root for tomorrow. Wicked Strong, who finished a fast-closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and has been training wonderfully in the interim, is the pick here.
Win -- Wicked Strong (9)
Place -- California Chrome (2)
Show -- Samraat (7)
Longshot Special -- Commissioner (8)