06/05/2014 12:18PM

Beyer: Dispassion required in betting Belmont

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Over the past three decades, as the public has cheered for horses to win the Belmont Stakes and complete a sweep of the Triple Crown, some racing purists have been reluctant to lend their voices to the chorus.

Those of us who remember the last three colts to accomplish the feat – Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), and Affirmed (1978) – know that they were giants in the greatest era of Thoroughbred racing in America. It would have been almost sacrilegious to put the names of runners such as Charismatic, Real Quiet, War Emblem, and Funny Cide on a short list along with the sport’s immortals.

But as California Chrome tries to become the first horse since Affirmed to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, the old worries about blemishing the list of Triple Crown winners hardly seem relevant. After 11 horses since 1979 have lost bids for the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes, any horse who accomplishes the sweep will deserve praise and respect – and a place in history.

::2014 BELMONT STAKES: Latest news, video, PPs, and more

If this happens Saturday, it couldn’t happen at a better time. The sport has been beset with so many problems that it needs a positive story. What better story could there be than one with a rags-to-riches hero like the ill-bred California Chrome?

The colt has generated excitement, superlatives, and high expectations, and it is hard for many fans to assess his Triple Crown bid dispassionately. But handicappers should not be swayed by sentiment. They are supposed to look at horses and races with cold-eyed objectivity. And an objective analysis would conclude that California Chrome is not the standout that the public thinks he is.

Many people now talk about California Chrome as if he totally dominated his opposition in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. He didn’t. He won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths over Commanding Curve, whose major previous achievement was a five-length loss in the Louisiana Derby. Against a weak field in the Preakness (where most of the Derby runners didn’t show up), he finished 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Ride On Curlin, whose record in stakes competition is 0 for 8.

In scoring these victories, California Chrome benefited from easy trips, stalking the lead and avoiding any traffic trouble. Like Affirmed, he possesses the quickness and maneuverability to make his own breaks. Nevertheless, handicappers know to be wary of horses who win with perfect trips; no horse can avoid adversity forever.

If California Chrome has proved himself superior to his main rivals in the Belmont by two lengths or so, this is a slender edge. Big Brown won the Derby and Preakness by about five lengths; Funny Cide and Smarty Jones each ran away with the Preakness by about 10 lengths. Yet they all failed at Belmont Park.

Like them, California Chrome’s edge is almost certain to shrink – or disappear – at the longer distance of the Belmont. California Chrome was tiring at the end of the 1 1/4-mile Derby and was hard-pressed to maintain his margin over Ride On Curlin in the Preakness. It is hard to imagine that he will be as good at 1 1/2 miles.

::DRF Live: Get real-time reports and handicapping insights from Belmont all day Saturday

The four principal challengers Saturday all appear better suited to the distance than the favorite.

◗ Commanding Curve rallied strongly to finish second at Churchill Downs. His significant improvement over his previous starts suggested that running 1 1/4 miles and longer is his forte.

◗ Ride On Curlin rallied from far behind in both the Derby and the Preakness, and he may have the genes to help him Saturday. He is a son of Curlin, who lost a photo finish in the 2007 Belmont and sired last year’s winner, Palace Malice.

◗ Wicked Strong won a fast Wood Memorial and then rallied to finish fourth in the Derby after a difficult trip. His lineage is filled with distinguished distance runners.

◗ Tonalist missed the first two legs of the Triple Crown because of an illness but returned to action with an authoritative four-length victory in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.

History suggests that California Chrome will face another disadvantage besides the Belmont’s distance. Not only is winning the Triple Crown difficult, but merely running in all three races is tough for modern-day horses. In the last 12 years, only a single horse has won the Belmont after competing in both the Derby and the Preakness. During that period, six horses ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and won the Belmont. The extra rest is clearly an important edge.

Wicked Strong has that extra rest, plus solid credentials. He was considered California Chrome’s main rival in the Derby, but he couldn’t overcome the outside post in the field of 19. Hung wide at the first turn, he never got into striking position and found himself in heavy traffic throughout the stretch run. Even so, he lost by less than six lengths. The Belmont figures to be very different race.

My Belmont Stakes picks: 1. Wicked Strong. 2. Tonalist. 3. Commanding Curve.

I would be happy to be wrong. But in view of the difficulty of the Belmont’s distance, the possibility that he won’t have another easy trip as he did in his prior races, and the relative freshness of his challengers, California Chrome has too many obstacles to overcome. If he does surmount them, the sport will rightly hail a worthy champion.

Hail No More than 1 year ago
Charles Sakach7 days ago 11 /3,8/ 1,3,6,8 / 1,3,6,8 I threw Chrome totally out. ***************************** I thought I saw this somewhere, big props! Nice play, Charles!
Robynrokn More than 1 year ago
Which jockey won the Brooklyn with what kind of trip? JoeR, And after seeing that you had to bet on Tonalist, almost same trip. Same type of trips he tried with Orb last year until Orb wore out as well.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Oh yeah, what was Matuszak doing in this race as well?
matt More than 1 year ago
Hey Andy.. I stand corrected.. Chrome had nothing left..but then again either did wicked strong
Jack More than 1 year ago
Andy... go ahead and post what I wrote now. Now that it came true. It was obvious by the third race how Belmont's track was going to play today. They had the inside wired for early speed but at anything over a mile, the race was going to the Closer's. I think the final time of the Belmont shows just how great this crop was. Chrome was injured by the #3 horse that Pletcher entered that didn't belong in the race and ran up the track somewhere. This is the only reason he lost. How did Medal Count and General A Rod get dispensations for showing up late to Belmont? These people weren't going to lose part of the their $971,000,000.00/year industry to a Cal Bred and I told everyone so after the Derby. Come Andy... post my message from Friday and I give you the credit you deserve for overhearing some chatter and then writing a fluff piece about it. You still didn't hit the Tri or the Super did you? I had two Pick 4's to the 1,2,8,9,11 for $.50 cents and hit the 4th race $.10 Super. I had a great day and said that I would come here and give you the credit you deserve for picking against Chrome. I know you're right, you were just wrong about the order of finish and I'll bet the Blue Bloods let you overhear and then changed the deal after someone leaked some B.S. information about Tonalist's frogs being gone. The evidence is in your article and in many of the posts... especially the one you wouldn't let me post.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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PATRICK More than 1 year ago
Matt you are showing how foolish you are by your stupid insults about Beyer. The DRF saw fit to publish his speed figures to help players measure the actual comparative times from track to track and compare inter distance race times. There is no reason to put down Beyer unless you are jealous of his stature in racing. Wrong Wrong,Wrong .Wrong ,Wrong .
Matt Zebriski More than 1 year ago
Tonalist was a length and a half in front of CC at the 1/4 pole and about the same margin at the finish after having to swing 5 wide, and yet, some guys are claiming he "didn't get the last quarter". I think he got it as well as Tonalist, but no better. The track was fast all day...Kid Cruz ran the biggest race of the day.
Rick Berend More than 1 year ago
I stand corrected for believing Chrome would overcome all the hurdles Beyer accurately described. Beyond that, I owe the man nothing.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
As I said to anyone that listened CC would never ever get that final 1/4....time for the fake injury
Jack More than 1 year ago
Vince... there was blood all over his foot; this wasn't a bogus injury. Watch the smash job that Matterhorn puts on Chrome at the start. He wasn't right from then on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good analysis Andy