06/04/2014 1:46PM

Ten will try to stop Triple Crown bid

Barbara D. Livingston
Peter Pan winner Tonalist, training Wednesday at Belmont Park, drew the outside post 11 for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

ELMONT, N.Y. – There is a significant level of respect for California Chrome among rival trainers whose horses will try to deny him the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, but that didn’t stop 10 horses from being entered Wednesday against him, setting the stage for California Chrome to clear yet another hurdle on his glorious, improbable journey.

If California Chrome can complete a Triple Crown sweep by winning the 146th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park, he will have done so beating the most horses ever in a Belmont Stakes by a Triple Crown winner. Of the 11 prior horses to win the Triple Crown, none faced more than seven rivals in the last and longest of the three races.

Seattle Slew and Citation each beat seven horses in the Belmont. Assault and War Admiral beat six. Only four challenged Affirmed, Secretariat, and Omaha. Whirlaway and Gallant Fox beat three each. And when Count Fleet and Sir Barton won their Belmonts, just two rivals faced them.

But the field size is not indicative of the high regard trainers have for California Chrome and his six straight wins. For California Chrome to be upset, someone “will have to run the race of their life, and California Chrome will have to throw in a clunker,” said Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Wicked Strong.

California Chrome drew post 2 when 11 were entered Wednesday for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, which carries a purse of $1.5 million. He was installed as the 3-5 favorite on the track morning line set by Eric Donovan, who has Wicked Strong next at 6-1 and Tonalist at 8-1. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form’s national handicapper, has California Chrome as a 2-5 favorite, with Tonalist next at 8-1 and Wicked Strong the third choice at 10-1.

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Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, was fine with the post. “At least he’ll be able to save some ground,” Sherman said.
Tonalist landed the outside post, No. 11. He will be ridden by Joel Rosario.

“The good news is he’ll be the last one in the gate,” said Christophe Clement, who trains Tonalist. “Rosario will be free to do what he wants.”

Wicked Strong wound up in post 9.

“I’d have liked to have seen him a little more inside,” Jerkens said.

Wicked Strong, who was fourth in the Derby, is one of four horses who ran in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness to point for the Belmont.

“In the back of my mind, I thought the Belmont was the one he’d have the best shot in,” Jerkens said. “It’s in his backyard, and I think he’ll like the distance more than some of the others.”

The distance is a question. None of these 3-year-olds has ever run this far, and odds are they will never run it again.

“When the race is over, I don’t think you’ll find anybody who says a mile and a half is their strong suit,” said trainer Rick Violette Jr., whose Samraat was fifth in the Derby and also bypassed the Preakness.

Commanding Curve, second in the Derby, also skipped the Preakness.

“We wanted to give him a little more time, and hopefully that will benefit us in this race,” said trainer Dallas Stewart.

Stewart was one of the many Kentucky-based trainers who were vocal in their doubts about California Chrome during the week of the Derby, but he’s a believer now.

“I was wrong. He’s just a runner,” Stewart said. “You can’t take anything away from California Chrome. All he does is win. He’s really tough to beat.”

Both General a Rod and Ride On Curlin have faced California Chrome in the Derby and Preakness and are back for Round 3. California Chrome beat Commanding Curve by 1 3/4 lengths in the Derby and beat Ride On Curlin by 1 1/2 lengths in the Preakness.

“I’ve gotten closer to California Chrome than anyone else has this year,” said Billy Gowan, who trains Ride On Curlin. “I think if my horse gets a good, clean run, he’s got a good chance.”

Todd Pletcher, a two-time winner of the Belmont, entered two horses, Commissioner and Matterhorn, but he’s respectful of California Chrome, having run four other horses against him in the Derby.

“Hopefully, the equalizer for us is that we have two horses I believe will appreciate the mile-and-a-half distance,” Pletcher said Wednesday. “Are they as fast as California Chrome at a mile and an eighth? I don’t believe so. And maybe not at a mile and a quarter. But at a mile and a half ...”

Pletcher’s best chance likely lies with Commissioner, who is by Belmont winner A.P. Indy and is out of a mare by another Belmont winner, Touch Gold. He was second to Tonalist in the Peter Pan Stakes in his last start.

“We always thought that he’d stay the distance,” Pletcher said. “The Peter Pan was a step in the right direction. He got his best [Beyer] figure. Hopefully, he’ll be like A.P. Indy, who got better as he got older.”

But California Chrome might be getting better, too. He had his most impressive training session of the week so far Wednesday, which followed a Tuesday session that was more eye-catching than his easy day Monday. He galloped with increased enthusiasm the farther he went Wednesday.

“He looks good,” Sherman said as California Chrome came under the wire the second time during a gallop of more than two miles.

The Belmont is the 11th race on a 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. The scheduled post time is 6:52 p.m. The Belmont will be shown live on NBC during a telecast that begins at 4:30 p.m. Immediately preceding that is two hours of live racing on NBCSN.

The Weather Channel’s forecast for Saturday is encouraging. Although a significant storm was set to hit the area Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the forecast for Friday and Saturday is for dry weather, with a high right around 80 degrees.

Field size in Triple Crown attempts
1919 Sir Barton 3
1930 Gallant Fox 4
1935 Omaha 5
1937 War Admiral 7
1941 Whirlaway 4
1943 Count Fleet 3
1944 Pensive 7
1946 Assault 7
1948 Citation 8
1958 Tim Tam 8
1961 Carry Back 9
1964 Northern Dancer 8
1966 Kauai King 11
1968 Forward Pass 9
1969 Majestic Prince 6
1971 Canonero II 13
1973 Secretariat 5
1977 Seattle Slew 8
1978 Affirmed 5
1979 Spectacular Bid 8
1981 Pleasant Colony 11
1987 Alysheba 9
1989 Sunday Silence 10
1997 Silver Charm 7
1998 Real Quiet 11
1999 Charismatic 12
2002 War Emblem 11
2003 Funny Cide 6
2004 Smarty Jones 9
2008 Big Brown 9
Triple Crown winners in BOLD