Heading into The Belmont Stakes Weekend the question is whether any of the 10 other horse in the race can do what the previous 28 could not. Can they beat California Chrome and deny him the shot at immortality.
Ignoring the morning line odds, here's how I see it....
Post Position 1: Medal Count - This horse finished a distant 8th behind CalChrome in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness to point toward this race. Given his lack of tactical speed and questionable pedigree for the distance I can't see him as a credible contender despite liking him in the KY Derby. Would not risk any money here except deeper in exotics.
Post Position 2: California Chrome - Over the last six races, this horse has done nothing wrong. It's going to be hard to bet against him here, especially running against what looks like at first glance, a relatively weak field. The only question, as it is every year at the Belmont, is fatigue and distance. A Mile and one half is a LONG way for a 3yr old horse. Only a play in exotics because the line should be horrible. (I'm thinking 1/5 when they go off)
Post Position 3: Matterhorn - Trainer Todd Pletcher is throwing two darts at the board in this race and this horse appears to be his weakest entry. Lightly raced and inexperienced against stakes competition it will take a huge step up for this horse to finish anywhere but off the back. I can't find any value in even including this horse in exotics. Feels like you'd be throwing away money.
Post Position 4: Commanding Curve - If there is a trendy pick to upset CalChrome in this race Commanding Curve is it. He's a closer than came from way back in the KY Derby to finish 2nd to the eventual winner. Clearly the trainers are hoping Curve can benefit from the long, long straight at Belmont. He's a hard horse to handicap because of the distance but I think he'd be one to throw some money at if the odds are right and definitely a horse to use fairly high up if you're betting exotics.
Post Position 5: Ride on Curlin - If I, gun to the head, had to pick an upset winner of the Belmont this would be my horse. Jockey Calvin Borel took RoC on a trip so horrible in the KyD that he was kicked off for the Preakness in favor of J.R. Velasquez who maneuvered RoC to 2nd place. And he was looking like he had plenty more to give in that race. Definitely a live bet since you're likely to get pretty good odds considering the amount of public money that will be thrown at CalChrome.
Post Position 6: Matuszak - The ONLY argument for an upset here is the history of the connections, trainer Bill Mott and jockey Mike Smith, who threw a bomb in the 2010 Belmont Stakes with Drosselmeyer. He just seems outclassed in this race having no stakes wins and no wins period since breaking his maiden. I can't see risking any of your bankroll on this horse except very, very deep in exotics if you're looking for a price to increase the payoff. Consider any money wagered on this horse pure gambling, hoping for another miracle.
Post Position 7: Samraat - If you could wager for who would be leading at the quarter pole and during the first 1/2 mile Samraat is your horse. He's the only true speed in this race but will probably be battling it out for last with Matterhorn and Matuszak at the end of the race. I don't like betting on this horse in almost any scenario except one where absolutely no one decides to challenge for the lead and then all remaining horses refuse to close. Pass.
Post Position 8: Commissioner - Todd Pletcher's second entry in the Belmont is actually a horse that interests me when putting together exotics. While he's never won a stakes race he has also run fairly well on this track finishing 2nd in the Peter Pan (although it must be considered that he finished 4 lengths behind Tonalist), the race that's considered the "prep" race at Belmont for the stakes. Probably not the best horse to place a win wager on but definitely live in the bottom part of any exotics that you are considering.
Post Position 9: Wicked Strong - Another strong contender for upset wagering Wicked Strong is a NY based colt who had a terrible trip in the KyD where he finished 4th, skipped the Preakness, and appears to be on pace to challenge here. He had a blistering workout on Sunday and there is some buzz surrounding his barn. While I'm not the biggest fan of his jockey (Rajiv Maragh) in big races he might have enough horse for it to not matter. He is currently sitting at 6-1 on the opening line and I'm guessing he'll go off at around 3 or 4 - 1 at post time. If he creeps up higher than 5-1 jump all over him for value. Definite player in any exotic scenario.
Post Position 10: General A-Rod - While I'm a fan of jockey Rosie Napravnik the truth is she's death for a horse from a betting perspective due to what I call "girlpower" money that inevitably drives down her horses value. That said, I don't think GA-R has much of a chance at anything more than a mid-pack finish based on what I've seen. Consider this, probably the best jockey in the world right now, Javier Castellano, could only take GA-R to a "meh" 4th in the Preakness, and the horse was just out ran to 11th in the KyD. Possibly this is a horse to consider at the bottom end of exotic wagers but I wouldn't blame you if you passed.
Post Position 11: Tonalist - The winner of the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) at this very track should go off at moderate odds. Should it rain on Belmont Day then this horse becomes very interesting since he won the PPan on a sloppy track by 4 lengths. Certainly a mudder but you can't discount a win at Belmont when handicapping. If it's wet, you definitely want to consider a win/place bet unless the odds get out of line. Certainly a horse to consider in your exotics, even in the top half.
My strategy: As always, I'm going to approach this race trying to find some value and beat the favorite. I can't in good conscience put any money on CalChrome because he's likely to go off at horrible odds. I'm predicting around 1/5 or thereabouts. That said, my planned strategy is as follows:
4(Commanding Curve), 5(Ride on Curlin), 11(Tonalist) 5(Wicked Strong)*
Trifecta 2(California Chrome) keyed with 5(Ride on Curlin), 11(Tonalist) and either 4(Commanding Curve) or 5(Wicked Strong)*
One final note: Remember, whatever you do keep your bank-roll intact and don't throw too much money at any one race. As is typical with Triple Crown races, there are a LOT of good races at Belmont that day where some real value can be had. Be sure to not bet 15% of your bankroll on any one race.
Good Luck on Saturday and here's hoping for a Triple Crown that pays on my exotic wagers.
*Subject to change based on odds.
**All bets subject to change based on race day odds, allowed wagers etc.