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OPINION - My Belmont Stakes horse

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) What's the most difficult feat in sports?

It involves horses, not humans. It's winning the thoroughbred triple crown: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. Three races for young, not-fully-developed three-year-old colts, at three different demanding distances, at three different racetracks, over a period of five weeks.

California Chrome will take his shot at Belmont Park on Saturday.

While I'd like to see a Triple Crown winner, it wont be easy.

Modern thoroughbred breeding emphasizes speed over stamina, and the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes is the ultimate test of stamina. California Chromes pedigree suggests Saturday's longer race may not be to his liking. That may not matter; most of his 11 rivals aren't bred for this distance either.

The biggest challenge may be the full field. Sometimes rival jockeys will test a would-be winner at different stages of the race. One speedster may try to pressure California Chrome to go too fast, too early. Other horses might stalk the pace and take a run at Chrome with a half-mile to run. A horse that moves too early is likely to tire in the stretch. Chrome and jockey Victor Espinosa may decide to stay far back early and attempt a late run in the stretch. That's a fine strategy, but it seldom wins in the Belmont Stakes. A late-runner could be 15 or 20 lengths behind before launching his bid, and its hard to get a horse to sustain a rally while losing touch with the front of the field.

Others who've tried to win the Triple Crown are probably better horses than California Chrome. Smarty Jones launched his bid too early and was caught at the finish. Big Brown was too close to a fast pace early and was eased in the stretch. Others Funny Cide and Charismatic were beaten by better horses. War Emblem was unlucky bobbling as the starting gate opened and having his rear horseshoe come loose during the run to the first turn.

Who might beat California Chrome? Perhaps no one. Chrome is the best horse. But there's one rival that has superior breeding for Saturday's distance, although that hasn't translated to success on the track. I like Commissioner; a son of distance-loving AP Indy. His dams sire is Touch Gold, who won the Belmont Stakes in 1997, denying Silver Charm the Triple Crown. Commissioner has only two lifetime wins, and ran second in his last race in the mud. He could be running stronger in the late-stages when his rivals are tiring. At 20-1, Im willing to spend a little money to find out if Im right.

Chris Conley
6.4.14

Image: California Chrome, REUTERS via wsau.com