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Belmont Stakes preview

Horse racing has its moment in the spotlight in the US, with potentially the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and a fairy tale story to boot. Dan Munn, @chalkbeater, steps up to preview the Belmont Stakes, run Saturday night UK time.

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The Belmont Stakes

History beckons at Belmont Park on Saturday as California Chrome bids to end a thirty six year wait for an American Triple Crown winner, and the Cal-bred son of Lucky Pulpit has every one on tenterhooks hoping that the wait will finally come to an end.

Many have got this far in the last thirty six years, twelve to be exact, and all bar I'll Have Another have failed. I'll Have Another was prevented from running in the Belmont Stakes in 2012 after an eleventh-hour injury but thus far California Chrome has reportedly thrived at Belmont Park in his works, with trainer Art Sherman stating that he feels the colt enters the race in a better state than his last race - the Preakness Stakes.

However, this is a toughest test, a monumental ask for California Chrome, who looks to race against a field of ten talented rivals on his quest for the final jewel to complete his crown, and I personally feel he will fall agonisingly short.

Expected to be sent off around a price of 8/11, California Chrome is plenty short enough and it may pay to side with Jimmy Jerkens' Wicked Strong, who is back in New York having skipped the Preakness Stakes in favour of this race.

History traditionally states that a potential Triple Crown victor has most to fear of the Kentucky Derby 'also-rans' compared to anything else, and Wicked Strong's performance when finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby was nothing short of exceptional.

Drawn in the widest post of all in the Kentucky Derby, Wicked Strong found every kind of trouble you could imagine in the stretch at Churchill Downs, yet still got up to finish a strong fourth. To many, myself included, I feel he would've been challenging for second if given a clear run and a better post and as such he has to be considered over Commanding Curve as the main danger.

Dallas Stewart's Commanding Curve produced a freakish display in the Kentucky Derby to finish second, but my concern is over the lack of consistency in the performances of horses at the top level from Stewart's runners (See Golden Soul for reference). Late runs such as those produced by Commanding Curve often deceive the eye, with many late-running second placed finishers in the Kentucky Derby over bet before failing to hit the board in this race, and Commanding Curve figures - for me - to be just another one of those.

Tonalist has been raved about since his victory in the Peter Pan Stakes at Aqueduct, and indeed he would've been an intriguing runner in the Kentucky Derby with a strong level of form particularly when winning an allowance race at Gulfstream Park full of highly respected individuals, but the record of Peter Pan Stakes winners is particularly bad in this race. A chance of a place, yes, but a chance of a win seems a lot to ask.

Ride on Curlin has to be respected after his monumental performance in the Preakness Stakes, but I can't help but feel that was the best performance Ride on Curlin was capable of. With that in mind, given that he couldn't get past California Chrome at Pimlico despite Rosario throwing the kitchen sink, the mother in law and the Empire State Building at him, his chance to turn the form around again with California Chrome looks limited.

Without doubt that leaves Wicked Strong as our best alternative to the favourite, and at a UK price of 9-1 at the time of writing. Wicked Strong may have only won two races in his lifetime, but this son of Hard Spun is perfectly progressing towards the top in the manner that you would expect of a likely mid-season superstar.

Third behind Honor Code and Cairo Prince as a two year old, in one of the hottest races of that year, Wicked Strong has mixed it with the very best as he has progressed through the ranks and if he were to reproduce the finishing effort of his Wood Memorial victory - entirely probable, if we can get the pace set up - then there is no way he can be outside of the top three.

Of course, we hope that history is on the cards at Belmont Park on Saturday, but from a value perspective, betting Wicked Strong each-way at 9-1 seems to be a no-brainer.


Undercard The undercard at Belmont Park on Saturday is nothing short of exceptional, with five Grade One races preceding the Belmont Stakes and three further Graded races opening the card.

For those looking to play a few exotic bets, the Pick 4 sequence running from the Just A Game through to the Belmont Stakes, or indeed the Ogden Phipps to Met Mile Pick 3, are ones that I'd highly suggest.

The star on the undercard is undoubtedly Palace Malice - Todd Pletcher's 2013 Belmont Stakes winner that has taken the country by storm since being dropped back in trip - and he figures to be hard to beat in the Met Mile two races before the main event despite a poor draw on the rail.

The Manhattan Handicap - sandwiched between those two races - sees the return to New York of Grandeur with Gary Stevens booked to ride after less than complimentary reports from the Noseda camp on Julien Leparoux's ride in the Man O' War Stakes. He looks to have a good chance, but I'd be looking to chance Rookie Sensation at an each way price.

In the Just A Game, I really like the chances of Somali Lemonade, who has been progressing with each race since Luis Saez inherited the mount on the mare. Her speed figures also look to be steadily improving and in a race which remains very open, her prospective odds of around 8-1 look to be embarrassingly large.

Finally, The Ogden Phipps sees an exciting match up between Breeders' Cup Distaff champion, Beholder, and the exceptional duo of Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches. Close Hatches is progressing at a rate of knots, and will likely be third choice of the books, but she is my choice of play here on a track which is likely to favour her.

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