We have a horse with two classic wins and the permission to wear his nasal strip in public! In 16 days California Chrome has a date with destiny – the Belmont Stakes run over “Big Sandy,” The ‘Test of the Champion.’
As most already know, the Triple Crown (winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) is incredibly difficult, as it have not been accomplished since 1978. Usually the downfall is the Belmont Stakes and the mile and one half (12 furlong) distance.
Since I know the readers of this web site like to gamble, I ask can we assess the the chances of California Chrome to win the Belmont off of his past races? In this column I will try to do that.
California Chrome has raced 12 times with 8 wins (6 for 6 wins wearing a nasal strip). Having that many starts, he is unlikely to improve much more, and his races in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness were solid, if a bit below winning par for typical Classic winners. So as gamblers we should not expect any less than heart, guts, effort and a top three finish, as he has demonstrated his superiority over this crop at shorter distances. But what about the 12 furlong distance of the Belmont? Will ‘Chrome be as dominant going the ultimate distance trip?
Unfortunately, I have a concern about ‘Chrome getting the 12 furlongs, looking at the Beyer Figures of his other “long races”:
Santa Anita Derby – 9.0 furlongs – estimated Beyer (if pressured late) = increased from 107 to 109-111
Preakness Stakes – 9.5 furlongs – actual Beyer = 105
Kentucky Derby – 10.0 furlongs – estimated Beyer (adjust for wind in stretch??) = to 101 up from 97
See the trend? Now granted, people (including me) have questioned the Beyer figures for one horse or another over time, but there is little debate that ‘Chrome’s Beyer figures have decreased the farther he runs. I predict that he will run a Beyer figure in the range of 93 to 97 in the Belmont.
While this may look like a large decrease in Beyer figure, usually the Belmont Stakes is the race with the lowest winning Beyer of the three Classics, largely because our horses are not bred to go much further than a mile and one eighth (9 furlongs). At 10 furlongs or longer only a select few horses excel, and with ‘Chrome having a Dosage Index (a ratio of speed to stamina) of 3.40 puts him more in the subset of horses that excel at 9 furlongs, as we can see in his Beyer numbers. Since we do know ‘Chrome is game and in sharp form, let’s make him 3/2 odds (in other words a 40% winning chance) to win the Belmont.
Without going into a long analysis of which horses can beat ‘Chrome, the recent winning preparation pattern has been (1) lose the Kentucky Derby, (2) skip the Preakness, and (3) run in the Belmont. That gets it down to these horses and their Dosage Indexes (in parentheses): Commanding Curve (2.14 DI), Wicked Strong (2.27 DI), Samraat (1.22 DI), and the new shooter, Peter Pan Stakes winner Tonalist (2.78 DI)
Commanding Curve has a deeeeeeep closing running style that usually does not work in the Belmont because the early pace of the Belmont is between 49 to 50 seconds, which greatly favors horses near the pace. His main strengths are he is very well bred to get the distance and runs his best at the end. Odds to win = 10/1
Wicked Strong has a big maiden win over Belmont, has been a New York-based horse for most of his career, and his trainer started the 2014 Belmont meet WHITE HOT. Wicked Strong also has a decisive victory at Aqueduct over Samraat (see below) and top sprinter/miler Social Inclusion in the Wood Memorial. A horse who runs midpack, he should be close enough to the leaders to have a big say in the outcome of the race, if he does not win the race outright. The main horse for ‘Chrome to beat for Triple Crown glory. Odds to win = 3/1
Samraat fits EVERY requirement for a potential Belmont winner, but has been lost in the shuffle behind ‘Chrome and Wicked Strong. His very low Dosage Index of 1.22 says he might actually perform well at this distance, and he has natural speed – counter-intuitively, about 30% of Belmont Stakes winners are wire to wire wins or very close to the lead because the first half mile is usually between 49 and 50 seconds. Not a bad win bet stab for the true believers, and a very logical horse to use in “horizontal bets” if you can afford to use him. Odds to win = 6/1
Tonalist has the highest Dosage Index (2.78) of the challengers, and he’s a son of Tapit, who until recently has been blanked in Classic races, at least until his superstar daughter Untapable won the 2014 Kentucky Oaks at 9 furlongs the day before the Kentucky Derby. Tonalist’s biggest attribute is his unrealized potential – he has only races 4 times in his career and he has fared well against allowance and stakes horses. In the sloppy track Peter Pan Stakes he broke slowly, rushed up to contest the lead….and just kept on going!! He has an incredibly efficient stride that covers a lot of ground, and most if not all the people I have talked to about this horse are really excited about him. I openly wonder if the Belmont Stakes is a bit much too soon though, as I think he will be even better in late summer races like the Jim Dandy or the Haskell going into the Travers in late August at shorter distances with more maturity. I certainly will not try to talk anybody off Tonalist in the Belmont. Odds to win = 8/1