Saturday, May 31, 2014
The last 1 1/2 miles of the Triple Crown trail are littered with misses and heartbreak.
California Chrome will try to dodge it all and win the Belmont Stakes on June 7, which would make him horse racing's first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
The Belmont is the longest of the three-race series, which spans five weeks. California Chrome began his bid with a victory in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby on May 3 and followed it up with a win in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 17. He'll try to become the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown, one of the sporting world's rarest feats.
Here are five things to know about the Belmont:
1. GIVE ME A 'C': That letter is the most popular first initial for winning Belmont runners. Horses with names that begin with 'C' have won 20 times. Of course, California Chrome has that trend well covered. The only Triple Crown winners that started with 'C' were Count Fleet in 1943 and Citation in 1948.
2. UNLUCKY FAVORITES: The Belmont has not been kind to favorites. Since 2000, only two have won: Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005. The last odds-on favorite was Big Brown in 2008, and he didn't finish the race. California Chrome figures to be the favorite, based on his current six-race winning streak and thousands of sentimental fans who will want a souvenir $2 win ticket.
3. OLDEST TRIPLE RACE: The Belmont was first run in 1867, making it the oldest of the Triple Crown races. It was run six years before the Preakness began in 1873, and eight years before the Kentucky Derby began in 1875. It was first run at other tracks in New York before settling at Belmont Park, named for August Belmont I, a financier who made his fortune in banking.
4. SMARTY PARTY: The biggest crowd to watch a Triple Crown bid was 120,139 in 2004, when Smarty Jones finished second by a length to longshot winner Birdstone. An audible groan sounded when the race ended, and Birdstone's blue blood owner Marylou Whitney apologized for spoiling Smarty's Triple try.
5. MISSES: The last two horses that came to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown were Big Brown in 2008 and I'll Have Another in 2012. Big Brown never finished the race when jockey Kent Desormeaux mysteriously eased him at the top of the stretch; I'll Have Another was scratched the day before with a tendon injury. Two others — Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936 — also didn't run in the race.