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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM


Big Field Could Chase Public’s Odds-On Favorite

The spotlight remains on California Chrome 24-7, and his reportedly even better 2-mile daily gallops signifying he might not have run his best, yet it is sort of surprising—but just the same encouraging (from a wagering standpoint)—to know that as of the close of day on Thursday, May 29 there were 11 runners listed as “probable” to face the Derby and Preakness hero in the Belmont Stakes.

There has been some discussion that Social Inclusion remains on a day-to-day basis, but the field got an additional boost a few days ago when trainer Dale Romans and Spendthrift Farms decided that the best of 42 five furlong breeze in :59 2/5 last Saturday was a go sign for Medal Count.

As of now the field of 12 consists of:

CALIFORNIA CHROME The Derby and Preakness winner has been at Belmont for over a week now, continues to jog two miles a day and will have his final work on Saturday 5/31 when jockey Victor Espinoza takes the red-eye from California to be aboard.

It is difficult to concoct any legitimate hurdles at this point as the most popular athlete in America looks to be the first favorite to win the Belmont since Afleet Alex in 2005 and the (likely) first odds-on favorite to win the Belmont since the last Triple Crown winner Affirmed in 1978.

Undoubtedly trainer Art Sherman and Espinoza want Social Inclusion to go as California Chrome’s preferred modus-opporundi is to have someone to run at, and although both Peter Pan winner Tonalist and Samraat might also be engaged early, each has run well in the same tracking place as California Chrome.

COMMANDING CURVE The longshot second place finisher in the Kentucky Derby has wisely been given a break since that race by trainer Dallas Stewart and has continued to work well at CD with a sharp half mile breeze on 5/16 and an even sharper 5 furlong work (3rd best of 27) in :59 3/5 on 5/23.
The son of Master Command has been gathering followers after his rousing rally in Louisville and there is no doubt he is improving at the right time. But interestingly, his doppelganger, Golden Soul, who is also trained by Dallas Stewart had an almost exactly the same progression to the Derby as Commanding Curve.

Both ran in the Risen Star, Golden Soul finished 6th (beaten 2 ¾ lengths with a mild late rally) and Commanding Curve finished 6th (beaten 8 ¼ lengths following an even run through the lane). Each then returned in the Louisiana Derby with Commanding Curve checking in 3rd (with a mild close to be beaten 5 lengths after encountering some traffic) and Golden Soul rallying from well back to finish 4th (beaten 4 ¾ lengths following a wide trip.) Then, as mentioned above, each rallied to get the place as 30-1 plus longshots.

However, if one carries the equation further in hopes of supporting Commanding Curve it is worth considering that deep closers that rally well in the Derby and skip the Preakness have not fared well in recent times with Golden Soul being the latest example with a no-show flat 10th at 12-1 in last year’s Belmont Stakes. That being said it will be interesting to see if that speed workout at CD last Friday is an indication that Stewart might be looking to get the colt engaged earlier. During his 2-year old campaign he did run closer to the pace so he remains a tough call.

COMMISSIONER Any time a trainer of Todd Pletcher’s renown remains this confident in a colt that has yet to show he belongs at the level it is important to at least keep him on the radar.

If you are looking for positives you might make note that he second to the well-regarded Tonalist in the Peter Pan here (4 weeks prior to the Belmont Stakes) was by far the best of his 4 graded stakes efforts. In addition, he is arguably the best bred colt in the race for the 12 furlong marathon with multiple graded stakes chef-de-race A.P. Indy (by Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew) out of the Touch Gold (a Belmont Stakes winner) mare Flaming Heart.

KID CRUZObviously, if you have 11 runners lined up behind California Chrome and think that one is impossible to get past so are looking to construct vertical wagers, you can’t play them all. Fortunately, if this guy’s form is any indication you won’t have to. After showing ability vs lesser in winning the Private Terms at Laurel and the Federico Tesio at Pimlico, the son of Lemon Drop Kid more than met his match in the Preakness, finishing 8th out of 10 and never getting closer than within 10 lengths of the leader. Maybe Linda Rice feels as though the entire field will collapse in front of him.

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MATTERHORN The well-bred Tapit colt is another from the Pletcher barn and comes off his best effort in a short 4 race career in his last. Unfortunately, that was a well beaten 4th in the Peter Pan where he was no match for Tonalist or Commissioner or even an adventuresome claimer that finished third. As we mentioned above, Pletcher youngsters can improve in a hurry but what is puzzling is that this guy is still under consideration despite having no published work as of 5/29 since the Peter Pan on 5/10.

MATUSZAK Talk about a head scratcher. This impeccably bred son of Bernardini out of the Mr. Prospector mare Golden Sonata is on the list despite being still eligible for NW2L after failing in his last 7 races following a career debut MSW win. And if Kid Cruz is problematic then what do you do with this colt, who checked in behind that one in both the Private Terms Stakes and Federico Tesio?

Good question, but here’s something else to consider, despite those failures the colt has been given time since his last go-around on 4/19 and worked forwardly for a somewhat well known trainer by the name of Bill Mott. After loosening his legs on the grass on 5/4 the colt went a bullet best of 60 (not a misprint) in :59 4/5 on 5/12, a best of 35 five furlongs in :59 3/5 on 5/19 and a relaxing foot off the pedal 5 furlong breeze in 1:01 2/5 on Memorial Day. Also, an up-and-coming journeyman jockey by the name of Mike Smith has been named. Very interesting. And remember, just since 2002 we’ve had the likes of equally off-the-public and ignored-by-the-pundits runners such as Da’ Tara ($79.00), Birdstone ($74.00) and Sarava ($142.50) leave the payout windows as ghost towns following the Belmont Stakes.

MEDAL COUNT The recent addition’s failure in the Kentucky Derby could have been chalked up to any number of reasons, not least among them a troubled trip, a third race in 5 weeks that was necessitated by point qualification and suspicion that he is more a synthetic (his two big races that propelled him into the Derby were over synthetic surfaces) and turf horse than main track aficionado.

However, trainer Dale Romans has given the well-bred-for-the-distance son of Dynaformer five weeks off since that three-race blitz, and after the colt worked a best of 42 five furlong drill in :59 2/5 last Saturday over the traditional dirt at Churchill, he is obviously convinced that his charge can step forward. There are certainly more questionable supporting cast members on the playbill.

RIDE ON CURLIN The Preakness Stakes runner up continues to stay under tack despite 6 efforts, the last three vs Grade I Rivals, and of course the last two being the first two legs of the Triple Crown. There were a handful of handicappers who felt that his compromised trip in the Derby (while he wasn’t going to beat California Chrome) was enough to put him on the Preakness short list. It was also a positive that after Calvin Borel’s horrible piloting in the Derby trainer William Gowan switched to Top 5 rider Joel Rosario.

The colt’s solid drive through the lane to get the place was another of his hard trying efforts and added to a bankroll that has grown to over $700,000 despite just a maiden and entry level allowance win from 11 starts (11-2-3-4). He has had a hard campaign so there is always the impending bounce, but until further notice you could do much worse than include him in your gimmicks. It must also be mentioned that since Joel Rosario has chosen to remain with Tonalist after piloting that one to the Peter Pan win the colt will have his fifth new rider in his last five races. But seeing that the new jockey is John Velazquez that seems to be of little concern.

SAMRAAT Another of the Kentucky Derby runners that travelled to Louisville with unquestionably speed and heart and questionable distance capabilities, the New York bred nonetheless ran a credible 5th, beaten just 5¾ lengths. And for purposes of being able to extend himself even longer in the mile and a half Belmont, it is key to look to a positive running style that saw him be no further back than fifth place and never further off the pace than he was when he tired a bit late to be beaten a total of 5 ¾ lengths.

Although the son of Noble Causeway (who unfortunately died today after a three week battle with Laminitis while at the height of his prodigious breeding career) began his career as a speed runner, he has learned to track and the leisurely drills since the Derby, including a final prep mile 5/25 in 1:41 1/5 are indicative that trainer Richard Violette is attempting to drawn out the colt in even timed quarter and half mile splits. If he gets that done, this is another that could contribute to the exotics.

SOCIAL INCLUSIONThe son of 2009 Derby runner up Pioneer of the Nile is with Tonalist the most lightly-raced colt on the list. The Manny Azpurua trained colt has gone to the post just four times, and in his last pair was a contending though measurably beaten 3rd in the Grade I Wood Memorial and Grade I Preakness behind 4 rivals he’ll meet again should he go.

He is still well-regarded even though he has yet to survive looking the top ones in the eye, and is considered a speed horse despite the fact that he laid off the pace in a more mature effort in the Preakness.

As of Thursday (5/29), he still had not posted a public work since the Preakness, so it is difficult at this point to chart his progress if any. But he’ll need to improve on his form another 4-5 lengths if he wants to have an impact in the top share spots.

TONALIST Like Social Inclusion, this son of Tapit will be making only his 5th career start if he makes it to the starting gate next Saturday. But unlike that one, Tonalist made huge strides when he won the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at 9 furlongs over the surface in his first race since February 22 at Gulfstream.
Trainer Christophe Clement is never one to run top notch horses when even the smallest of ailments present themselves. He is legendary for his patience with developing youngsters. And the way the colt easily dispatched Commissioner among others in the Peter Pan it could turn out that the conditioner will saddle a very fresh and capable horse with a terrific upside. Jockey Rosario has certainly poured himself a glass of the Kool-Aid as he selected this guy over Ride On Curlin, who carried him to a second place finish in the Preakness.

If you are one who believes in the contribution of history then you might remember that in 1979, after Seattle Slew and Affirmed had won back-to-back Triple Crowns in 1977 and 1978 a horse by the name of Spectacular Bid went to Belmont with a third straight Triple Crown on the line. In that race he met up with a late developer by the name of Coastal who beat him in the Test of a Champion…after winning the Peter pan in his final prep.

WICKED STRONGOf all the Kentucky Derby runners that showed well in the Run-For-The-Roses and sat out the Preakness, it is possible to argue that this sharp son of Hard Spun might benefit the most.

Trained by James Jerkens, the colt was most impressive with an improved effort when he won the Wood Memorial from off the pace in his final Kentucky Derby prep, and after stumbling at the start and getting crowded a bit on the far turn could have been the runner up.

Many of those in the know consider him an optimum choice on the short list of possible upsetters, and there is something to be said by the carefully mapped out campaign Jerkens has travelled. After a disappointing effort in the Holy Bull to begin his 3-year old schedule, he raced 4 weeks later in an allowance race at Gulfstream that featured winner Constitution, who was well regarded on the Derby Trail before getting injured and Tonalist, who he’ll meet again next Saturday. 6 weeks later he won the Wood Memorial and 4 weeks after that made his credible run in the Derby. Now here he is off a five week break following a solid mile breeze this past Sunday. There can be little doubt that he is a serious player.

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