Belmont Stakes 2014: 3 horses that could keep California Chrome from the Triple Crown

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

California Chrome is the favorite to win the Belmont Stakes, but a handful of challengers have the skill and pedigree to beat him.

Update: Tonalist wins, denies California Chrome Triple Crown

The week leading up to the Belmont Stakes has been all about California Chrome, and it should be. The West Coast rock star took horse racing by storm with his thunderous wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, signed a deal with human shoe manufacturer Skechers, and is the 3-5 morning line favorite to win the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. In doing so, the horse would claim the Triple Crown for the first time since Affirmed won the Belmont by a nose in 1978.

California Chrome is the prohibitive favorite, but the Belmont Stakes has proven to be a cruel final foil to otherwise-brilliant runs at horse racing immortality. Because of the race's length -- it's the longest race on the calendar, two furlongs longer than the Kentucky Derby -- it's proven extraordinarily difficult for powerful frontrunners to maintain the stamina necessary to make it to the finish line without being passed or completely running out of energy.

California Chrome's pedigree suggests he may struggle at Belmont distances. The 11-horse field offers a handful of legitimate challengers that may thrive with the extra room to run. The Dosage Index is a figure that factors in the first four generations of a horse's pedigree and how those horses fared at different distances. The lower the number, the more likely a horse is to fare well at longer distances. For example, only one horse has ever won the Belmont with a Dosage Index over 4.00.

It's not a number on which one should exclusively bet, because nobody really knows how these 11 horses will react at a distance they've never run, but it is something to work off.

California Chrome's Dosage Index is 3.40, the second-highest in the field.

Here are a few horses who could challenge California Chrome at Belmont on Saturday, with morning line odds and Dosage Index figures.

Wicked Strong, 6-1, 2.27 Dosage Index

Wicked Strong could have been more of a challenger to Chrome at the Kentucky Derby, but he started in the No. 19 gate and got caught up in traffic early on trying to make his way inside to shorten the race as much as possible. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens elected not to run Wicked Strong in the Preakness Stakes, instead preparing him for a Belmont that likely better suits his style.

His finish at the Kentucky Derby would have been much lower had he not surged at the end of the 1 1/4-mile race to finish in the money; it's promising for his prospects at 1 1/2 miles that he was surging from the pack at the end of the longest race he's ran to date.

Rajiv Maragh rode Wicked Strong at Churchill Downs, and he'll mount Wicked Strong again in the No. 9 gate at Belmont Park. Another Chrome challenger will join Wicked Strong on the outside.

Tonalist, 8-1, 2.78 Dosage Index

Tonalist is a Triple Crown newcomer, having last raced at the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 10. He won that race at 1 1/8 miles. Tonalist was originally a Kentucky Derby hopeful but missed a key qualifying race, the Wood Memorial, with a lung infection, and then the push to Belmont began.

And Down The Stretch They Come

Four of the last seven Belmont Stakes winners were Triple Crown newcomers, a fact that may or may not be relevant. Sure, it's nice to come in to the Belmont with relatively fresh legs, but it's a small sample size. The reality remains that the Belmont, while lumped in with the first two legs of the Triple Crown, is an entirely different challenge that has little to do with success found at Churchill Downs or Pimlico.

If a trainer decides to aim his horse toward winning the Belmont, that's a fair indicator that the horse has the necessary traits to thrive at an unprecedented distance, and maybe that's part of why four of the last seven Belmont winners were new to the Triple Crown series. Tonalist is the best shot at extending that number to five of the last eight. He'll start on the far outside at No. 11.

Samraat, 20-1, 1.22 Dosage Index

Again, the Dosage Index is only one figure, and it's based entirely on a horse's pedigree rather than its actual performance. But Samraat's 1.22 Dosage Index is by far the lowest in the field. He finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby and second to Wicked Strong in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April, and he's won twice at 1 1/6 miles in a pair of Grade 3 races.

Samraat hasn't generated much noise since his Derby finish, but he's a New York-based horse that stayed at home during the Preakness to get ready for the chance to win at Belmont Park. Samraat held pace for much of the race at the Derby and never really faded; sprinters from the rest of the pack passed him in the final furlong for his fifth-place finish. Perhaps steady is the best way to win the Belmont Stakes, and Samraat appeared to be just that his last time out.

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