Kentucky Derby Horses in the 2014 Belmont Stakes
by Trevor Whenham - 5/27/2014
When looking back at the last two decades of history in the Belmont Stakes, one trend stands out above all others - 14 of the last 20 winners also ran in the Kentucky Derby. That's a powerful trend, and there are at least two good reasons that can help to explain it. First, the best three-year-olds are pointed at the Derby, so on average it makes sense that those horses are going to be stronger five weeks later as well. Second, there is no better way to prepare for the difficult task of racing a mile and a half than previously running a mile and a quarter, and the Derby is the only opportunity for three year olds to run that far before the Belmont.
It originally looked like we were going to have as many as eight horses from the Derby back in the Belmont, but we have been hit hard with defections since - Intense Holiday was injured, Danza showed that he needed a longer break, and Candy Boy is now aimed elsewhere. That still leaves five Kentucky Derby entrants back for more in the Belmont - two iron horses who have contested the Derby and the Preakness and three more who took a break after the Derby. Here's a look at each of the five (odds to win the Belmont are from Sportsbook.ag):
California Chrome (even): There isn't much that I can say about this horse by now that hasn't already been said a hundred times in the last month. He was the solid favorite in the Derby, and he performed just like he deserved that distinction. He benefited from a slow early pace and a near-perfect trip, but his move at the top of the stretch was so explosively devastating that it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have won the race even with far less ideal circumstances. In the Preakness he was the heavy favorite, and again he ended the race far before the finish line with his signature explosive move. He's the real deal, and he's unquestionably the best horse in this field. That doesn't mean he is going to win this race, though. If it were that easy then we would have had three or four Triple Crown winners in the last 15 or 20 years. There are legitimate concerns about his ability to handle the distance given his meager breeding and also about his energy level after two Triple Crown races. Still, he's the horse to beat, and it is easier to believe that he can capture his place in history than it was for others - like War Emblem, who was, like California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza.
Ride On Curlin (+500): No horse has looked better in defeat against California Chrome this year than Ride On Curlin did in the Preakness. Chrome made his big move at the top of the stretch, and then Ride On Curlin just started chasing him. A lesser horse would have been caught. It was impressive, and it was another crazy chapter in an almost unbelievable story - a trainer with a tiny stable convinces an owner to buy a yearling at auction, and this is their first purchase. His Derby wasn't nearly as successful - he finished seventh. The ride from Calvin Borel in that race, though, was so impossibly bad that the race is almost a complete toss-away.
Just The Derby
Commanding Curve (+800): He had the third longest odds in the 19-horse field in the Kentucky Derby. At 38/1, then, he created some very nice payouts in exotics bets when he came from the back of the pack to finish second in the Derby. He also broke a lot of hearts and ruined a lot of bets because few obviously expected him to do what he did. He was easy to throw out of exotics then, but it would seem to be a mistake to do so again here. His breeding isn't ideal for this challenge, but he's going to be a factor.
Samraat (+2000): After a strong and impressive early spring, his last two races haven't quite been as good as they could be. He was a disappointing second in the Wood Memorial behind Wicked Strong. In the Derby he again wound up just behind Wicked Strong, finishing fifth. He looms as a bit of a forgotten horse in this race - it has been too long since he has done something to capture the imaginations of the public in a big race. His breeding isn't ideal, and he needs to have a better day than he had last time out, but there could be some value here at this price.
Wicked Strong (+800): He went from relative anonymity to the spotlight with his win in the Wood Memorial. In a prep season that was confusing at best, that effort stood out as the second-best behind California Chrome's win in the Santa Anita Derby, and Wicked Strong went off as the second favorite in the Kentucky Derby as a result. He ran fine in that race - particularly when you consider that he stumbled out of the gate, and he still wound up fourth. His breeding is strong for this challenge - sire Hard Spun was a Triple Crown warrior, and damsire Charismatic came close to a Triple Crown after winning the first two legs and breaking his leg in the stretch of the third. This horse probably isn't getting the respect he deserves here.
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