Friday, June 6, 2014

California Chrome Heads Belmont 146 Field In Bid To Sweep Triple Crown; Western Hymn Looks Like Interesting Long Shot In Epsom Derby

©2014 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.

All eyes of the horseracing world will be on California Chrome, Saturday, when he makes his bid to win the 146th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1) which is the last jewel of the prestigious Triple Crown of American horseracing. Only 11 Classic Champion Thoroughbreds have earned the title “Triple Crown winner” and that honor was last accomplished thirty-six years ago when Affirmed won the 1978 Belmont Stakes (G1) by a nose, defeating his tough rival and opponent, Alydar.

A field of 11 Thoroughbreds will go to the starting gate in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and California Chrome is the prohibitive 3-5 morning-line favorite. Undefeated in his last six starts with a combined win margin of 27½-lengths, California Chrome looms as the horse to beat. However, this race could be his greatest challenge, yet. And, that’s what the Belmont is supposed to be – “The test of champions.”

Several horses that California Chrome defeated in the Kentucky Derby have been entered in the Belmont, along with several new competitors. 

Of the horses in this race, I like the same ones I liked in the Kentucky Derby – California Chrome, Ride On Curlin, Commanding Curve, Wicked Strong and Medal Count. Of the new horses, I like Tonalist the best. He’s a first-class colt and he’ll be a tough competitor in the Belmont.

Matuszak, Commissioner and Matterhorn all have high profile scores and, while they have the pedigree to become a Classic Champion Thoroughbred, for one reason or another, they have yet to live up to their breeding. They would need to make a big move forward and improve their game considerably to victorious in the Belmont.

Of those three, I like Commissioner the best. His second-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) was a step in the right direction and he could be getting good at the right time of year. However, I would only use him in the bottom of the exotics.

If you throw out Matuszak, Commissioner and Matterhorn, the top four horses are Tonalist (333.13), Ride On Curlin (331.26), Commanding Curve (326.26) and Wicked Strong (320.00). The questions remains, what to do with the other two horses I like, Medal Count (318.75) and California Chrome (303.76), and not go over my Belmont Stakes (G1) wagering budget.

Let’s take at the favorite, California Chrome, and the other horses I like.

CALIFORNIA CHROME (3-5) – A Chestnut colt by Lucky Pulpit out of Love the Chase by Not For Love was foaled February 18, 2011. He comes into the Belmont Stakes (G1) for the connections of Steven Coburn and Martin Perry with a 8-1-0 record in 12 starts. Here’s the chart call and video replay of the Preakness Stakes:

CALIFORNIA CHROME broke alertly, angled out a path when PABLO DEL MONTE dropped in early, straightened to follow the leaders into the first turn, was guided three wide soon after to take a stalking position, commenced a run when given his cue into the far turn, took over between rivals just past three eighths pole, withstood outside pressure from SOCIAL INCLUSION, shook clear of that rival entering the stretch, spurted away when roused right handed then held sway under pressure.

California Chrome is, definitely, a talented horse and he’s the deserving victor of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

However, in my Derby blog, and Preakness blog I noted that after viewing replays of the three races that California Chrome lost, it appeared that behavioral issues were a big factor in those losses.

Here’s a look at the video of California Chrome’s loss in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes. Here’s the video of his loss in the Del Mar Futurity (G1). Here’s the video of his loss Golden State Juvenile Stakes.

In all three of those races, when California Chrome was in between horses or behind in traffic, it was very hard for him to overcome that and press on to victory. However, neither of those situations occurred in the Derby or Preakness as California Chrome started clean from the gate and ran clear near the lead in both races. I’ve always thought that if California Chrome did not break well and was stuck in the middle of the herd, that he would run close to his profile score or worse. Trainer Bob Baffert also thinks the break is the key to victory for California Chrome.

So far, jockey Victor Espinoza has done a masterful job of keeping California Chrome free and clear near the lead in the Derby and Preakness. If he can put him in that same spot in the Belmont, then California Chrome could have a good chance to sweep the Triple Crown.

From the pedigree perspective, California Chrome has the breeding to be competitive in the Belmont. He’s a sire-line descendant of the A. P. Indy, Seattle Slew, Bold Ruler Ancestral Herd and, overall, eight descendants from that herd have won the Belmont Stakes: Rags to Riches (2007), A. P. Indy (1992), Risen Star (1988), Swale (1984), Caveat (1983), Seattle Slew (1977), Bold Forbes (1976) and Secretariat (1973).

Since 1990, there have been a total of 249 horses compete in the Belmont Stakes. Of those 249 horses, 43 (17%) were descendants of the Bold Ruler, Nasrullah Ancestral Herd and 16 of those 43 runners (37%) finished in the top four.

 Is California Chrome a throwback to Seattle Slew and Secretariat who were both Triple Crown winners?

Only time will tell.

RIDE ON CURLIN (12-1) – A bay colt by Curlin out of Magical Ride by Storm Cat was foaled on February 16, 2011. As a yearling at auction, Ride On Curlin fetched a mere $25,000 from bidders at the Keeneland September 2012 Yearling Sale. Ride On Curlin comes into the Belmont Stakes (G1) with a 2-3-4 record in 11 starts. Here’s a look at the chart call and video of his run in the Preakness Stakes (G1):

RIDE ON CURLIN settled in the clear while two to three wide, angled out when edging closer into the far turn, made a nice four wide run approaching the quarter pole, straightened and gave willing chase and was well clear for the place.

I really liked Ride On Curlin in the Kentucky Derby and have no doubt, if he had the same ride in the Derby that he had in the Preakness, he would have finished in the money and, perhaps, won the race. Ride On Curlin has the breeding to easily handle the stretch out to 12-furlongs and he has a good chance to win the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Ride On Curlin is a sire-line descendant of the Mr. Prospector Ancestral Herd which has been the most dominant herd on the Triple Crown Trail. Since 1990, there have been 15 descendants of the Mr. Prospector herd who won the Belmont: Palace Malice (2013 Belmont), Ruler On Ice (2011 Belmont), Drosselmeyer (2010 Belmont) Summer Bird (2009 Belmont), Jazil (2006 Belmont), Afleet Alex (2005 Preakness, Belmont) Birdstone (2004 Belmont), Empire Maker (2003 Belmont), Point Given (2001 Preakness, Belmont), Commendable (2000 Belmont), Lemon Drop Kid (1999 Belmont),  Victory Gallop (1998 Belmont), Editor’s Note (1996 Belmont), Thunder Gulch (1995 Kentucky Derby, Belmont), Hansel (1991 Preakness, Belmont). Conquistador Cielo won the 1982 Belmont Stakes (G1).

Since 1990, there have been a total of 249 horses compete in the Belmont Stakes. Of those 249 horses, 66 (27%) were descendants of the Mr. Prospector Ancestral Herd and 38 of those 66 runners (58%) finished in the top four.

In addition, Ride On Curlin is bred on a nick with the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd and since 1990, that has been the most successful nick on the Triple Crown Trail producing 13 Classic Champion Thoroughbreds. Of those 13 winners, nine won the Belmont Stakes (G1):

Palace Malice (2013 Belmont). Sire line: Curlin/Smart Strike/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Palace Rumor/Royal Anthem/Theatrical/Nureyev/Northern Dancer.

  Drosselmeyer  (2010 Belmont). Sire line: Distorted Humor/Forty Niner/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Golden Ballet/Moscow Ballet/Nijinsky/Northern Dancer.

Lookin at Lucky (2010 Preakness). Sire line: Smart Strike/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Private Feeling/Belong To Me/Danzig/Northern Dancer.

Summer Bird (2009 Belmont). Sire line: Birdstone/Grindstone/Unbridled/ Fappiano/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Hong Kong Squall/Summer Squall/Storm Bird/Northern Dancer.

Curlin (2007 Preakness). Sire line: Smart Strike/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Sherrifs Deputy/Deputy Minister/Vice Regent/Northern Dancer.

Street Sense (2007 Kentucky Derby). Sire line: Street Cry/Machiavellian/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Bedazzle/Dixieland Band/Northern Dancer.

Jazil (2006 Belmont). Sire line: Seeking The Gold/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Better Than Honour/Deputy Minister/Vice Regent/Northern Dancer.

Birdstone (2004 Belmont). Sire Line: Grindstone/Unbridled/Fappiano/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Dear Birdie/Storm Bird/Northern Dancer.

Empire Maker (2003 Belmont). Sire line: Unbridled/Fappiano/

Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Toussard/El Gran Senor/Northern Dancer.

Fusaichi Pegasus (2000 Kentucky Derby). Sire line: Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Angel Fever/Danzig/Northern Dancer.

Victory Gallop (1998 Belmont). Sire line: Cryptoclearance/Fappiano/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Victorious Lil/Vice Regent/Northern Dancer.

Thunder Gulch (1995 Kentucky Derby & Belmont). Sire line: Gulch/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Line of Thunder/Storm Bird/Northern Dancer.

Hansel (1991 Preakness & Belmont). Sire line: Woodman/Mr. Prospector. Damsire line: Count On Bonnie/Dancing Count/Northern Dancer.

Curlin, the sire of Ride On Curlin, did not make his career debut until February of his 3-year-old racing season and was undefeated in three starts, including wins in the Rebel Stakes (G3) and Arkansas Derby (G2), en route to a third-place finish in the 2007 Kentucky Derby (G1). Curlin went on to win the Preakness Stakes (G1) by a head and he lost the Belmont Stakes (G1) by a head to Rags to Riches.

During his career, Curlin won numerous Eclipse awards, compiled an 11-2-2 record in 16 career starts and earned over $10.5 million dollars. At stud, Curlin sired the 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.

Smart Strike, the grandsire of Ride On Curlin, has proven to be an outstanding sire of champions and classic champions. He sired the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds Curlin and Lookin at Lucky and he’s the damsire of the 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.

In addition, Smart Strike is the sire of numerous Canadian Sovereign Award winners: Soaring Free, Portcullis, Added Edge, Eye of the Sphynx, Gold Strike; and Smart Strike is the sire of the American Eclipse Award winner English Channel.

Storm Cat, the damsire of Ride on Curlin, sired Tabasco Cat, winner of the 1994 Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Storm Cat also sired the outstanding European champion Giant’s Causeway, who was undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old (all at 7-furlongs) – winning the Group 3 Futurity Stakes and the Group 1 Prix de la Salamandre Stakes. As a 3-year-old, Giant’s Causeway was 6-4-0 in 10 starts, winning from 7- to 10-furlongs, and he was the 2000 Cartier Racing Awards European Horse of the Year.

A recent bullet work out at Pimlico on May 14 and a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (G1) could have Ride On Curlin primed to run a career-best race at a nice price, and, I look for him to be very tough in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

TONALIST (8-1) – A bay colt by Tapit out of Settling Mist by Pleasant Colony was foaled on February 11, 2011. He comes into the Belmont with a 2-1-0 record in four starts for owner Robert S. Evans and trainer Christophe Clement.

Since finishing fourth in his maiden debut, Tonalist has steadily improved his performance with each race and his four-length win over a sloppy track in the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) is a good indicator that he is getting good at the right time of year. Here’s the chart call and video of the Peter Pan Stakes (G2):

TONALIST lost his footing at the start, took to the two path and ranged up inside of FABULOUS KID to take over while in hand just inside the seven-eighths, shook away in the turn placed to coaxing, swung three wide for home, got placed to a drive straightened away, kicked clear under a drive before being taken in hand in the final strides to the wire.

Tonalist is a first-class horse and unlike Ride On Curlin, who comes from off the pace, he has good speed and he’ll be able to run on the front end with California Chrome. Tonalist’s time of 1:35.63 at the mile marker and 1:48.30 at the finish of the Peter Pan is what I like to see in a young colt that may have classic potential.

In addition, his high Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile of 333.13 shows that Tonalist will be able to easily handle the stretch out to the 12-furlong distance of the Belmont Stakes.

A.P. Indy, the great grandsire of Tonalist, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes (G1) and he, too, won the Peter Pan in preparation for a run in the Belmont. His splits at the mile were 1:35.26 and 1:47.49 at the finish.

Seattle Slew, the second great grandsire of Tonalist, was the 1977 Triple Crown winner. There’s also a classic influence in Unbridled, the damsire of Tonalist’s sire, Tapit.

Pleasant Colony, the damsire of Tonalist, was a very good racehorse who won the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) en route to victories in the 1981 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) and a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

The tail-female family (Family 3-l) of Tonalist is a very good line that descends from the fourth dam, Missy Baba, who also was the fourth dam of the Classic Champion Thoroughbreds A.P. Indy, Summer Squall and Lemon Drop Kid.

Sid Fernando, owner of eNicks and president of and Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, Inc., has been keen on Tonalist as a classic prospect since February of this year and I, too, like his chances in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

COMMANDING CURVE (15-1) – A bay ridgling by Master Command out of Mother by Lion Hearted was foaled on March 23, 2011. He comes into the Belmont Stakes (G1) with a 1-2-2 record in seven starts for owner West Point Thoroughbreds and trainer by Dallas Stewart.

Commanding Curve was my long shot pick in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and the Louisiana Derby (G2). When Hoppertunity dropped out of contention in the Kentucky Derby, Commanding Curve’s Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile of 326.26 gave him a third-place ranking in the Derby field and he finished second, a 1¾-length runner up to California Chrome. Here’s the chart call and video of the Derby:

COMMANDING CURVE, unhurried early, raced three wide nearing the half mile marker, advanced between runners departing the far turn, swung eight wide entering the stretch and closed nicely.

  I knew that Commanding Curve would run a good race in the Derby. His racing form showed that he was improving with each race and was primed to run a career best. Plus, his high Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile showed he had the breeding to be competitive.

Commanding Curve, like California Chrome and Tonalist, is a descendant of the Bold Ruler Ancestral Herd.

Master Command, the sire of Commanding Curve, was a multiple graded-stakes winner who compiled an 8-2-2 record in 17 starts with $1,137,188 in career earnings. He made only two sprint starts at 6-furlongs, finishing second in both races, while all of his other races were in routes where he excelled at 9-furlongs.

Of Master Command’s eight victories, five of them were in stakes competition. His most notable stakes wins were in the National Jockey Club Handicap (G3), New Orleans Handicap (G2), Meadowlands Breeders’ Cup Stakes (G2) and the William Donald Schaefer Handicap (G3), all at 9-furlongs, and the 8½-furlong Mineshaft Handicap (G3).

A.P. Indy, the grandsire of Commanding Curve, won the 1992 Belmont Stakes and great grandsire, Seattle Slew, won the 1977 Triple Crown.

Lion Hearted, the damsire of Commanding Curve, was placed in several graded-stakes races and compiled a 4-6-3 record in 18 starts with $191,630 in earnings. Lion Hearted never started in a route race and his most notable stakes placing was a second-place finish in the Riva Ridge Stakes (G2) and the Amsterdam Stakes (G3), both at 6-furlongs.

So, it is unknown if Lion Hearted could be a speed or stamina influence for Commanding Curve. However, with the right breeding, the Storm Cat line has been known to produce stamina-oriented horses like Tabasco Cat and Giant’s Causeway.

In addition, Commanding Curve’s tail-female line is reinforced by the influences of Topsider and Tom Rolfe and Nodouble.

Commanding Curve has been working out good at Belmont Park and his high profile number makes him competitive with this group. I look for Commanding Curve to run another good race.

WICKED STRONG (6-1) – A bay colt by Hard Spun out of Moyne Abbey by Charismatic was foaled on April 28, 2011. He comes into the Belmont for owner Centennial Farms and trainer James Jerkens with a 2-1-1 record in seven starts. Wicked Strong was originally ranked fifth in my Kentucky Derby 140 rankings with a profile score of 320.00. But when Hoppertunity dropped out of contention, Wicked Strong moved up to the fourth spot and he finished fourth in the Derby. Here’s the chart call and video of the Derby:

WICKED STRONG stumbled at the break, drifted in bumping CANDY BOY when five wide into the first turn, came in again tightening DANCE WITH FATE and GENERAL A ROD leaving the six furlong marker, leveled into stride between horses entering far turn, gained nearing the lane, altered in to avoid DANZA in mid-stretch, continued to weave through traffic and finished willingly.

It still stings when I think about Danza interfering with Wicked Strong and Medal Count in the stretch drive. With no interference, Wicked Strong would have probably finished at least third and I would have cashed in on the trifecta. With Medal Count included in the mix, I also had the superfecta four times. Ouch!

Wicked Strong is a sire-line descendant of the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd and descendants from that herd have won six Belmont Stakes: Union Rags (2012), Touch Gold (1997), Tabasco Cat (1994), Go and Go (1990), Bet Twice (1987) and Danzig Connection (1986).

Since 1990, there have been a total of 249 horses compete in the Belmont Stakes. Of those 249 horses, 65 (26%) were descendants of the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd and 21 of those 65 runners (32%) finished in the top four.

Hard Spun, the sire of Wicked Strong, was a multiple graded-stakes winner who finished second in the 2007 Kentucky Derby (G1), third in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and fourth in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Northern Dancer, the great grandsire of Wicked Strong, was an outstanding Classic Champion Thoroughbred won the 1964 Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1). At stud, descendants of the Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd have had worldwide dominance producing numerous classic champions.

Turkoman, the damsire of Hard Spun, was also the damsire of Point Given, winner of the 2001 Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1).

Charismatic, the damsire of Wicked Strong, was a multiple graded-stakes winner and Classic Champion Thoroughbred who missed sweeping the 1999 Triple Crown with a loss by a head to Lemon Drop Kid in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Summer Squall, the second damsire of Wicked Strong, was a multiple graded-stakes winner and winner of the 1990 Preakness Stakes (G1). With Approval, the sire of Wicked Strong’s second dam, was the 1989 Canadian Triple Crown winner.

Despite Hard Spun’s fourth-place finish in the Belmont, there are a lot of good classic influences in the pedigree of Wicked Strong and his Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profileof 320.00 indicate that he will be competitive in the Belmont.

MEDAL COUNT (20-1) – A bay colt by Dynaformer out of Brisquette by Unbridled’s Song was foaled on May 1, 2011. He comes into the Belmont with a 3-1-0 record in eight starts for owner Spendthrift Farm, LLC, and trainer Dale Romans. Medal Count was originally ranked sixth in my Derby rankings but was moved up to fifth when Hoppertunity dropped out of Derby contention. Medal Count finished eighth after he was interfered with by Danza in the stretch drive. Here’s the chart call and video of the Derby:

MEDAL COUNT was shuffled back upon entering the first turn, settled between foes four wide near the five furlong marker, took closer order when ridden between runners heading to the quarter pole, steadied sharply after being bumped by DANZA in mid-stretch, angled in late and finished fairly well.

Despite his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Medal Count has the breeding to be competitive in classic competition. If Danza had not interfered with Medal Count in the stretch drive, he could have, perhaps, finished on the board or in the money.

Medal Count is a sire-line descendant of the Royal Charger Ancestral Herd and it’s been 34 years since a descendant from that herd won the Belmont. Overall, there have been four descendants of that herd who have won the Belmont Stakes: Temperence Hill (1980), Riva Ridge (1972), Pass Catcher (1971) and Hail to All (1965).

Since 1990, there have been a total of 249 horses compete in the Belmont Stakes. Of those 249 horses, 20 (8%) were descendants of the Royal Charger Ancestral Herd and seven of those 20 runners (35%) finished in the top four.

Dynaformer, the sire of Medal Count, sired Barbaro, winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Lucarno, winner of the 2007 English St. Leger Stakes (G1). And, Dynaformer also sired Brilliant Speed who finished third in the 2011 Belmont Stakes (G1).

The tail-female line of Medal Count is reinforced by the stallions Unbridled’s Song, Pirates Bounty, Northern Dancer and Cohoes. Pirate’s Bounty was the damsire of Da’ Tara, winner of the 2008 Belmont Stakes (G1). Northern Dancer was an outstanding Classic Champion Thoroughbred and Sire of Sires. Cohoes sired Quadrangle, winner of the 1964 Belmont Stakes (G1).

Trainer Dale Romans is high on Medal Count’s chances in the Belmont.

“"He's training well, said Romans in a Courier-Journal news story by turf writer Jennie Rees. “I think he had a terrible trip in the Derby. I think he was the third-best horse at worst. He's doing so well that we want to give him another chance with the big boys."

Indeed, two recent bullet work outs at Churchill Downs could have Medal Count ready to run a career-best race and his Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile indicates that he will be competitive in the Belmont.


Here’s a look at the Ancestral Herds and Classic Champion Thoroughbred Profile[s] of the contenders in this year’s Belmont Stakes:

Mr. Prospector Ancestral Herd – Ride on Curlin (331.26) and General A Rod (306.26). Northern Dancer Ancestral Herd – Wicked Strong (320.00) and Samraat (295.63). Bold Ruler Ancestral Herd – Matuszak (368.75), Commissioner (353.13), Tonalist (333.13), Matterhorn (330.63), Commanding Curve (326.26) and California Chrome (303.76). Royal Charger Ancestral Herd – Medal Count (318.75).



          A field of 16 young Thoroughbreds has been entered to run Saturday in the English classic Investec Epsom Derby (G1) with Australia listed as the ante post favorite. Here are the past performances.

I haven’t handicapped this race, but a quick look at the pedigrees and I like Western Hymn a lot as a long shot pick to win at a nice price. I also like the long shots Orchestra and Impulsive Moment.