ELMONT, N.Y. — Post position rarely is significant in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes. The key is how a horse starts, not where it starts from. Avoiding traffic trouble is what matters most, and no one knows what will happen when the gates open. Then there’s the greatest unknown: who will stay strong through an exhausting marathon none of these 3-year-olds ever has attempted.
Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome drew post 2 in a field of 11 Wednesday at Belmont Park, and linemaker Eric Donovan made him the 3-5 favorite for Saturday’s 146th “Test of the Champion.”
The draw pleased Art Sherman, the California-bred colt’s 77-year-old trainer.
“Going a mile and a half, it’s a good post position,” Sherman said. “At least you can save some ground and see who’s going to have the speed and where you’ll land going into the first turn. It’s going to be a jockeys’ race anyhow, so it’s up to Victor to ride the race the way he’s been riding.
“I can’t predict who’s going to go for the lead, but I don’t see him being any farther back than third on the backstretch.”
Sherman’s son, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, sees post 2 as a positive omen: “Secretariat drew No. 2 in the Belmont.”
Big Red did draw post 2 in the 1973 Belmont but ran from the rail because Knightly Dawn was scratched. The all-time great set unbreakable records — 31 lengths and 2:24. The Shermans would be ecstatic to win by a nose against the biggest field ever with a Triple Crown on the line.
Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong (post 9, 6-1) is the second favorite, with Peter Pan winner Tonalist (post 11) next at 8-1. Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin (post 5) is 12-1, with the rest 15-1 or higher. The past eight Belmont champions skipped the Preakness, and only Ride On Curlin and General a Rod are challenging California Chrome for the third time.
Social Inclusion, who might have set the pace in the Belmont, was entered instead in the undercard’s 7-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes. Before the Preakness, the colt sweated profusely and nearly flipped in the gate. On Tuesday, Sherman said it would be wise for Social Inclusion to skip the Belmont,
“Just from the pattern, I don’t think [owner Ron Sanchez] would want to run him a mile and a half,” Sherman said. “Loading in front of all those people would be really hard on him, and they might not even get him loaded.”
The highly improbable saga of California Chrome has made the 13th Triple Crown bid in the past 36 years irresistible to mainstream media and casual fans. Co-owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin bred him for only $10,500 — $8,000 for the mare Love the Chase and $2,500 to mate her with the obscure sire Lucky Pulpit. “Chromie” has earned international fame and more than $3.45 million.
“It’s been a tremendous ride, and it’s all coming to the top of the Triple Crown pyramid,” Coburn said. “He’s an amazing animal, one in a bazillion. He could have been born to anyone, but he was born to us.
“I think we have America on our side, except for these people who are running their horses against us. I hope that after the Belmont they come on board.”