NEW YORK — The last 1 1/2 miles of the Triple Crown trail are littered with misses and heartbreak.
California Chrome will try to dodge it all and win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, which would make him horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
The Belmont is the longest of the three-race series, which spans five weeks. California Chrome began his bid with a victory in the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 3 and followed it up with a win in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on May 17. He’ll try to become the 12th horse to sweep the Triple Crown, one of the sporting world’s rarest feats.
Here are five things to know about the Belmont:
1. GIVE ME A ‘C’: That letter is the most popular first initial for winning Belmont runners. Horses with names that begin with ‘C’ have won 20 times. Of course, California Chrome has that trend well covered. The race also includes Commanding Curve and Commissioner. The only Triple Crown winners that started with ‘C’ were Count Fleet in 1943 and Citation in 1948.
2. UNLUCKY FAVORITES: The Belmont has not been kind to favorites. Since 2000, only two have won: Point Given in 2001 and Afleet Alex in 2005. The last odds-on favorite was Big Brown in 2008, and he didn’t finish the race. California Chrome is the early 3-5 favorite, based on his current six-race winning streak and thousands of sentimental fans who will want a souvenir $2 win ticket.
3. MISSES: The last two horses that came to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown were Big Brown in 2008 and I’ll Have Another in 2012. Big Brown never finished the race when jockey Kent Desormeaux pulled him up at the top of the stretch; I’ll Have Another was scratched the day before with a tendon injury. Two others — Burgoo King in 1932 and Bold Venture in 1936 — also didn’t run in the race.
4. OFF TO A GOOD START: Bob Baffert, the only trainer to lose the Belmont three times with horses that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, says a good start is key for California Chrome. The chestnut colt has been slow out of the starting gate in some of his earlier races because of his habit of shifting from one foot to the other. Jockey Victor Espinoza will try to keep California Chrome’s head pointed straight and get him to show early speed leaving the gate. Baffert says if the colt gets a clean break, he’s better than all the other horses in the race.
5. NUMBERS GAME: No Triple Crown winner has faced more than seven rivals in the Belmont. California Chrome will have 10 challengers, including two that will have run in all three races. Ride on Curlin was seventh in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness. General a Rod was 11th in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)