With a set of breezes scheduled this weekend for next Saturday’s $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, the field to face California Chrome and his Triple Crown bid will come into clearer focus.
There could be as many as 10 challengers, although a few of the outliers will need to perform well in workouts to warrant a shot at the Belmont.
The late additions include Medal Count, eighth in the Kentucky Derby; Kid Cruz, who breezed six furlongs on Friday; Federico Tesio runner-up Matuszak, who hasn’t won since breaking his maiden last September; and Matterhorn.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners appeared to have a good shot at the Belmont when Arkansas Derby winner Danza finished third in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Todd Pletcher decided to give him a break after he came out of a workout not quite 100 percent.
Eclipse stayed in the Belmont game, though, by purchasing Peter Pan runner-up Matterhorn recently from Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor. His breeze on Sunday will determine whether he runs in the Belmont.
Kid Cruz had his final breeze, but trainer Linda Rice said they’ll evaluate him this weekend to decide if the Belmont is a good idea.
Trainer Dale Romans, who trains Medal Count, may have been speaking for everyone when he told Churchill Downs, “As we know, it’s been 40 years, 11 [failed Triple Crown] chances. No one has been able to do it yet, so California Chrome has a tough thing to do.”
Others who are definite for the Belmont are Commanding Curve, Commissioner, Ride On Curlin, Samraat, Tonalist and Wicked Strong.
Coincidentally, Samraat’s sire, Noble Causeway, was euthanized on Tuesday because of complication of laminitis. Owned by Len Riggio of My Meadowview Farm, Noble Causeway was 14th in the 2005 Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Preakness.
With the Triple Crown on the line, NBC Sports has expanded its Belmont coverage to 16 hours of programming, led by the NBC broadcast of the Belmont Stakes beginning at 4:30 p.m. next Saturday.
Coverage begins Wednesday on NBC Sports Network with a half hour documentary, “California Chrome: The Unlikely Champion,” narrated by Bob Costas at 6:30.
Thursday, NBCSN revisits recent Belmont winners in two episodes of “Belmont Classics,” at 5:30 and 6:30.
NBCSN will carry Friday afternoon’s stakes from Belmont, plus all the latest on Belmont Day as part of “Belmont Stakes Access” at 5 p.m., followed by recaps of the Derby and the Preakness at 8:30 and 9:30.
Then race coverage on June 7 begins at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN before switching to the flagship network at 4:30.
BIG APPLE SHOWCASE
One week out from the Belmont, New York-breds take the spotlight at Belmont Park today with the Big Apple Showcase Day featuring six stakes worth $900,000.
The last stakes on the card is the $200,000 Commentator and includes two from Mechanicville’s Chad Brown — Zivo and Readtheprospectus.
Zivo comes into the Commentator on a four-race winning streak and is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line.
Readtheprospectus won the Commentator last year during a seven-race winning streak that ended when he was fifth in the Empire Classic.
“He took a little longer to get ready than I hoped, and there aren’t a lot of options for him because he’s won so many races, but I couldn’t be happier with him,” Brown told the New York Racing Association.
The hard-knocking Uncle Sigh, second in the Gotham and Withers and 14th in the Kentucky Derby, is 4-5 in the Mike Lee, the first leg of the Big Apple Triple, but he could scratch and wait for the Easy Goer on Belmont Day.
Another short favorite is 2-5 Effie Trinket in the Mount Vernon. The multiple stakes winner has been off the board just twice in 13 career starts, and is graded-stakes placed in her last three.
While Brown has two entered in the Commentator in New York, he has even more action at Penn National for the second annual Penn Mile card that features five stakes worth a total of $900,000.
Bobby’s Kitten, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, is the 8-5 favorite in the $500,000 Penn Mile, and his stablemate, Storming Inti, is the 3-1 third choice.
“It’s not ideal with horses that have similar running styles, but when both horses seem like they fit the race well, and when they will be among the top three choices for a half-million dollars, how do I keep them out?” Brown told the Penn National press office.
Brown has two other favorites on the card, which begins at 6:05 p.m. — 7-5 Ready to Act in the Penn Oaks and 5-2 Last Gunfighter in an interesting field for the Mountainview.
WinStar Farm’s Ready to Act, who broke her maiden first time out at Saratoga last summer, is 2-for-2 in 2014 after winning the Grade II Beaumont at Keeneland.
She’ll break from the rail, just inside Starlight
Racing’ s Ready’s Legend, another daughter of More Than Ready who is looking for her first win of the year.
Last Gunfighter, fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, opened 2014 with a win in the Hawthorne Cup.
Among those he’ll face in the $200,000 Mountainview are Travers dead-heat winner Golden Ticket and Ruler On Ice, who has just an allowance win in 15 starts since winning the 2011 Belmont.