Belmont Stakes 2014: Can California Chrome go the distance?

Belmont Stakes 2014: California Chrome could become the 12th Triple Crown champion with a win in the Belmont Stakes early Saturday evening in New York. Can California Chrome make history?

Peter Morgan/AP
Exercise rider Willie Delgado gallops California Chrome on a second lap during a workout at Belmont Park, Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y.

It hasn't happened in 36 years. Affirmed was the last thoroughbred horse to win all three Triple Crown races in one year.

That's why all eyes will be on California Chrome Saturday at Belmont Park in New York City. California Chrome has won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Now, Chrome has the opportunity to make history in the 146th Belmont Stakes. Ten other thoroughbreds will try to deny him.

The fact that there hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since 1978 is roughly comparable to US pro sports teams not reaching their respective league championship game.

The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions have been members of the National Football League for over 60 years, but neither franchise has made it to the Super Bowl.

Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals began life 45 years ago as the Montreal Expos, but have never played in the World Series.

The Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association started off 44 years ago as the Buffalo Braves, but have yet to reach the NBA Finals. And the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes were the Winnipeg Jets in a previous incarnation, coming into the NHL 35 years ago. But the Coyotes haven't sniffed the Stanley Cup Final.

No such list of perennial wannabes would be complete without a mention of baseball's Chicago Cubs, who haven't been in the World Series since 1945 and haven't won it in 106 years.

The fact that there have only been 11 horses to pull off the feat in the past 140 years speaks to the challenge. But there are those who believe California Chrome is that rare horse who, with the right breeding, training, and kismet, comes along once in a lifetime.

At Wednesday's post position draw, Chrome took the No. 2 position. That means that on Saturday, Chrome will start one spot from the inside rail, for the mile-and-a-half race – the longest Triple Crown event. Trainer Art Sherman is confident in his horse, leading up to the Belmont.

"I feel better about this race than I have any other race, to be honest with you, just looking at the horse and saying, 'Wow,'" Sherman told "I see how far he's advanced. I know it'll be tougher going a mile and a half, but this horse is a good horse. I think he's the real McCoy.

Some observers feel the distance of the Belmont could prove to be California Chrome's downfall. Even Sherman's son and assistant trainer, Alan, was impressed the first time he saw the New York track up close.

Who might upset California Chrome?

Wicked Strong, the thoroughbred with Boston connections who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and skipped the Preakness, will start the Belmont from post position No. 9.

Ride On Curlin, who finished runner-up to California Chrome in the Preakness, is back for the Belmont and gets the No. 5 post position.

Other Kentucky Derby horses scheduled to start the Belmont include General a Rod, Medal Count,  and Commanding Curve, who finished second to California Chrome in the Run for the Roses.

There's also a newcomer to the Triple Crown race field this weekend. Tonalist has been working towards the Belmont and will start on the outside from the No. 11 post position.

The Belmont Stakes is scheduled to start at 6:52 p.m. Eastern time Saturday evening. It will be televised by NBC.

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