Belmont undercard leads in to Chrome's historic run - NBC Sports

Belmont undercard leads in to Chrome's historic run
June 5, 2014, 12:45 pm

Elmont, NY -- Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, completing the sweep in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, and California Chrome now stands on the precipice of thoroughbred racing history.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will break from post 2 against 10 rivals, a tough starting spot from the inside, and the pressure will be on jockey Victor Espinoza to navigate a favorable trip. It’s been 20 years since Tabasco Cat recorded the last victory from post 2, but it’s not supposed to be easy.

The Triple Crown represents an extreme test of stamina and resiliency, three tough races in a five-week period over demanding distances, and the 36-year drought since the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, serves as the perfect testament.

WATCH -- California Chrome: The Unlikely Champion

NBC Sports kicks off its coverage from Belmont Park at 4:30 p.m. ET and the main event is scheduled for 6:52. NBCSN will televise undercard races from 2:30-4:30.

Belmont Park will go out to celebrate the 146th running of the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, offering an outstanding program of supporting features. The nine stakes on the undercard are worth a total of $6.2 million and the star-studded fields look similar to a Breeders’ Cup day of championship racing.

MORE: Triple Crown All-Access  |  How, where to watch Belmont Stakes

Here is a brief look at eight of the races:

A stellar field of six is entered in the $1 million Ogden Phipps, a Grade 1 event that brings together the top three older females in training: Beholder, Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches.

Dual champion Beholder defeated her main two rivals in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, but that came on her home track at Santa Anita. Listed as the 7-5 morning line favorite, the dynamic 4-year-old will give her locally-based foes a fair shake. Trained by Richard Mandella, the speedy filly will be prominent from the start with Gary Stevens.

Princess of Sylmar, the 9-5 second choice, reeled off Grade 1 wins last season in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama and Beldame before faltering out west in the Breeders’ Cup. The Todd Pletcher-trainee opened 2014 with a sharp score and will take some beating. Breeders’ Cup Distaff runner-up Close Hatches, a three-time Grade 1 winner and the 5-2 third choice, will enter in fine fettle for conditioner Bill Mott, recording a pair of authoritative stakes victories this year. She’s very dangerous.

The $1.25 million Metropolitan Handicap promises to be a dynamite affair. Also known as the Met Mile, the 13-horse field includes potentially America’s top older horse, Palace Malice, who also captured last year’s Belmont Stakes. He’s already posted three sharp wins this year for Pletcher and figures to be a heavy favorite Saturday, but the competition is deep.

Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile hero Goldencents will make his first start of the year in the Met Mile. Normandy Invasion is another talented rival along with graded stakes winners Central Banker, Clearly Now, Moreno, Shakin It Up and Vyjack.

The $1 million Manhattan is one of the nation’s prominent turf races and rising star Imagining, an excellent scorer in the Grade 1 Man o’ War last time out for trainer Shug McGaughey, will tackle nine opponents in the 1 1/4-mile affair.

Preakness third-placer Social Inclusion was under consideration for the Belmont Stakes, but his connections opted for the $500,000 Woody Stephens instead. Listed as the overwhelming 7-5 early favorite, the colt brings plenty of speed to the equation and receives a rider switch to top jockey Joel Rosario. He’ll look to run 12 rivals off the feet in the seven-furlong test.

The $750,000 Just a Game kicks off the $1.5 million guaranteed Pick 4 that concludes with the Belmont Stakes and the one-mile turf test features a contentious field of 10 females, including Stephanie’s Kitten and Better Lucky, last year’s top two finishers.

The $750,000 Acorn is highlighted by My Miss Sophia and Unbridled Forever, the runner-up and third-place finishers from the May 2 Kentucky Oaks. Thirteen fillies will square off in the one-mile race.

The $500,000 Brooklyn Handicap is the first graded stakes of the afternoon and features a well-matched field of eight runners, including last year’s Kentucky Derby runner-up, Golden Soul. The $300,000 Jaipur follows the Brooklyn and contains a field of 11 crack turf sprinters.

Racing fans will have plenty of terrific racing action to whet their appetite as they wait to see California Chrome‘s Triple Crown bid.