So, it’s California Chrome against the world in the Belmont Stakes. Well, not quite the entire world; just the entities that will challenge him on June 7. As much as his human opponents would love to see a Triple Crown, they still must go out and try their darndest to spoil the party.
If you are hardened enough to try to beat him, you certainly have a number of options, as Ride On Curlin, Commanding Curve, likely wise guy horse Tonalist, and Wicked Strong all look strong and all look pretty similar, having either run big in the Derby and Preakness or, as in the case of Tonalist, are fresh, in top form, and have a victory over the track.
But there is also Samraat and Commissioner, and possibly Social Inclusion if he runs. However, it is the newest addition to the field, Medal Count, that should have trip handicappers and those who implore other strong angles fairly excited about nailing a big score.
First off, in all the years I’ve known Dale Romans, I have never seen him as confident in a horse as he was before the Derby. And just for the record, he is still confident his horse is going to run big, although he admits to having a lot more respect for California Chrome now than he did before the Derby.
In dissecting the Derby, Medal Count got the old squeeze put on him going past the stands the first time, as Wildcat Red, on his inside, and Tapiture, on his outside, tightened things up and put the colt in a vice grip. Robby Albarado had the choice to try to bull his way out of there at the risk of getting leaned on from both sides even more or ease back and give him at least a clear run going into the first turn. He chose the latter, and while he did lose position, he still was in a good spot.
Medal Count raced in midpack down the backstretch without any traffic problems, while staying in releative striking distance of the leaders.
Around the far turn, Albarado let out a notch and Medal Count began passing horses, closing to within about five or six lengths of California Chrome, who was already off to the races. Albarado did not attempt to circle the field, as Dance With Fate did, and as a result had a swarm of horses in front of him. He kept grinding, waiting for lanes to open up. Just when he found his best stride and was accelerating through an opening, Danza came out abruptly and clobbered him, forcing Albarado to take up sharply and duck to the inside.
With no shot to win, Albarado gave him one little right-hand smack and didn’t persevere after that, letting him finish on his own. Medal Count still had some run in him and was moving with authority under no urging and still missed fourth by only 1 3/4 lengths.
It is important to remember that the Derby was Medal Count’s third race in five weeks, as Romans had to do a rush job getting him ready for the race. After winning the Transylvania Stakes, he came back in only eight days and ran a new top figure on the Ragozin Sheets. Now with a five-week freshening, he should be in top form, as indicated by his bullet six-furlong work in 1:10 3/5.
“That was one of the best I’ve ever had a horse work,” Romans said. “This horse is just a machine and he’s on a major uptick; he just keeps on improving. He did it galloping along; it was so easy for him. He was fully recovered by the time he walked off the racetrack. We didn’t ask him to do any running, but if they’re good and they’re on their game they do it. He likes to work and he likes to run.”
Romans said he’ll run Medal Count pretty much off the plane, arriving at Belmont on the Thursday before the race. He feels the horse is not surface sensitive at all and runs equally well on all kinds of tracks. He realizes Belmont can be a different experience for many horses and take some getting used to, but he doesn’t feel that applies to this horse.
Romans said he has never been able to get Medal Count tired and hasn’t even come close to getting to the bottom of him. He also has that grinding, in your face style of running that should be conducive to Belmont and a mile and a half, especially being a son of major stamina influence Dynaformer. He just keeps coming and coming and should appreciate the galloping nature of the Belmont Stakes.
In Medal Count’s tail-female family, his great-grandsire, Pirate’s Bounty, is the broodmare sire of Belmont Stakes winner Da’ Tara, and he also traces to Cohoes, sire of Belmont Stakes winner Quadrangle.
Some still feel he is best on synthetic, but Dynaformers as a whole are dirt horses, as are the Unbridled’s Songs (his broodmare sire), and he definitely showed enough in the Kentucky Derby to suggest that dirt is not a problem for him. If you look at his works at Gulfstream Park this winter, he breezed five furlongs in under 1:00 five times (:59 4/5, :59 4/5, :59 1/5, and :59 flat). He also worked a pair of half-miles in :47 flat and :47 1/5.
On paper, there certainly are several others who look better than him, but at the odds he’s going to be, he could provide as much, or more, value, especially in the exotics.