HORSE RACING: California Chrome faces 10 in quest to complete Triple Crown

NEW YORK — Trainer Billy Gowan let out a whoop when Ride on Curlin landed a midpack post for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.

You look for any possible edge when facing California Chrome, the 3-5 favorite to become horse racing’s 12th Triple Crown champion, and first in 36 years.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will face 10 rivals on Saturday, not a good omen in the quest for racing’s ultimate prize. This would be the largest Belmont field ever beaten by a Triple Crown winner. The 11 previous Triple Crown champions never faced more than seven rivals in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the longest of the three races in the series.

Since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown winner in 1978, three Belmont fields with the same history on the line also drew 11 horses in 1981, 1988 and 2002.

None of that bothers Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer

“They better worry about me,” he said.

Ride on Curlin is one of the handful of challengers with a realistic chance of pulling an upset. Gowan’s colt is the 12-1 fourth choice from post No. 5.

“I feel good about my post,” Gowan said after the draw Wednesday morning. “My horse is doing really well. He’s sound. He’s happy. He’s eating everything, so we’re ready to roll.”

After a trouble-filled trip to finish seventh in the Derby, Ride on Curlin uncorked a strong rally in the Preakness to get second, only 1 1/2 lengths behind California Chrome.

“Hopefully, another five-sixteenths of a mile and we’ll be able to catch him as opposed to the Preakness, but that Chrome is going to be hard to catch,” Gowan said.

Ride On Curlin will have a new jockey for the Belmont in Hall of Famer John Velazquez, a two-time Belmont winner with the filly Rags to Riches (2007) and Union Rags (2012).

Post positions are not a huge factor in the Belmont. In a race this long over a track with sweeping turns, jockeys have plenty of time to strategically position their horses.

California Chrome will break from the No. 2 post under Victor Espinoza. Eleven Belmont winners have come out of that spot in the starting gate, the last being Tabasco Cat in 1994.

“I like No. 2,” Espinoza said. “Hopefully, it’s my lucky number.”

Racing fans looking for an omen will see California Chrome listed No. 2 in the betting program, the same number as 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, who won the Belmont by a record 31 lengths while setting the track record of 2:24 that still stands.