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NEW YORK – Jockey Victor Espinoza, whose last try at clinching the Triple Crown ended with an eighth place in the 2002 Belmont Stakes, explained why he feels he has a better shot to get it done this time.

"Because I have a different horse," Espinoza said Wednesday after his mount, 3-5 favorite California Chrome, drew the No.2 starting post for Saturday's mile and a half Belmont, which will decide whether he becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

In 2002, with Espinoza in the saddle, War Emblem stumbled out of the starting gate and tired at the top of the stretch. The race was won by 70-1 long shot Sarava.

"California Chrome is very talented. War Emblem, he was, too, but he was an attitude horse," said Espinoza. "He did not like being behind horses. He liked to go in the front … and a mile a half is really, really tough for a horse that just wants to go in the front.

"He was not saving energy in the beginning. That's why it's different now. California Chrome is a different horse. He's really kind and mellow, and he just does whatever I tell him to do. … I let him know that I'm the boss, and he has to listen to me in the race, and he does that."

California Chrome has won six races in a row since Espinoza, 42, a native of Mexico, took over as his jockey.

In the 11-horse Belmont, the field will include Wicked Strong, who will start out of the No. 9 post. He's the second choice at 6-1.

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Wicked Strong was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and sat out the Preakness. He comes in off five weeks rest instead of the three California Chrome has had since winning the Preakness.

California Chrome is one of just three Belmont entries who also competed in the Derby and Preakness.

Ride on Curlin, seventh in the Derby and second in the Preakness, will start out of the No. 5 post and is 12-1 on the morning line. General a Rod, 11th in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness, drew the No. 10 post at 20-1.

Other fresh horses include Tonalist, third choice at 8-1 out of the No. 11 post. He did not run in the Derby or Preakness. In his last race, he won the May 10 Peter Pan at Belmont.

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The field also includes Commanding Curve, second in the Derby and absent from the Preakness. At 15-1 on the morning line, he'll start from the No.4 post.

"That's why it's tough," said Espinoza.

"They're nice and fresh for the next race. … Any horse that's going to win the Triple Crown, it's going to be better than any horse in history because this is the year there's the toughest race ever. Not just this year, like the last past 10 years."

Trainer Todd Pletcher will have two horses in the Belmont, Commissioner (20-1, No. 8 post) and Matterhorn (30-1, No. 3 post). Neither ran in the Derby or Preakness. Both ran May 10 in the Peter Pan, where Commissioner was second and Matterhorn was fourth.

"I think (freshness) is an edge … and I think that's one of the many reasons why the Triple Crown is so hard to win," said Pletcher. When you get horses like Wicked Strong and Tonalist … that are proven to be good horses and have additional time in between races, that's what makes it tough for the California Chromes and the horses that compete in the middle leg."

Another element is the size of the fields in the Belmont.

There have been 11 Triple Crown winners. The first was Sir Barton in 1919. The last was Affirmed in 1978. None of them ran in a Belmont field of more than eight horses. It was a five-horse race when Affirmed won in 1978. Sir Barton won in a three-horse field in 1919.

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In the past 10 years, the Belmont has had only one field of less than nine horses (seven in 2007).

So Espinoza and California Chrome will be tested on multiple fronts.

How is California Chrome's temperament going into the race?

"I wish I knew. I wish he could talk," said Espinoza. "But yeah, he's really nice and kind, a lot of talent, and he loves his job, and hope he's ready for Saturday."

In the 19-horse Derby, California Chrome had the No. 5 post. Espinoza didn't want to be any closer to the rail, particularly not the inside post. But he said the starting position is no big deal over the mile and a half of the Belmont. The Derby is a mile and a quarter.

"This time I was not really concerned about the post. It's a long race, so the post does not mean much. But out of the two (post), there's a short way to make the turn, so I'm happy," said Espinoza.

After the draw, Espinoza was headed to a TV taping of the Late Show With David Letterman.

Espinoza and Art Sherman, California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer, don't go into a race with a prearranged tactical plan. Sherman says he trusts Espinoza's judgment during the race. Espinoza said that's how he was approaching his TV appearance.

"You know what? When I'm prepared things never work out," said Espinoza. "It's like riding a horse. … I never have a strategy how I'm going to ride California Chrome. Every race he goes, I'm just going with the flow."

THIS WEEK AT THE BELMONT PHOTO GALLERY:

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