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A one-time pauper is trying to become prince.
California Chrome, a modestly bred colt with working class owners, can become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years by capturing Saturday's $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
After winning only two of his first six starts, California Chrome has emerged as an equine superstar. He has become an four-legged folk-hero after reeling off six straight victories, including breathtaking triumphs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
If California Chrome defeats 10 rivals at Belmont Park, the horse without regal bloodlines or roots in the Kentucky bluegrass will become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, is confident his horse has the ability to successfully handle the Belmont's taxing 11/2-mile distance.
"I feel better about this race than I have any other race, to be honest with you," Sherman said this week. "I just see how far he's advanced. I know it'll be tougher going a mile and a half, but this is a good horse. I think he's the real McCoy."
Few people in the Intermountain region are more invested in racing than Eugene Joyce. He has been involved in the sport for nearly 30 years. His father is a former owner of Wyoming Downs.
Currently, Joyce is the managing partner of Wyoming Horse Racing LLC, which operates a late-summer meet in Rock Springs and off-track facilities throughout the state, including one in Evanston.
Joyce agrees the Sherman-trained California Chrome can win the Belmont.
"For all the talk about the horse's obscure breeding and the owners-from-nowhere, they have a hell of a trainer an old-school trainer who does a fantastic job," he said. "There is a tremendous foundation under this colt. ... There's no doubt in my mind he's fit and can get the distance."
The Belmont Park oddsmaker thinks so, too.
California Chrome is the overwhelming 3-to-5 favorite in the morning line. Wicked Strong, who finished fourth after a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby before skipping the Preakness, is the 6-to-1 second choice.
Six months ago, of course, California Chrome was just another racehorse.
His race record was so-so certainly not spectacular and his background gave no hint of the success that was just around the corner.
California Chrome was born at Harris Farms at Coalinga, Calif. His mother, a mare named Love That Chase who won only once on the track, was purchased for $8,000. She was bred to his sire, Lucky Pulpit, for $2,500.
California Chrome's owners come from a similarly blue-collar background.
Co-owner Steve Coburn is employed at a factory that makes magnetic strips for credit cards. Partner Perry Martin runs a commercial testing lab.
"We're just every-day guys," Coburn said.
With one exception.
If California Chrome wins the Belmont and captures the Triple Crown, Coburn and Martin will own a racehorse worth $25 million to $30 million.
Joyce chuckles over the possibility.
Since his father purchased Wyoming Downs and ran it through the mid-1990s, he has met hundreds of area horsemen with similar backgrounds as California Chrome's connections.
"There are guys like this all over Utah and Wyoming," Joyce said. "... In our neck of the woods, this could happen to any of them. The mindset of [Coburn and Martin] is the same as the guys who run horses in Rock Springs or Hurricane, Utah. They've caught lightning in a bottle."
The California Chrome saga has already provided a boost for the horse racing industry.
Joyce expects a busy Saturday at his off-track four sites, but especially the one at the Dunmar Inn in Evanston.
"For all the problems our industry has problems we confront on a daily basis a storyline like this resonates with the general public," Joyce said.
"He's America's horse because we've got the entire country, if not the entire world, behind us," he said. "We just want to hope and pray that everybody gets a clean break, every horse has a safe trip and everybody gets to come home clean. Then let the chips fall where they may."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Where • Elmont, N.Y.
When • Saturday,4:52 p.m. MT
Who • California Chrome tries to become horse racing's first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
TV • Ch. 5
Steve Luhm handicaps the Belmont
• Why California Chrome will win
He's the best horse. None of his 10 rivals comes close to what the modestly bred colt has accomplished. In the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, California Chrome's natural speed enabled jockey Victor Espinoza to position him perfectly. There's no reason to believe the Belmont will be any different. California Chrome drew the No. 2 post, which will also improve his chances for a good trip because none of the horses breaking around him possesses much early speed. California Chrome should get an unimpeded and ground-saving run into the first turn.
• Why California Chrome won't win
The best horse doesn't always finish first. That's especially true when 3-year-olds running for the third time in five weeks are asked to navigate the once-in-a-lifetime distance of 11/2 miles. Although California Chrome looks superior, there's a reason for the 36-year gap between Triple Crown winners. The Belmont is a unique test that many exceptional horses have been unable to pass. This year, Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong are possible spoilers. Both ran well in the Derby before skipping the Preakness. They are fresh, fit and capable of winning if California Chrome falters.
• Predicted order of finish
1. California Chrome, 2. Commanding Curve, 3. Wicked Strong.
Triple Crown winners
• Horse Year Jockey Trainer
• Affirmed 1978 Steve Cauthen Lazaro Barrera
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• Seattle Slew 1977 Jean Cruguet William Turner
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• Secretariat 1973 Ron Turcotte Lucien Lauren
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• Citation 1948 Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones
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• Assault 1946 Warren Mehrtens Max Hirch
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• Count Fleet 1943 Johnny Longden Don Cameron
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• Whirlaway 1941 Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones
Sign of the times: • Japan launches a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. enters World War II.
• War Admiral 1937 Charles Kurtsinger George Conway
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• Omaha 1935 Willie Saunders James Fitzsimmons
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• Gallant Fox 1930 Earle Sande James Fitzsimmons
Sign of the times • Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is born near Wapakoneta, Ohio.
• Sir Barton 1919 Johnny Loftus H.G. Bedwell
Sign of the times: • Congress passes the 19th amendment, which gives women the right to vote.
The field for Saturday's 146th Belmont Stakes, with post position, horse's name, jockey's name and odds:
1. Medal Count Robby Albarado 20-1
2. California Chrome Victor Espinoza 3-5
3. Matterhorn Joe Bravo 30-1
4. Commanding Curve S. Bridgmohan 15-1
5. Ride On Curlin John Velazquez 12-1
6. Matuszak Mike Smith 30-1
7. Samraat Jose Ortiz 20-1
8. Commissioner Javier Castellano 20-1
9. Wicked Strong Rajiv Maragh 6-1
10. General a Rod Rosie Napravnik 20-1
11. Tonalist Joel Rosario 8-1