California Chrome set to try for Triple Crown in Belmont Stakes

California Chrome will attempt to be the first horse in 36 years to capture horse racing's Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome will attempt to be the first horse in 36 years to capture horse racing's Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes. The Associated Press

Steve Coburn has enjoyed seeing Rockefeller Center, the Empire State Building and other sites this week on his first visit to New York. And he is confident that he will see something special Saturday.

Coburn will be at Belmont Park to watch his horse, California Chrome, try to complete a sweep of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes.

“I believe we are gonna make history,” Coburn said shortly after his arrival.

Coburn hasn’t been shy about predicting that California Chrome will become the 12th horse to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown. He’s won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Coburn has appeared more confident as the race approaches.

“I can see it in him,” Coburn said. “To me, it looks like he’s more confident. He’s actually gotten bigger. He really relaxes, which is a big advantage. He’s very smart and he knows what’s fixing to happen.”

Trainer Art Sherman arrived with Coburn on Monday night and said he won’t get too nervous until California Chrome gets in the starting gate.

“That’s when I feel it,” Sherman told reporters at Belmont Park. “Leading up to it, I’m (having) a good time in New York.”

California Chrome is the 13th horse to arrive in New York with the chance to win the Triple Crown since Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978. The last horse to run for the Triple Crown was Big Brown, who was eased in 2008 and did not finish the race. I’ll Have Another was retired the day before the 2012 Belmont because of a leg injury.

“I watched all the races where they failed,” Sherman said. “I don’t know if they just got flat outrun or just tired from the Triple Crown races. I know my horse is coming into this race great. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

Sherman said Chrome, a chestnut colt, had gained weight and appeared stronger than he did before his Preakness win three weeks ago.

“He’s a horse who carries his flesh well and has a certain air about him,” Sherman said. “He has the urge to compete, and he’s ready to rock and roll.”

California Chrome was made a 3-5 favorite by oddsmakers to win the race from post No. 2. His jockey is Victor Espinoza, who tried to win the Triple Crown in the 2002 Belmont Stakes with War Emblem.

War Emblem stumbled at the break and finished eighth in a race won by 70-1 shot Sarava.

“This time I am more prepared, more ready to do things I will like,” Espinoza said. “To get a second chance, what are the odds of that? … I’m trying to do the things I like to do and just — not worry about anything.”

One advantage that California Chrome has over War Emblem is his running style. War Emblem was a front-runner, while California Chrome is capable of either going to the lead or staying off the pace.

“Victor has been there before and is very well connected with California Chrome,” said Steve Cauthen, who at age 18 won the Triple Crown with Affirmed. “They’ve got a great relationship.”

Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Wicked Strong, the second choice in the early odds at 6-1, acknowledges that it will be tough to deny California Chrome the Triple Crown.

“Obviously, California Chrome is going to have to have a bad day,” Jerkens said. “The Triple Crown is a hard grind, especially for the modern-day horse. So it’ll take a combination of things to beat him, that’s for sure.”

Some observers think that it is hard to win the Triple Crown now because it requires a horse to run three times in five weeks, but Sherman hopes that his horse can handle it.

“You think about it, 36 years and nobody’s won the Triple Crown. It’d be quite an honor,” Sherman said. “If you would have said to me the first of the year that I would be on the Triple Crown trail, I would say, ‘You’re kidding me.’ So here I am, hoping that we can get the final race.

“It would mean a lot to racing, I can tell you that. It’s a great honor to win the Triple Crown. I would be very deeply happy if it happens.”

Penny Chenery, owner of 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, said a Triple Crown would change the lives of California Chrome’s connections.

“These gentlemen are the kind that get up and go to work every day, and I don’t think that they are about to do anything different,” Chenery said. “It’s a wonderful story. God bless them and whatever they decide. They’ve had dignity and charm, and I love the horse.”

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Eleven horses that won the Triple Crown ...

1919 Sir Barton

England has had a Triple Crown since the 1800s, but the term wasn’t used yet in this country when Sir Barton won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

1930 Gallant Fox

When he won the Derby and Preakness, it was the first time that a starting gate was used for the races instead of a tape barrier.

1935 Omaha

His sire was Gallant Fox, and they are the only father-son combination to win the Triple Crown.

1937 War Admiral

He was small for a champion racehorse, weighing under 1,000 pounds, and had a short, efficient motion.

1941 Whirlaway

He won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont by a combined 16 lengths, and observers said it could have been more.

1943 Count Fleet

Only two horses challenged him in the Belmont, and he won by 25 lengths despite injuring his left front ankle at the start. He never raced again.

1946 Assault

Won the Triple Crown despite the fact that his right foot didn’t develop correctly after he stepped on something sharp early in his life.

1948 Citation

His career included a 16-race winning streak, and he was the first Thoroughbred to reach $1 million in earnings.

1973 Secretariat

As fans may know from the movie about him, Secretariat ran the fastest Derby and Belmont in history.

1977 Seattle Slew

Won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont after selling for $17,500 at a public auction as a yearling.

1978 Affirmed

Rival Alydar finished second in each of the three races, including by just a head in the Belmont. If it weren’t for Affirmed, he might have won the Triple Crown.

... and 12 who couldn’t complete the last leg

1979 Spectacular Bid

Faded in stretch after holding a lead and was third in race won by Coastal.

1981 Pleasant Colony

Was last early and ended up third in race won by Summing.

1987 Alysheba

Never a real factor, finishing fourth in race won by Bet Twice.

1989 Sunday Silence

Easy Goer turned the tables on his rival, beating Sunday Silence by 8 lengths.

1997 Silver Charm

Led in the stretch but finished second behind Touch Gold.

1998 Real Quiet

Just missed the Triple Crown, losing by a nose to Victory Gallop

1999 Charismatic

Got the lead late in the race but faded to third in race won by Lemon Drop Kid

2002 War Emblem

Stumbled at gate and finished eighth in race won by Sarava.

2003 Funny Cide

Was in front after a mile but finished third in race won by Empire Maker.

2004 Smarty Jones

Was in good position late before being caught by flying long shot Birdstone

2008 Big Brown

Was pulled up near the quarter pole and did not finish race won by Da’Tara

2012 I’ll Have Another

Was scratched the day before the Belmont because of a leg injury, opening door for Union Rags to win it.

146th Belmont Stakes

WHEN/WHERE: Saturday at Belmont Park in New York

TV: 3:30 p.m., NBC (Chs. 27 and 41)

POST TIME: 5:52 p.m.