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Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Can California Chrome complete Triple Crown quest?
Horse racing » “Blue-collar” colt faces sport’s ultimate test — but appears poised to succeed.
First Published Jun 06 2014 11:05 am • Last Updated Jun 06 2014 11:46 pm

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.

At a glance

Belmont Stakes

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.

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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."

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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.

Next Page >

Triple Crown winners

» Horse Year Jockey Trainer

» Affirmed 1978 Steve Cauthen Lazaro Barrera

Sign of the times » Middle East peace plan signed by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Premier Menachem Begin after President Jimmy Carter’s 13-day conference at Camp David.

» Seattle Slew 1977 Jean Cruguet William Turner

Sign of the times » Elvis Presley dies at his Graceland mansion.

» Secretariat 1973 Ron Turcotte Lucien Lauren

Sign of the times » O.J. Simpson becomes the first NFL running back to rush 2,000 yards in one season.

» Citation 1948 Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones

Sign of the times » Chicago Tribune gets it wrong with “Dewey defeats Truman” presidential election headline.

» Assault 1946 Warren Mehrtens Max Hirch

Sign of the times » The Basketball Association of America is formed. It later evolves into today’s NBA.

» Count Fleet 1943 Johnny Longden Don Cameron

Sign of the times » Allied troops begin the liberation of Nazi-occupied Europe with the invasion of Italy.

» 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

Sign of the times » Howard Hughes flies from L.A. to New York in a record seven hours and 28 minutes.

» Omaha 1935 Willie Saunders James Fitzsimmons

Sign of the times » Philadelphia and Cincinnati play in Major League Baseball’s first-ever night game.

» 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.

Belmont ddds

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

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