California Chrome has settled in nicely at Belmont Park, where on June 7 he will attempt to complete a sweep of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
From his birth in Coalinga, Calif. - a far different world than the Bluegrass country of Kentucky - there’s been one thing that has always surrounded California Chrome.
From day one, his co-owner Steve Coburn gushed with confidence and said his young horse would grow into a Kentucky Derby winner. Those personal thoughts blossomed into trends on Twitter when California Chrome became a minor stakes winner and Coburn spoke about a race as important as the Santa Anita Derby with no ifs. He didn’t say “if” his horse wins the Santa Anita Derby but “when” he wins it.
California Chrome won the Santa Anita Derby in a romp and the confidence in Coburn and trainer Art Sherman only grew like flowers in the spring through decisive wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Now, with the California-bred less than 10 days away from the race that can coronate him as the first Triple Crown champion in 36 years, the confidence continues to soar.
Sherman, while speaking on a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference Thursday, addressed California Chrome’s chances in the June 7 Belmont Stakes by saying, “I’m more confident coming into this race than any race.”
Nor was he done.
Though the former jockey may be smaller and about 150 pounds lighter than the late Johnny Campo, he surely sounded a lot like the smack-talking trainer of 1981 Triple Crown hopeful Pleasant Colony when he added, “I think the people coming into [the Belmont] have to worry about me, not me worry about them.”
Confidence thy name is California Chrome, and it’s surely warranted, even now, at a time when the rigors of the Triple Crown are supposed to be catching up with him.
Since the Derby-Preakness winner arrived at Belmont Park on May 20 everything has gone according to plan … so well that it took the presence of an uninvited opossum during one of the colt’s gallops last week to create a stir – or chuckle.
“He looks awful good now,” Sherman said from his barn at Los Alamitos in California. “He’s striding out, taking a hold of the bit. I’m happy with the way he’s training.
“I can’t believe a horse bounces back like he does. I’m watching him train and he’s put on weight now, about 40 to 50 pounds after that race, and he’s got his weight looking good. He looks alert.
“[The horse] is very confident himself running. He feels like me. I’m here, let’s see you outrun me. That’s the confidence he gives us. … I really think he’s the ‘Real McCoy,’ and I think you’re going to see a champion and I’m hoping it’s the Triple Crown.”
CALIFORNIA CHROME SLIDESHOW
Even some of the connections of the horses faced with the challenge of ending California Chrome’s 6-race winning streak understand it might take a perfect storm of sorts to beat him.
“It’s going to take a combination of things,” said Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Wood Memorial Stakes winner Wicked Strong, who will enter the Belmont with five weeks rest since finishing fourth in the Derby. “One of our horses will have to run the race of their life, and California Chrome will have to throw in a clunker.”
In the course of the 36 years since Affirmed’s 1978 sweep of the Triple Crown there certainly have been some clunkers among the 12 horses who won the first two legs of the series but not the third. Most recently, Big Brown was a seemingly unbeatable 3-to-10 favorite to take the 2008 Belmont and complete the sweep. He failed to even cross the finish line in the “Test of the Champion.”
It’s that long string of near misses that fuels a different brand of confidence in some of the opposition.
Trainer Billy Gowan, who saddled Ride On Curlin to a seventh-place finish in the Derby followed by a runner-up finish and length and a half loss in the Preakness, believes his horse can finally turn the tables on California Chrome in New York.
“I think I got a legitimate chance to win, or I wouldn’t be here,” Gowan said. “I got closer to California Chrome than anyone else this year. So hopefully, with a little more distance, we can take him. I think if my horse can get a good, clean run, we got a chance.”
Dallas Stewart, trainer of Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, also expressed a hope that the added distance of the Belmont Stakes might be the key to make up the length and three-quarters that separated his horse from California Chrome at the end of the Derby.
“All of these horses are untested at this [1 ½-mile] distance,” Stewart said. “It’s a matter of stamina and which horse is going to take to the distance. I think [California Chrome] can run his race and still get outrun. … If he throws a clunker, that’s one thing ... but there’s a handful of horses that are capable of beating him, even on his best day at this distance.”
You can surely find positive thoughts like that it all corners of Belmont Park these days. Yet if you want to find them in their strongest and purest state, there’s no better place to start than at the barn of Mr. Confidence himself, California Chrome.
TRIPLE CHROME BOUND