Run, Chrome, run: For a few minutes, time may stop for new Triple Crown winner

Run, Chrome, run: For a few minutes, time may stop for new Triple Crown winner

June 7th, 2014 in Opinion Times

Exercise rider Willie Delgado gallops California Chrome around the track during a workout at Belmont Park on Friday.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Who doesn't want California Chrome to win today's 146th running of the Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978?

Not only is the horse fast and beautiful, he's got a great story.

His co-owners are regular working people and his birth marked their first try at breeding horses. Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bought Chrome's mother, Love the Chase, for $8,000. She'd only won one race. For $2,500 they bred her with Lucky Pulpit, who had never won a race of more than five furlongs. According to the Los Angeles Times, the men said a groom told them only a "dumb a--" would buy the filly to breed a racehorse.

They pulled California Chrome's name out of Coburn's cowboy hat. If not for the luck of the draw, the horse could have been named Seabisquick. They have a 77-year-old trainer who thought his big-time days were over, and a jockey who grew up afraid of horses.

Chrome, too, is an oddball. He had a difficult time being born and surviving, so he's already overcome lots of odds.

"[Chrome] was big -- weighed 137 pounds," Coburn told Yahoo Sports. "The mare tried to have him standing up; it was her first foal."

Chrome tore the mare's uteral wall, and attendants thought they were going to lose her. Then the foal was ill for three weeks, Coburn said. "It was a scary birth and certainly wasn't easy."

For several weeks after he was born, California Chrome was kept away from the other horses, treated and cared for by only his mother and many attendants. With no other equine influence outside of Love the Chase, Chrome bonded with humans.

"That's why I believe this horse really enjoys people," Coburn said.

Today, Chrome will have close to 100,000 people to play to as he races at Belmont Park in New York. Watching the race on TV between 6:30 and 7 p.m. will be another 15 million people. Probably 14.9 million of them will be pulling for this copper-penny colored horse with a white blaze.

His trainer, Art Sherman, says Chrome is a speed horse that will relax and rate, which is crucial for the marathon, mile-and-a-half run around the Belmont oval. Sherman has also called him a "push-button" horse meaning he can wait to make his run at the right time.

But clearly winning a Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes races in five weeks -- is not easy. There's a reason the title has not been won for 36 years. Only 11 other horses in history have been able to win under that pressure.

This week we hope to see another. Chrome comes in with a six-race win streak, and in training he's shown no signs of slowing down.

If you look for omens, he's got a big one. The post position he drew for today's race isn't ideal for an odds-on favorite. Some track watchers say it means he will have a harder path out of track traffic. But one very important Belmont legend started from the same post: Secretariat, who won the Triple Crown in 1973.

California Chrome was made the 3-5 favorite by the track's betting handicappers earlier this week. That means if you bet $5, you'll win $3 atop your original wager -- less than even-money. The Daily Racing Form goes even lower: 2-5.

The betting crowd says today's "underlay" (according to Forbes, that's odds lower than market forces would ordinarily dictate because most people are betting with their heart) will be one of the biggest of all time.

Thirty-six years is the longest Triple Crown dry spell in racing history. The horse Affirmed became the 11th Triple Crown winner in 1978, and since then 12 horses have won the first two legs and failed in the third.

Run like the wind, Chrome.

Run to make history.