California Chrome made 3-5 favorite in Belmont Stakes
NEW YORK — If it’s against the rail or on the far outside, every owner and trainer of every racehorse tries to put a positive spin on the blind-draw post position issued for every big race.
When California Chrome was given the No. 2 post position Wednesday for Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, assistant trainer Alan Sherman immediately realized the potential significance. Asked about the draw, he wasn’t just giving a positive spin; his hook was historic.
“Well, Secretariat was No. 5 in the Derby, No. 3 in the Preakness, and No. 2 in the Belmont,” Sherman said.
Big Red rode those starting spots to victory in all three races in 1973, one of just 11 horses to win the Triple Crown.
California Chrome is hoping to follow suit, and is following the footprints of Secretariat, 41 years later, almost stride-for-stride. California Chrome also started from the No. 5 spot in the Kentucky Derby, and won. He also started from the No. 3 spot in the Preakness, and won.
Now he’ll start from the No. 2 spot Saturday in the Belmont, the heavy favorite — currently 3-5 at the track — to win the race and join Secretariat and the 10 others who stand together in racing lore.
Any comparisons between California Chrome and perhaps the best thoroughbred of all time — Secretariat’s 31-length victory in the 1973 Belmont was run in a track- and stakes-record 2 minutes, 24 seconds — is music to the ears of Steve Coburn, one of Chrome’s owners. Even if the similarities, for now, are just about the post positions.
“I did not know that, but I’m pretty happy with it right now,” Coburn said. “If it worked for Secretariat, hopefully it’ll work for us.”
As it stands, California Chrome will need to beat 10 other horses to earn his place in history, and it’ll come in the longest, toughest race among the three that make up the Triple Crown. At 1½ miles, distance plays a factor, and it has ended the chances of other Triple Crown hopefuls who have come to Belmont one leg shy.
Wicked Strong, born in Kentucky but bought and renamed by Centennial Farms, a collection of Boston owners, is the second favorite for Saturday’s race, at 6-1. Wicked Strong will start from the No. 9 position.
“It’s not a bad draw,” said James Jerkens, trainer of Wicked Strong, who ran fourth in the Derby, then skipped the Preakness. “I wouldn’t mind it being a little farther in, but he’s not way on the outside.”
Medal Count, who finished eighth in the Derby and did not run the Preakness, will start from the rail. To the right of California Chrome will be Matterhorn, with Commanding Curve starting from the No. 4 gate.
Commanding Curve was second in the Derby, but at 15-1 is only the fifth betting choice so far, behind California Chrome, Wicked Strong, Tonalist (8-1), and Ride On Curlin (12-1), who drew post position No. 5. Ride On Curlin was seventh in the Derby, and second in the Preakness, both times starting from well outside.
All eyes will be on California Chrome, though. He was fast in a timed workout at Belmont Saturday, and has looked stronger since winning the Derby by 1¾ lengths and the Preakness by 1½, putting on weight and enjoying his moment in the spotlight.
His team has enjoyed it, too. California Chrome recently landed a shoe endorsement deal, with many members of the ownership and trainers’ group wearing matching blue hats Wednesday, adorned with the sneaker logo. All except Coburn, who still favors a cowboy hat.
“It’s sinking in. We know this horse has a hell of a shot at winning the Triple Crown, and I honestly believe he’s going to do it,” Coburn said.
“Post position, you know, like I said, this is a jockey’s race. We know Chrome can do it, he can go the distance, so it will be up to Victor [Espinoza] to put him in position to where he can win this race.”
Coburn conceded that he never dreamed he’d be this close to owning a Triple Crown horse. But the minute he saw California Chrome, he sensed something.
“I knew it was going to happen when I saw that baby the day he was born,” he said. “I knew something big was going to happen, and he hasn’t proven us wrong yet. Big things have happened since we’ve had this horse.”
How big? Six straight race wins, including the last two, when the outside world pays attention. If California Chrome can stretch it to seven straight wins, something really big will have happened. But a long, tough test remains.