As California Chrome awaits the 146th Belmont Stakes and his date with destiny in horse racing’s Triple Crown, fans are starting to learn more of the mythology and origins of the three-year-old colt's improbable surge.
During an extensive interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, two of California Chrome’s owners, Steve and Carolyn Coburn, pulled the curtain back on the horse they call “Junior,” describing everything from his birth to how the horse racing community initially showed little respect for a California-bred champion.
The Coburns, along with Denise and Perry Martin, put down an $8,000 stake to maintain their holdings in mare Love the Chase, shrugging off doubters and pairing her off with Lucky Pulpit.
"We were told we were dumb asses if we planned to buy and race this filly," Steve Coburn said. "But we loved that horse from the moment we met her. I never know when she's going to do it, but at some point during our visits, she'll come over and put her head over my shoulder and just rest it there."
That kind of affection is common in horses and it certainly carried over to California Chrome.
On Feb. 18, 2011, Love the Chase nearly died during delivery but the harrowing experience allowed for California Chrome’s first exposure to humans and likely contributed to the calm presence that has carried him to horse racing’s highest stratosphere.
"She started bleeding pretty bad, and we almost lost her," Steve said. "She had an IV and they kept her and Chrome in the stall for about a month, which is unusual for a colt. He got that time with his mom, and also saw people come in and help. That's where he learned to be with people and trust people."
They also offered some insight into California Chrome’s human-like traits. He’s focused and attentive, and Steve Coburn believes when “Junior” walks out on the track he’s surveying the field for a “mental picture” of his surroundings. He also likes to pose for pictures.
The Coburns have another reason to believe California Chrome was meant to be special. He shares his birthday with Steve Coburn’s sister Brenda, who passed away at the age of 36 from cancer. The last horse to complete the Triple Crown was Affirmed, 36 years ago.
Unfortunately, the Coburns felt the horse racing establishment in Kentucky had little respect for the horse they adore. At Churchill Downs before he won the Kentucky Derby, what was supposed to be “California” on his saddle pad was misspelled as “Califorina.” The Coburns took it as a slight, and it could have been why Perry Martin stayed away from the Preakness.
By now, whether California Chrome or the Coburns and Martins have been accepted, the horse racing community can’t ignore the horse that could be the first California-bred, or “Cal-bred”, to ever win the Triple Crown. California Chrome is already the fourth Cal-bred to win the Derby, and the first to ever capture the Preakness.
California Chrome has won six straight races and is a 3-5 odds-on favorite heading into Saturday’s date at Belmont Park, and the weather is sure to be in his favor much like the Derby and Preakness.
Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 85-degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 65-degrees with a zero percent chance of rain. Winds will also reach a low speed of 7 mph.
At the 6:52 p.m. EST post time, the temperature should hover around 79-degrees and any moisture on the dirt 1 1/2-mile track from heavy rain earlier in the week should dry up.
During his Triple Crown attempt, California Chrome has run in excellent conditions with a solid, dry track at both Churchill Downs and Pimlico.
Posts and Latest Odds via Belmont
No. 1 Medal Count 20/1
No. 2 California Chrome 3/5
No. 3 Matterhorn 30/1
No. 4 Commanding Curve 15/1
No. 5 Ride On Curlin 12/1
No. 6 Matuszak 30/1
No. 7 Samraat 20/1
No. 8 Commissioner 20/1
No. 9 Wicked Strong 6/1
No. 10 General A Rod 20/1
No. 11 Tonalist 8/1