Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome will attempt to become just the 12th horse to win US racing’s Triple Crown on Saturday when he tackles the Belmont Stakes.
Warm, sunny weather and a big crowd were expected at Belmont Park for the chestnut colt’s bid to put his name in the record books alongside such equine greats as War Admiral, Citation and Secretariat.
Affirmed in 1978 was the last horse to achieve the coveted treble and since then a dozen horses have pocketed the first two jewels of the crown, only to falter in the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion.”
“The horse is doing great, I couldn’t ask anything more from him,” said Alan Sherman, the son of and assistant to California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman.
“I’m looking forward to the race. I think if he runs his race, he’s going to be pretty solid,” he said of the modestly bred colt that has now won six straight races.
I’ll Have Another in 2012 was the last horse to claim both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but injury prevented him from starting the Belmont.
California Chrome jockey Victor Espinoza suffered Belmont heartbreak in 2002 when War Emblem stumbled out of the gate to see his Triple Crown hopes snuffed out.
Of the recent Crown contenders, Smarty Jones came closest in 2004, finishing second in the Belmont — his bid thwarted by Birdstone.
Belmont Park officials were preparing for the day’s crowd to top the record 120,000 who showed up to see Smarty Jones that year.
The Long Island Rail Road laid on extra trains and New York Racing Authority executive David O’Rourke predicted this 146th renewal of the Belmont would be the highlight of “the greatest day of racing ever in New York.”
Only two other horses in the field raced in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
General A Rod finished 11th in the Derby and fourth in the Preakness, while Ride On Curlin was seventh in the Derby and second in the Preakness — beaten by just a length and half.
Curlin’s connections hope their colt, trained by Billy Gowan and ridden by John Velazquez, can crash the California Chrome party.
“He’s healthy and he’s competitive, and you only get to do this once with a horse so we’re taking advantage of it,” owner Dan Dougherty said.