June 7, 2014 at 1:00 am

California Chrome ready to run for history in Belmont Stakes

Willie Delgado takes Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome for a run at Belmont Park in preparation for his bid to become racing's 12th Triple Crown winner. (Julie Jacobson / Associated Press)

New York — California Chrome is 1½ miles away from ending the longest drought in racing history — 36 years without a Triple Crown winner.

Eleven horses as good or better than him have tried to complete the sweep in the Belmont Stakes and failed since 1978. The chestnut colt with the modest pedigree and self-described “dumb ass” owners can either make history today or become just another near-miss.

“I’ve watched the other horses where they failed,” California Chrome trainer Art Sherman said. “I don’t know if they just got flat outrun or got tired from the Triple Crown races.”

California Chrome and 10 rivals will run the longest race of their lives on Belmont Park’s deep, sandy track with its sweeping turns. No other Triple Crown winner faced more than seven rivals.

“I feel more confident coming into this race than I did any race,” said Sherman, who at 77 is overseeing the best horse of his career. “I’m getting pumped up.”

California Chrome completed his final run-through on Friday, galloping two miles around the Belmont oval after visiting the paddock where he will be saddled on race day. He stood quietly in stall No. 2 before walking through the tunnel toward the track, pausing several times for photographers. His ears pricked at the sound of clicking cameras.

The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will jog again early today, about 13 hours before he tries to become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown.

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, whose horses spoiled Triple Crown bids in 2004 and 2008, said that how California Chrome handles the extra quarter-mile in the Belmont will be crucial to his chances.

“Smarty Jones was in front going a mile and a quarter, and that last quarter of a mile got him,” Zito said. “It’s a different race. It’s just longer.”

If there’s one worry Sherman has, it’s whether his chestnut colt with four white socks can run that far after a tough campaign of three big races in five weeks.

“One thing I always wonder about is stamina,” Sherman said. “It could be walking pace the first part of it. All of a sudden, the guys kicking in the last part don’t get there.”

Ultimately, Sherman will leave the decision-making to Victor Espinoza, who saw his bid for a Triple Crown aboard War Emblem end in defeat at the 2002 Belmont. He and California Chrome have teamed to win six consecutive races.

“He gets him to relax. I never give him any instructions,” Sherman said. “I’m sure there will be different tactics, but that’s OK as long as Victor can have a spot where he can run the last quarter of a mile.”

Racing has been aching for another Triple Crown champion since Affirmed became the third horse in the 1970s to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. California Chrome and his team would be welcome members of the exclusive club if the colt can pull it off in front of a crowd expected to top 100,000.

“It has to be a super horse to win that,” Espinoza said.

Owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin have shown that a couple of working stiffs who spent $8,000 on a mare they bred to a stallion for $2,500 can trump the sport’s blue-blood owners and breeders. They were called “dumb asses” by a trainer for buying a mare who gave no indication that she could produce a standout offspring who could run fast.

“This horse has given everybody else out there the incentive to say, ‘You know what, we can do it, too,’ ” Coburn said. “This horse is letting America know that the little guy can win.”

Coburn — who favors a silver belt buckle as big as his cream-colored cowboy hat — and Martin — who likes keeping a low profile — showed their sense of humor in naming their racing operation Dumb Ass Partners and sticking a donkey on their silks.

Martin was the one who emailed Sherman with an audacious plan to get California Chrome to the Kentucky Derby — before he had even run a race. Now the colt is one win away from racing immortality.

“You just like to see a great horse win it and I think he’s got the potential to be a great horse,” said Patrice Wolfson, whose late husband owned Affirmed, “so we’ll be cheering for him.”

As much as Sherman wants California Chrome to win — the trainer will wear the same lucky suit he did at the Derby and Preakness — he can accept a loss, too.

“He doesn’t have to win another race as far as I’m concerned,” Sherman said. “It’s a pleasure to be around a horse that has so much class and is 100 percent healthy.”

Triple Crown Winners (Jockeys)

1978

Affirmed (Steve Cauthen)

1977

Seattle Slew (Jean Cruguet)

1973

Secretariat (Ron Turcotte)

1948

Citation (Eddie Arcaro)

1946

Assault (Warren Mehrtens)

1943

Count Fleet (John Longden)

1941

Whirlaway (Eddie Arcaro)

1937

War Admiral (Charles Kurtsinger)

1935

Omaha (William Saunders)

1930

Gallant Fox (Earl Sande)

1919

Sir Barton (John Loftus)

--The Associated Press

Post positions

Post time: 6:52 p.m. Saturday, Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

TV: NBCSN — 2:30-4:30 p.m., pre-Belmont; 7 p.m. — post-Belmont. NBC — 4:30-7 p.m., Belmont Stakes

Distance: 1½ miles Weights: 126 pounds

Purse: $1.5 million ($800,000 first, $280,000 second, $150,000 third, $100,000 fourth, $60,000 fifth, eight spots paid)

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Medal Count Dale Romans Robby Albarado 20-1
2 California Chrome Art Sherman Victor Espinoza 3-5
3 Matterhorn Todd Pletcher Joe Bravo 30-1
4 Commanding Curve Dallas Stewart Shaun Bridgmohan 15-1
5 Ride On Curlin Billy Gowan John Velazquez 12-1
6 Matuszak Bill Mott Mike Smith 30-1
7 Samraat Rick Violette Jr. Jose Ortiz 20-1
8 Commissioner Todd Pletcher Javier Castellano 20-1
9 Wicked Strong James Jerkens Rajiv Maragh 6-1
10 General a Rod Mike Maker Rosie Napravnik 20-1
11 Tonalist Chris Clement Joel Rosario 8-1

Owners (by post position): 1. Spendthrift Farm. 2. Steve and Carolyn Coburn & Perry and Denise Martin. 3. Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Town and Country Farms. 4, West Point Thoroughbreds. 5. Daniel J. Dougherty. 6. George J. Prussin. 7. My Meadowview Farm. 8. WinStar Farm. 9. Centennial Farms. 10. Starlight Racing & Skychai Racing, LLC. 11. Robert S. Evans.