NEW YORK — California Chrome is 1 1/2 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 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 was to 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 handled the extra quarter-mile in the Belmont would 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.”