California Chrome, a horse that represents the blue-collar ethos of Central California and the laid-back attitude associated with the state, will try to become America’s horse on Saturday when he races for the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes in New York.
Twelve horses since Affirmed last won the Triple Crown in 1978 have come to New York with a shot at horse-racing immortality. And all twelve have failed in what is known as “the test of a champion” on the last mile-and-a-half Grade 1 event left.
Everyone except for his owners counted him out — even before he was born.
In the sport of kings, California Chrome’s owners “aren’t racing aristocrats,” USA Today noted. “Steve Coburn is a press operator with a Nevada firm that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and hotel keys. Perry Martin owns a materials testing laboratory ” near Sacramento, California.
They were told they would be “real dumb asses” if they bought their mare. But their $10,000 investment — and their “Dumb Ass Partners” group — looks better every day, as the horse could be worth at least $2o million. And possibly even more if he gets the Laura Hillenbrand treatment.
Not born to blue-blooded trainers and not purchased by billionaires, California Chrome doesn’t even have a legendary trainer. Journeyman trainer Art Sherman, who has won his first three million-dollar races with the horse, has that honor.
As the Los Angeles Times “the far-fetched story of a horse from a place a lot of people call nowhere — outrunning what the establishment considered a limited pedigree — resonates in the Central Valley, where many people are trying to do the same.”
“That horse was born, bred and fed here,” John Alkire, chief executive of the Big Fresno Fair, told the Times. “But it’s more than that. We’re blue-collar. And this horse fits right in.”
California Chrome, who will also try to become the first California-bred horse to win the Triple Crown, has been described as a “laid-back dude” who is “not a stress cadet.”
His California cool may awe, but Americans, perhaps more than anything, love the outsider underdog who defies odds and crashes elitist parties.
“This hardscrabble horse from a working ranch in the San Joaquin valley, without royalty in his bloodline or among his owners, is precisely the kind of underdog that American sports fans eat up,” the New Yorker observed.