California Chrome has 1 1/2 miles to immortality

  • Article by: JOHN CLAY , Lexington Herald-Leader
  • Updated: June 7, 2014 - 11:46 AM

A fisheye lens shows Victor Espinoza and California Chrome on the way to the win that started all the Triple Crown talk, in the Kentucky Derby.

Photo: File photo by Matt Slocum • Associated Press,

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– It’s so close now, they can feel it.

“I know it’s starting to get real, when I start to get heartburn,” Willie Delgado said.

The exercise rider was leaning on a white wooden barrier outside Belmont Park’s busiest barn on Friday morning, the day before the 146th Belmont Stakes.

Just around dinner time Saturday, California Chrome will try to turn his owners’ modest $10,000 investment into Triple Crown immortality.

Has the heartburn started?

“Oh, yeah,” Delgado said. “Oh, yeah.”

Affirmed was the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont in succession. That was 1978. It’s been a long and frustrating wait since.

Eleven horses captured the first two Triple Crown races only to fall short in the third. Two years ago, the 12th, I’ll Have Another, scratched before reaching the gate.

No one expects such a pre-race calamity this time. Good vibrations rule. Chrome is rested, fit and 30 pounds heavier than when he won the Derby. He turned heads last Saturday with a powerful work over the sandy Belmont surface, covering a half-mile in 47.69 seconds and 5 furlongs in 59.93.

“He hated Churchill,” Delgado said. “Pimlico, he liked. This track, he loves it. He steps over it like nothing.”

“He’s trained very forward the whole time,” assistant trainer Alan Sherman said Friday. “He couldn’t be better.”

Chrome is king in New York. While the faces of the franchise, trainer Art Sherman and co-owner Steve Coburn, were in Manhattan as guests on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” a crowd gathered Friday outside Barn 26, where local trainer James Toner loaned the Shermans stall space.

Brian Beach, agent for jockey Victor Espinoza, handed out coffee. In his father’s absence, Alan Sherman, wearing a Harley-Davidson T-shirt, briefed the media and stood for television interviews. Delgado, wearing a blue Skechers hat as a nod to Chrome’s new sponsor, posed for pictures.

“The last two days it has gone from 10 to 15 people at the barn to a lot of people at the barn,” Delgado said. “The good thing is, it affects me more than the horse.”

“Nothing seems to bother him,” Alan Sherman said.

Distractions have their perks. Alan Sherman wanted to be Steve Cauthen growing up, and Thursday he met Patrice Jacobs Wolfson, whose late husband, Louis, owned Affirmed, whom Cauthen rode.

“She was a very nice lady,” Sherman said. “She wished us luck.”

Delgado has found a sort of fame that’s rare for an exercise rider.

“He’s taken me on a ride I never thought I’d get, I can tell you that,” said Delgado, whose brother Alberto was Chrome’s jockey in five of his first six races before being replaced by Espinoza. “To me, he’s just like my buddy, a buddy that bites pretty hard.”

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