One mile-and-a-half at Belmont Park, N.Y., is all that stands between California Chrome and a piece of horse racing history. Nor is there is any doubt in Steve Coburn’s mind his horse is going to become the first horse since 1978 to win the Triple Crown.
The Topaz Lake man expressed a world of confidence in the horse he co-owns Wednesday afternoon during a ceremony and autograph signing session held at Sharkey’s Casino to celebrate a horse that has already won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and can complete the Triple Crown on June 7 by winning the Belmont Stakes.
“We have some new shooters coming in, some new horses, and we’ve got a target on our back,” Coburn said. “All I can say is, those horses had better have their game faces on because this horse is ready to rock.”
Coburn also spoke to an audience and the media during a ceremony at the William Hill Race & Sports Book located inside Sharkey’s, where on Jan. 2 he placed a wager at 200-1 odds on California Chrome to win the Kentucky Derby. The amount of the wager was not revealed during the ceremonial cashing.
Joe Asher, U.S. CEO for William Hill, and Sharkey’s owner Hal Holder also presented Coburn with a $1,000 wager on California Chrome to win the Triple Crown — a wager that stands to benefit charity.
“When California Chrome wins the Triple Crown, that money is going to be donated to the American Cancer Society,” Coburn said.
Coburn pointed out California Chrome shares the same Feb. 18 date of birth as his late sister, Brenda, who died from cancer at age 36. Ironically, this year marks 36 years since the last Triple Crown winner — Affirmed in 1978.
Following the ceremony Carolyn and Steve Coburn — who own California Chrome with Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City, Calif. — sat together at a table upstairs at Sharkey’s for nearly two hours autographing photos and posing for photographs with friends and well-wishers.
“It’s very rewarding to know we have such big fans,” said Steve Coburn, who was wearing his purple and emerald green DAP Racing cap. “It tells me this is America’s horse because this horse has put more hope in the hearts of people than anything.”
The feeling is mutual, too, as evident by a giant card signed by customers and employees of Sharkey’s to wish California Chrome good luck in his quest to become only the 12th Triple Crown winner.
Holder expressed his gratitude to the Coburns.
“I just feel honored to have the Coburns here,” Holder said. “They are the most generous people to come here to share their success. They stayed and signed for everyone, and you can tell the crowd appreciates their effort to be here and put America’s horse on the track.”
No doubt, California Chrome is the horse to beat coming into the Belmont Stakes, the last and longest leg of the Triple Crown — and, dating to 1867, the oldest.
Coburn’s confidence is supported by some impressive numbers, most notably a six-race win streak that began at the King Glorious Stakes on Dec. 22, 2013. After winning the San Felipe Stakes by 7-1/4 lengths on March 8 and the Santa Anita Derby by 5-1/4 lengths on April 11, California Chrome was no longer any secret.
Coburn expressed his belief in April that California Chrome’s best races were still to come. Nothing has changed, either.
“They haven’t seen the top of this horse yet,” Coburn said, adding he expects California Chrome to take a break after the Belmont and then return to racing. “This horse is just starting to get into his stride.”
The 3-year-old chestnut colored colt — distinct with his four white stockings and blaze down the middle of the face — also has a liking for the cookies he gets from Coburn before and after each race.
“When we show up, he knows it’s time to get serious,” Coburn said. “It’s a routine he’s used to, and like any athlete, you don’t want to break a routine.
“This is an intelligent horse, he’s a serious horse, he’s an athlete and he loves to run.”