The connections of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed know of what they speak when it comes to sweeping the Triple Crown, which has become so elusive. It's been 36 years since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes (all gr. I).
Patrice Wolfson, who owned Affirmed with her late husband Lou, feels that after 12 failed attempts since 1978, it's time to let go of the title "Last Triple Crown Winner."
"I think I'm about ready to give up the title," Wolfson said May 27 on a national teleconference. "It seems as if 'Last Triple Crown Winner' has become my new name. I just want to see a great horse do it and California Chrome has the potential to be a great horse. So, I'm rooting for him. He has that wonderful quality of versatility, he's easy to rate, easy to ride, and has that excellent acceleration. The only question is how he'll handle the mile and a half.
"It's a very difficult task. Horses years ago were tougher and campaigned harder. They loved to run; they relished racing. Of the 12 horses who have attempted it since Affirmed, he has the best chance because he's unique. He has that something special, and if a horse is going to win the Triple Crown, we want one who has that excitement about him."
Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat, said she wasn't going to attend the Belmont, but has had a change of heart.
"I'm getting up there in years and wasn't going to go, but if this horse wins the Triple Crown I want to be there," she said. "I would welcome it."
Big Red's jockey, Ron Turcotte, is confident California Chrome can pull it off.
"I love the horse and I'd love to see him win, and I believe he will win," he said.
Another who feels California Chrome is ready to end the drought is Steve Cauthen, who was 18 when he swept all three races with Affirmed, becoming the youngest Triple Crown-winning jockey.
"California Chrome is fun to watch," he said. "He reminds me a lot of Affirmed in that you can put him anywhere, and you have a lot of options with him. He does everything on his own and when you ask him he goes in an instant. He has all the talent, he's in great shape, and to me he looks like a freak who does things beyond his breeding. I like the way Art Sherman has been handling him and I'm looking for him to pull it off."
Seattle Slew's trainer Billy Turner, who is stabled at Belmont, has been watching California Chrome train and likes what he sees.
"He's such a nice horse," he said. "He goes out there, jogs off, gallops around, and does whatever they want him to do. He stops and notices the crowds and just seems to enjoy what he's doing. Nothing excites him and he won't get caught in a speed duel. You can't send a rabbit against him because it won't make any difference. It will be a rider's race and (Victor Espinoza) can decide what he wants to do. He's proven already he's the dominant horse in the 3-year-old ranks and he would have to be unlucky not to win the Belmont."
Slew's co-owner Dr. Jim Hill added, "I've only seen his last three races and he's certainly been dominant in those races. He's had excellent trips and wonderful rides, and when the jockey asked him he gave it to him every time. ... If he wins the Belmont he's going to be worth an unimaginable amount of money."
Jean Cruguet, who rode Seattle Slew to virtual wire-to-wire scores in his Triple Crown sweep, knows where he'd want to be if he were on California Chrome.
"If I was on him I'd put him on the lead and let the others try to catch him," he said.
So California Chrome has the endorsement of all the Triple Crown-winning connections. Now he just has to go out and do what the last dozen Kentucky Derby-Preakness winners were unable to do and write that elusive next chapter in the history books.
Steve Cauthen and Jorge Velasquez talk about their trips aboard Affirmed and Alydar in part 1 of this 4 part series from 2008: