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“I had so many cameras in my face that I actually couldn’t see the race,” Coburn said.

California Chrome made a move for the lead, catching Pablo Del Monte while Social Inclusion joined the chase. Pablo Del Monte soon dropped back along the rail, and California Chrome sprinted away from Social Inclusion at the top of the stretch.

But there was one more challenge to come.

Ride On Curlin, next-to-last in the 10-horse field, ranged up and briefly appeared ready to overtake California Chrome. Once again showing his class, California Chrome denied the threat.

“It’s an awesome feeling,” Espinoza said. “Today it was just a crazy race. I got more tired mentally than physically. I see another horse go to the front. I was going to sit second. .. I sit back, as soon as the other horse got clear of me, it worked out perfect.”

California Chrome paid $3, $3 and $2.40. Ride On Curlin returned $5.60 and $3.80, while Social Inclusion was another 6 ½ lengths back in third and paid $3.40 as the 5-1 second choice.

General a Rod was fourth, followed by Ring Weekend, Pablo Del Monte, Dynamic Impact, Kid Cruz, Bayern and Ria Antonia.

Espinoza will get another crack at trying to complete the Triple Crown, after missing with War Emblem in 2002. He finished eighth in the Belmont that year.

“You have to be a super horse to win,” the jockey said. “Hopefully, California Chrome comes back good, and he’s the one that hopefully can do it.”

Bob Baffert trained War Emblem, one of his three Triple tries that ended in failure. He missed with Silver Charm in 1997 and again the following year with Real Quiet, who lost the Belmont by a nose.

“California Chrome is something. He’s a cool customer,” Baffert said after the race. “He does everything right. He’s fast enough to stay out of trouble.”