- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

After California Chrome’s trouble-free trips in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the chestnut colt with four white feet will be running in the Belmont Stakes with a bull’s-eye on his back.

Trainer Art Sherman believes California Chrome can become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 when he races at Belmont Stakes. Win and the horse becomes racing’s next superstar.

“I feel more confident coming into this race than I did any race,” said Sherman, who at 77 is training the best horse of his long career. “I’m getting pumped up.”

So are those aiming to knock off the champ and prevent history from being made on June 7.

At least nine horses are expected for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont; the field will be set Wednesday when entries are due and post positions drawn. The race appears to be a mix of returning rivals and newcomers to the Triple Crown trail.

Ride On Curlin will test California Chrome again. The colt finished second, beaten 1 1/2 lengths in the Preakness, and was seventh in the Derby. He and California Chrome will be the only horses to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.

“I’ve gotten closer to California Chrome more than anybody else has this year,” Ride On Curlin’s trainer Billy Gowan said, “and with a little added distance maybe we can take him.”

The Belmont is the longest of the three races. The distance can tire out a horse that has run on the compressed five-week schedule of the Triple Crown. No 3-year-old has run that far its life, and few will be asked to ever do it again.

“Some horses absolutely do not want to go a mile and a half,” Gowan said, “and some horses thrive on it.”

Commanding Curve, second in the Derby to California Chrome, is rested and ready to face his rival again after skipping the Preakness. His trainer, Dallas Stewart, wouldn’t mind playing spoiler.

“There are a handful of horses that are capable of beating him even on his best day at this distance,” he said. “The horse has really had two perfect trips. It may or may not happen on Belmont day. If he gets in a little bit of trouble, how is he going to handle it?”

Sherman draws his confidence from seeing California Chrome’s progression during his current six-race winning streak. The trainer has been back at his Southern California base since the Preakness, watching videos of his colt’s daily gallops and talking with his son and assistant trainer Alan, who is at Belmont with the horse.

“I can’t believe a horse bounces back like he does,” the elder Sherman said. “He looks alert. He’s doing great at training.”

California Chrome has bulked up by 40 to 50 pounds in the last two weeks.

“He’s a different horse now, he’s maturing, he’s very confident in himself,” Sherman said. “He’s like, ‘Hey, I’m here, let’s see you outrun me.’ He doesn’t want any horse passing him.”

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