Can California Chrome save the sport of kings?

ELMONT, N.Y. - California Chrome drew the No. 2 post Wednesday for Saturday's Belmont Stakes.

After running away with the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the horse is one win away from capturing the first Triple Crown in 36 years.

That would be a much-needed boost for the sport.

California Chrome may be the only one at Belmont Park who doesn't understand the pressure on his chestnut shoulders. Trainer Art Sherman does.

"It took me 60 years to find one like him," he said.

The sport is hurting. Since 2004, betting at tracks is down $4.2 billion. And in New York alone, attendance is down 20 percent.

Since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, the image of horse racing has been tainted. Scandals over steroids and race-day medication and competition from casino gambling have left the sport reeling.

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens says this sport needs a hero.

"Right now, he is a rock star. But if he doesn't win the Triple Crown, he's just going to be just another statistic," Stevens said. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed."


Chrome has not just been lucky -- he's been remarkable, especially considering his humble back story.

Owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn are paupers in the sport of kings. Martin runs a medical testing company in the suburbs of Sacramento. Coburn works a factory that makes magnetic strips for credit cards.

It cost the team just $10,000 to breed the mare that produced Chrome.

"People spend millions and millions of dollars, putting 'em through training and have never done anything that we did - on our first try," said Coburn.

Father and son co-trainers Art and Alan Sherman are both former jockeys, but the closest either got to racing glory was when father Art was an exercise rider aboard the Derby winner Swaps in 1955.

Can Chrome put fans back in the stands?

"He already has," said Alan Sherman. "If this horse could win, it would bring people back to the game."

Many race fans believe California Chrome can't be touched -- and Chrome might agree.

Chrome is currently the 3-5 favorite at Belmont. But the track is 1 1/2 miles long, longer than either of the other two Triple Crown races, which is why the Belmont is often called the Graveyard of Champions.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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