'Odds on' doesn't necessarily make Chrome Kentucky's favorite - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

'Odds on' doesn't necessarily make Chrome Kentucky's favorite

Taking a kiss and a hug from co-owner Steve Coburn, California Chrome knows how to milk ooh's and ah's from a crowd. Taking a kiss and a hug from co-owner Steve Coburn, California Chrome knows how to milk ooh's and ah's from a crowd.
Billy Reed Billy Reed
John Asher John Asher
Lukas Motley Lukas Motley

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - In pedigree, Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome is more blue collar than blue blood, but his rough edged, rags-to-riches story may cut both ways with some who consider thoroughbred racing as Kentucky's sport.

Taking a kiss and a hug from co-owner Steve Coburn, California Chrome knows how to milk ooh's and ah's from a crowd. He also knows how to look and live the role of the odds on favorite to break thoroughbred racing's 36 year Triple Crown drought.

"They love the horse," said Billy Reed, a long-time sports columnist who covered the last three Triple Crown winners; Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.

"(Chrome) has a catchy name, and he wins convincingly," said Reed.

"He's not exactly a rags-to-riches story," said John Asher, Vice President of Racing Communications for Churchill Downs. "It just shows that a good horse can come from anywhere and that in our sport the dream is achievable."

California Chrome's appeal may be equal parts talent and timing. 

"Racing needs a hero that will capture the imagination of that audience that's larger than the normal racing audience," Reed said.

"It'd be good for the track, good for the sport," said Louisville native Brad Woldridge, who counts himself as a casual racing fan.

Come Saturday, Churchill Downs will proclaim and try to reclaim Chrome as Kentucky's own to bring a bit of the Belmont experience home.

"We'll have Chrome T-shirts for the first 1,000 fans through the gates," Asher said. The track's 15,000+ square foot High Definition screen will carry every race at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs Saturday.

And you can't forget the signature drink.

"I don't know exactly what's in it, haven't tasted it, but the Belmont Jewel is gonna be on sale in a Belmont stakes souvenir glass," Asher said.

But figuratively and literally, 14-year-old Lukas Motley's not sipping the Chrome Kool-Aid.

"It's the Kentucky Derby and he's not from Kentucky," Motley said. "He's California Chrome. It's his name, for God's sake."

Motley came to the track Friday, straight from his graduation celebration at Noe Middle School.

His father's girlfriend will root for Chrome in the Belmont, but would bet on him only for the souvenir value of the ticket.

"I like the horse," Rachel Davidson said. "I'd like him more if he was Kentucky-born and bred."

Reed can relate. In Chrome, he sees the same technical speed that enabled Affirmed to capture all three crowns in 1978. But Affirmed had his own naysayers, home folks who would have preferred he not bested Alydar, in whom Lexington's Calumet Farm placed its best hopes for its third Triple Crown winner.

"There's still gonna be people who'll be knocking his pedigree, knocking this, knocking that," Reed said. "And some pay have felt it inappropriate for (Coburn's) comparisons of Churchill's hospitality to Pimlico's (Preakness). But ultimately, is this horse deserving? I think California Chrome is."

Churchill Downs' Asher is more blunt.

"You'll hear some people that say ‘well he's not gonna save the Triple Crown, horse racing even if he wins it,'" Asher said. "We're not looking for that."

Rather, he said, a Triple Crown victory could bring new faces to the tracks and a good reason for the wayward fan to come back.

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