California Chrome's rivals happy to spoil the party

NEW YORK Wed Jun 4, 2014 5:25pm EDT

Jun 4, 2014; Elmont, NY, USA; California Chrome ridden by exercise rider Willie Delgado on the track during workouts in preparation for the 2014 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 4, 2014; Elmont, NY, USA; California Chrome ridden by exercise rider Willie Delgado on the track during workouts in preparation for the 2014 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - While the vast majority of American racing fans are desperate to see California Chrome win Saturday's Belmont Stakes and complete the elusive Triple Chrome, his rivals' connections face a bittersweet prospect.

As devoted race fans themselves, most would love nothing more than to see a horse end the 36-year Triple Crown drought, knowing that it would help raise the profile of the sport in the United States.

But with $900,000 on offer to the winner and the prestige of winning one of America's oldest and most revered races, none of the rival connections have any fears about spoiling what would be one of the biggest moments in American racing.

"I'm a racing fan like everybody else," said Billy Gowan, the trainer of Ride On Curlin, who finished second to California Chrome in the Preakness States. "I've always wanted a Triple Crown, but hopefully not this year.

"If we can win it and he runs second, that'd be fine."

Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, which is considered the ultimate test for American race horses because it is restricted to 3-year-olds who have to compete in three races in five weeks, all in different states, over different distances and invariably against fresher horses.

Only Ride On Curlin and General a Rod will have taken on California Chrome in all three legs of this year's Triple Crown, prompting complaints from the Triple Crown hopeful's outspoken co-owner Steve Coburn that others out to spoil the occasion.

"If I'm not mistaken triple means three, like a triple decker ice cream, three scoops," Coburn growled. "Yet they will sit out the first two just to screw things up in the last one."

Dallas Stewart, who trains the Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, was among four of Saturday's 11 Belmont entrants that ran in Kentucky but skipped the Preakness to keep their colts fresh for the final leg in Elmont, New York.

"Basically, you're just concentrating on your horse and trying to get that feeling that you can win," Stewart said. "It's not like you're trying to upset something special. I don't personally think like that.

"I just want to train my horse to win the race and let everything fall where it may. That's my job, and that's what I do."

Don Little, the president of Centennial Farms, which owns Wicked Strong, also defended the decision to miss the Preakness after their horse finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

An impressive winner of the Wood Memorial in April, Wicked Strong looms as the biggest threat to California Chrome over the 1 1/2-mile (2,400 meters) of the Belmont, the longest race of the series.

Wicked Strong was named in honor of last year's Boston marathon bombing victims and the owners have pledged to give a chunk of his prizemoney to a charity supporting the survivors.

"California Chrome has does wonderful things for racing and he's already a winner in our eyes," said Little. "But if we're fortunate to defeat him on Saturday, we have a great cause behind Wicked Strong."

New York local Len Riggio, the owner of Samraat, also rejected the romantic notion of wanting to see another horse another win a race that he has been chasing his entire life.

"I don't mind being called a winner," Riggio said. "And if what comes with it is being a spoiler, then I'll remember the winner."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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