YUBA CITY -- There were cheers, claps and then – dead silence.
Revelers gathered in Yuba City to cheer on California Chrome in the Belmont Stakes watched in disappointment as the hometown horse fell to fourth place at the finish line – dashing his prospects for the Triple Crown. It was a moment everyone thought wouldn’t happen.
And, as if on cue, a band began playing “We Are Family” to console the subdued crowd.
“He had his chance,” said Curtis May, 59, of Marysville, who like many others in the area had been closely following the horse. “It didn’t hurt my feelings. I thought it was a beautiful race.”
Anticipating a win, Yuba City officials and community members organized a big bash for the horse they claimed as their own. Co-owners Perry and Denise Martin hail from Yuba City, but the horse trains in Southern California.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. Everyone is falling in love with California Chrome,” Yuba City Mayor Kash Gill said before the race.
In the hours leading up to the New York competition, a few thousand people packed Plumas Street in Yuba City’s downtown business district to eat and chat about the famed horse. Revelers donned purple and green, California Chrome’s signature colors. Business owners decorated their storefronts with streamers and balloons. At one point, speakers blared out Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.”
Despite the near triple-digit heat, supporters came out in full force as race time neared. But they quickly sought shelter in the shade and flocked to the snow cone truck. The party drew people from all over Northern California.
At 3:30 p.m., about 20 minutes before the race was slated to begin, the crowds glued their eyes onto one of two 9-by-12-foot screens stationed on each end of Plumas Street. The group broke out in cheers, shouting, “Let’s go, Chrome.”
As California Chrome dashed around the track, the cheering and clapping grew louder, drowning out the announcer on the screen. But the excitement turned into groans and then silence as Tonalist crossed the finish line first.
Within minutes, the partygoers left, visibly disappointed.
Still, Jerry and Sally Smith of Marysville said Saturday’s try for the Triple Crown was a once-in-a-lifetime event for area residents. California Chrome had already captured the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and would have been the first horse since 1978 to achieve the coveted distinction, had he won the Belmont Stakes.
“It’s very unusual for a California-bred horse to make it this far,” said Jerry Smith, 75, who describes himself as a horse enthusiast.
Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916) 321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.