Matt Slocum / The Associated Press

Aboard California Chrome, Victor Espinoza sees his bid to break the Triple Crown drought end in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes. “Coming out of the gate, he was not the same,” Espinoza said of Chrome, who was coming off two dominant wins. And by the end of the race, “he was just empty,” the jockey said.


Why did you watch the Belmont Stakes?

Leading Off: California Chrome turned many into fans

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 10, 2014 - 7:45 am

It’s hard to remember the names of all the horses that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and fell short in the Belmont Stakes.

But it will be a long time before Northern California forgets California Chrome.

Cal Expo on Saturday afternoons usually is filled with cigar-chomping, no-nonsense men staring into the Daily Racing Forum, looking at tiny numbers that determine winners and losers. But last Saturday, Cal Expo was filled with many first-time bettors clogging the windows trying to bet $2.50 for long shots to come in second or third, instead of place or show – and, sorry, no half-dollar bets accepted.

Parents brought their children to the packed venue to make sure they would see a historic event. Many of those parents were younger than 36, meaning they would see their first Triple Crown winner, too.

When the horses turned into the final stretch at Belmont Park, Cal Expo erupted. For 20 seconds, it felt like a Kings-Lakers playoff game. But when the cheering stopped, reality set in. The chestnut colt – the favorite at the betting window and in the hearts of so many Northern Californians – had lost.

The beaten horse crossed the wire in a dead heat for fourth with a bloody hoof that took the shine off his chrome legs. One of his co-owners cried foul and then just cried. So did some of the children at Cal Expo, while mothers wiped their tears and fathers ripped up worthless betting slips.

It may be a long time before Cal Expo sees an off-track betting day like Saturday again. And it may be even longer before this region sees another horse like California Chrome.

– Victor Contreras

Today’s poll

Why did you watch the Belmont Stakes?

• California Chrome

• Always watch Triple Crown races

• Made a bet

• Didn’t watch

To vote, go to

Weekend results

Which of the six highest-paid quarterbacks (average per season) would you like on your team?

• Aaron Rodgers: 45%

• Matt Ryan: 1%

• Joe Flacco: 1%

• Drew Brees: 9%

• Peyton Manning: 18%

• Colin Kaepernick: 21%

• None of them: 5%

Total votes: 353

Read more articles by Victor Contreras

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