Anyone who saw the birth of California Chrome wouldn't believe that a Triple Crown contender was in the making. But if the colt is to become the first horse in 36 years to win the Triple Crown, his owner believes that the seeds of this improbable sweep were planted three years ago in a barn in central California.
That's where complications occurred when Love the Chase tried giving birth while standing up.
"[Chrome] was big – weighed 137 pounds," co-owner Steve Coburn told Yahoo Sports. "She tried to have him standing up; it was her first foal."
Coburn said California Chrome tore the mare's uteral wall, causing her to start breathing really fast. They thought they were going to lose her.
"He was ill for three weeks," Coburn said. "It was a scary birth and certainly wasn't easy."
For several weeks after he was born, California Chrome was kept away from the other horses at the farm. He was treated and cared for by only his mother and the many attendants who circled around to provide care. With no other equine influence outside of Love the Chase, the foal began to bond with humans.
Having been quarantined from other horses following his birth meant that he didn't go off with the rest of the stable to stretch his legs. Instead, he played with humans and got to know them. And on Saturday, close to 100,000 of them will cram into Belmont Park to watch his run for history in the Belmont Stakes.
While this push of people might spook some horses – and history shows plenty of contenders who have been turned off by the noise and pressure of this race – Coburn is confident that Chrome won't shy away from the attention. In fact, he said that the pressure of the packed house at Churchill Downs five weeks ago was more massive for his horse than anything he will see on Saturday.
"That's why I believe this horse really enjoys people," Coburn said. "The contact was mainly with people early on and he bonded with them.
"Even after those first few weeks, [Love the Chase] was very protective. But he loves people. He will stop and pose with you at the pole for a picture if you want."
A victory pose, Coburn hopes.
There's every reason to believe that this horse can end the drought and bring the sport its first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. In five starts this year – including obvious trips at the Kentucky Derby and then the Preakness – California Chrome has jaunted to the winner's circle every time. In a career that spans 12 races, he has eight wins. A ninth on Saturday would list him among the immortals.
Coburn knows this as he looks back and reflects on the events of three years ago, how the difficult birth could have derailed he and co-owner Perry Martin's plan. But despite the birth, Coburn says he was never in doubt.
He wasn't there for the birth of California Chrome but saw his foal the following day. As he stood in the barn, he heard again about the ordeal of the day before. He listened quietly as those who were there told him of the difficulty of the birth, of how Love the Chase was nearly lost.
And he stood and saw his new horse for the first time – a beautiful chestnut color – nuzzle in the corner of the barn. It was an innocent moment, the type that gets captured in a calendar. But Coburn was thinking three years down the road and not about the pure beauty of his new horse.
"The first time I saw him, I knew this horse was going to do something big," he said. "I can't explain it; it was a rush of energy, a feeling. I predicted a long time ago he would win the Triple Crown."
"I'm sticking to it."