It has been 36 years since a horse won the Triple Crown of racing -- the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont. This year, a horse named California Chrome has won the first two races. The third race - the Belmont is Saturday.
The horse is co-owned by a couple from the Gardnerville/Topaz Lake area of northern Nevada and by a couple from Yuba City - about halfway between Sacramento and Chico. The Yuba City townsfolk are dreaming about the possibility of being known as the home of a champion and not as a place halfway between something and something else. To celebrate California Chrome's and his owners' accomplishments so far, the town is throwing a party Saturday in the main street of town.
Out front of Pelton's Party Rental on Plumas Street, Denise Berg is on a step ladder, trimming a freshly-painted sign on her window that reads, "Good Luck California Chrome!" She's just had some pretty serious oral surgery. But, she says it's more important for her to be on the ladder than resting at home.
"To make it through two races is amazing for our small town," she says. "If he makes the triple crown, that would be unbelievable. I think the whole town is just cheering him on."
Denise says she's never met the horse's co-owners, Perry or Denise Martin, but she owns horses herself and has been following California Chrome since before the Derby.
Some people are late to the bandwagon but are happily jumping aboard. Just up the street at the Happy Viking Sports Pub and Eatery, Ron Hutchinson is finishing off a couple of beers and a sandwich. There's a lot he didn't know.
"The horse racing - the horse is from Yuba City," he says. "I just found out when we were watching it here on the big screen here, so I didn't know anything other than they have four legs and they run fast. I didn't know... Is a 3 year-old old for a horse? It's not?"
Actually, the horse isn't from Yuba City, though the co-owners are.
Yuba City Councilman John Buckland says it doesn't matter. The horse has been unofficially adopted.
You know, we're not shy about the fact that the horse has never lived or set a hoof in this town," he says. "But, still, its ownership is from here and we will continue to embrace that horse and all of the accomplishments that they've done."
Buckland says the community could truly benefit from California Chrome's success. The area's unemployment rate is traditionally higher than the rest of the state. Buckland was in Washington D.C. on a trip with other local politicians and business owners. They watched California Chrome win the Kentucky Derby on television and decided the city should have an event to celebrate.
"The next couple days as we walked the halls of Congress and were over at the White House talking with staff members and they found out we were from Yuba City and California Chrome and the conversation just started to build from there," Buckland says. "And, we really started to plan that event at that time. And then as we came to the Preakness, we were all in here. This place was packed."
One business that hopes to benefit from the horse's success is the Teagarden House Event Center. It's a two-story Victorian built in the 1850's and is the only house in the middle of a line of storefront businesses on Plumas Street. Inside are a dozen tables with white table cloths and green and purple napkins.
"We got the California Chrome colors goin. Gotta support our local horse," says Cindy Paine. She stands next to a fireplace holding a cup of tea. On the mantle there are two chrome horse figurines. She says she already had a party booked for indoors Saturday, but she'll host a party to watch the Belmont outside.
"We're just going to have tables and chairs out there because the TV screen is going to be catty-corner from me," she says. "So that way everybody can watch it, enjoy food from our restaurants. That way they have a place to sit, relax and just enjoy our eight bands we're gonna have playing. It's going to be cool down here. We're just really gonna have a lot of fun."
Paine says she's been talking with family of the owners and they all hope the national network will have a camera set up in Yuba City.
"She'll wave to us. All of us here in Yuba City will wave back," she says.
And then, like many others, she starts thinking what if...what if California Chrome accomplishes something that no horse has done since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978?
"Win or lose, it's still a great thing," she says. "Not all horses even win two events. He has a good story and I really think they'll make a movie of him too, of his life..."
Maybe shot here?
"Hey, wouldn't that be cool?" she asks. "They can use my Teagarden House. I'll let them. It'll be nice. I'll put some chairs out on the porch and we can sip some tea and everything and tell stories about how this horse...that would be a good beginning now that I'm thinking about it."
Like the hand-painted sign says, Good Luck, California Chrome! A town is starting to think about what's possible because of you.
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