TURLOCK — An increasingly subdued crowd of about 900 watched California Chromes ill-fated run for the Triple Crown on Saturday at the Turlock Turf Club. At the races end, Dave McMillan of Turlock was one of the very few pumping his fist and high-fiving friends. His cheering came despite having put $1,000 down on Chrome to win the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.
I was going to win some money, he said with a shake of his head after the fourth-place finish for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. Asked why he cheered, McMillan said, You have to. Thats why they call it gambling.
Less philosophical was Debbie Carpenter of Modesto, wearing a bright purple California Chrome shirt she bought online and betting on her first-ever horse race to cheer on the Valleys own. Isnt that sad, Carpenter said, visibly upset, before driving away after the race.
Horseback-rider Cara Johnson also had high hopes riding on the 3-year-old colt born at Harris Farms in Coalinga. I just want to see him win the Triple Crown. Chrome needs to win. California needs this, she said.
Taking a measured approach were Glen Dahl and son Lee Dahl, comparing notes earlier in the afternoon as they selected races and betting strategies. Over the last 20 years, this is the strongest horse coming into this race, said Glen Dahl. But from an odds perspective, its hard to make money when youre betting the favorite.
A few tables over, Steve Goodyear and Bob Burkatt were debating exacta bets, money put down on the first and second finishes, and trifectas, covering the first three places. Then there are the superfectas, picking the top four. Or, put down money on a horse to place or show.
Burkatt had advised a first-time gambler who wanted to bet $1,000 not to put it all on one, but to spread it among a lot of options. By race time, the rookie had $760 down on Chromes race, in a stableful of combinations.
A superfecta with Chrome and three others was bet by Sam Immediato. If that came in, Id be walking out of here with thousands on a $1 bet, he said. But thats a long shot.
Win or lose, I think its fun, Paula Spooner said. Either way, its going to be history.
It was good business for the Turf Club, at the Stanislaus County Fairground, said manager Ray Simpson. He estimated the crowd at 850 to 900, compared to 236 for last years Belmont Stakes. Judging from the full tables and long lines at the grill, food and beverage sales were paying off as well.
An estimated 15 million viewers followed the pounding hooves nationwide, with roughly 100,000 from the stands at the New York track.
Handicappers gave Chrome 4-5 odds, meaning every $5 ticket could be turned in on a win for $9. But the smart money, had he won, would have been on keeping those winning tickets. Uncashed $2 tickets from Affirmeds 1978 Belmont win were selling on eBay for close to $150, according to Forbes.com.
Turf Club gamblers placed their bets between bites, sips and chatter with friends.
But betting is all about numbers, and racing is more about heart. Chrome took off down the track with a wide margin of hearts on his side, but theres a reason the Belmont Stakes is called The Test of Champions.
No horse has worn the crown since Affirmed 36 years ago, with now 13 contenders just footprints in the sandy track. There have been 11 Triple Crown winners in all of history.
But even coming in fourth, the stallion is a winner for Chromes owners, Denise and Perry Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev. Far from the bluebloods generally associated with elite thoroughbreds, Martin runs a lab testing high-reliability equipment like air bags, according to the Belmont Stakes website. Coburn is a press operator for a firm that makes the magnetic strips found on credit cards.