For 36 years, she's owned the most prestigious title in thoroughbred racing, and Patrice Wolfson is willing to let it go.
"I think I'm about ready to give up being 'the last Triple Crown winner,' " the co-owner of Affirmed said Tuesday. "Sometimes I think 'the last Triple Crown winner' is my name. I think having a horse like California Chrome going for it is wonderful. I think he has the potential to be a great horse, and we'll be cheering for him."
Wolfson, widow of Louis Wolfson, said from her summer home in Old Westbury that she plans to attend the 146th Belmont Stakes on June 7. She hopes Belmont Park echoes with the same deafening cheers she heard when Affirmed and 18-year-old Steve Cauthen edged archrival Alydar by a head on that unforgettable day in 1978.
Since then, 11 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners fell short in Elmont, including seven in the past 17 years: Silver Charm (second, 1997); Real Quiet (second, 1998); Charismatic (third, 1999); War Emblem (eighth, 2002); Funny Cide (third, 2003); Smarty Jones (second, 2004) and Big Brown (last, 2008).
"I think of all of them, California Chrome has the best chance," Wolfson said. "He's unique and has that excitement. Let's hope he shows it next Saturday."
Wolfson and Cauthen were part of a conference call that brought together the connections of the last three Triple Crown winners: owner Penny Chenery and jockey Ron Turcotte, Secretariat (1973), and co-owner Dr. Jim Hill, trainer Billy Turner and rider Jean Cruguet, Seattle Slew (1977).
All but Hill, who said he'll try to be there, plan to go to the Triple Crown finale. The three jockeys will sign autographs together for the first time. Even though Chenery is 92 and lives in Boulder, Colorado, she's pledged to make the trip back to her beloved Secretariat's home.
"I wasn't going to come because I'm getting up in years," the first lady of racing said. "But if this horse wins the Triple Crown, I want to be there."
Laz Barrera, who trained Affirmed, died in 1991, nine years before Secretariat's trainer, Lucien Laurin, and 16 years before Wolfson.
Turner, who has been based at Belmont for 40 years, and Cauthen give the California-bred with the humble pedigree an excellent chance to become the 12th horse to sweep the classics. They regard his tactical speed, versatility and even temperament as significant edges.
Cauthen praised Victor Espinoza for his rides at Churchill Downs and Pimlico. "I think he and California Chrome have a great relationship," he said. "It reminds me of me and Affirmed. This horse also can rate or go to the lead if he has to."
Turner has been impressed with California Chrome since the colt arrived at Belmont eight days ago. "He really seems to enjoy what he's doing," he said. "He's proven he's the dominant 3-year-old, and he would be unlucky not to win the Belmont."
Said Cauthen: "California Chrome looks like a freak who can probably do things beyond his breeding. I'm pretty optimistic he has a great chance to pull it off. But Big Brown looked like a lock, so you never know. That's why they run the races."