Len Riggio sits at his table, hunched over, examining the Belmont draw sheet he just filled out with the posts and odds for the stakes on Saturday. A few feet and about a dozen light years away, the California Chrome crew, bedecked in sponsor-provided Skechers hats and surrounded by flashing cameras, talk about what it's like to have captured the hearts and minds of the country.
After all, it seems like absolutely everyone is rooting for this Triple Crown to finally happen. And California Chrome? Well, he seems like just the straight-out-of-a-Disney-movie horse to do it.
"Well, I'm rooting for [Samraat]," Riggio responds. "There's a lot of people rooting for Samraat! Everyone I know is crazy for Samraat. He's the most lovable horse that I know."
Samraat: You could refer to him as the local talent. Owned by Riggio, a Brooklyn-born entrepreneur and chairman of Barnes & Noble, Samraat was foaled in My Meadowview Farm in Water Mill. Saturday will be the first time Riggio, who owns the farm that has been racing thoroughbreds since 2001, will have a horse compete at Belmont, and "it'll be amazing," he said.
"I'm so happy this could happen at Belmont. This is our home. This is going to be great for the fans in New York, [rooting for] the horse that's stabled here," he said.
Wednesday, Samraat, who skipped the Preakness but took fifth in the Kentucky Derby, drew the No. 7 post and was given the 20-1 morning line. He arrived at Belmont after a stay at Aqueduct, and though trainer Rick Violette Jr. said that Samraat "in his breeze the other day, didn't break any stopwatches . . . it was a goosebump breeze, [the way] he easily accelerated. So he's doing well. I probably wouldn't change anything. He's been perfect."
Riggio, who also bred Samraat, added on Tuesday that Samraat was "a heart and soul . . . He's the most intelligent horse I've ever known. He's also the kindest and the toughest."
Violette, too, talked a lot about "intangibles." It might sound irrelevant, but when it comes to Belmont's mile-and- a-half, there really is no one key to winning.
"I don't think anybody in the race is going to say a mile- and-a-half on the dirt is their strength," he said. "But [training-wise] I don't think we would have changed a day or a stride. Everything has been eerily spot on."
Violette clarified his reasons why Samraat -- a tactical speed horse -- might just relish the home-field advantage.
"The pace is different [in the Belmont]. The one-run horses -- the come-from-behind horses -- that doesn't always work out on the mile- and-a-half," he said. "You've got to grind and grind and keep going and that's a little bit us . . .
"No one can sleep out there. He'll lay it on the line. He'll look someone in the eye. All the intangible stuff, Samraat possesses that."
Of course, that'll mean spoiling the horse that many (but not everyone, mind you) is rooting for.
"I don't mind being called a winner," Riggio said. "And if what comes with it is becoming a spoiler, I'll remember the winner and you remember the spoiler."