David Goldman / AP
Thursday, May 29, 2014 | 11:26 a.m.
When Steve Coburn walked into Sharkey's Casino in Gardnerville last January to place a bet on his horse, California Chrome, to win the Kentucky Derby, not many people knew anything about him or his horse.
By the time Coburn returned to Sharkey's on Wednesday, California Chrome had become the most famous horse of the past decade and Coburn had become the face behind Chrome's miracle story.
On Jan. 2, Coburn of Topaz Lake walked into Sharkey's and placed an undisclosed bet on Chrome, the horse he co-owns, to win the Kentucky Derby. At the time, Chrome's odds were 200-to-1 and the bet, while Coburn hasn't revealed the value, was for a reported $1,000. If correct, it paid out $200,000.
While Coburn cashed the ticket earlier, he returned to Sharkey's on Wednesday for a ceremonial cashing at the William Hill sports book. He also was given a California Chrome blanket by William Hill, and Coburn and his wife, Carolyn, signed autographs for 90 minutes from the eager hometown fans.
"I'm overwhelmed," Carolyn said. "When I got here today and saw all these people and I saw the picture they made for us, it made me cry. I thought, 'Oh my gosh. This little guy that we own means so much to these people.' The fact that everybody is behind us and supporting us, it's an emotional experience for me. It's amazing. We're just so humbled by the whole experience and by the support we've received."
After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome is one win from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, which would break the 36-year drought, the longest in the sport's history. The final leg of the Triple Crown is June 7 at the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, N.Y. While some people might be agonizing while waiting for the race, Coburn has stayed cool and calm.
"We're here for a reason, and I'm not going to be questioning it," said Coburn, while taking a sip of a Coors. "I'm just going to savor every minute of it. He's my gift from God. He really is."
California Chrome, a great underdog story who was bred for $10,500 in a sport ruled by blue bloods, has been enlisted as a 4/5 favorite in the Belmont. He's the 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown since Affirmed's victory in 1978, but all have failed, most of them as prohibitive favorites.
As part of Wednesday's festivities, William Hill placed a $1,000 bet on California Chrome to win the Belmont in the name of Steve Coburn. If the horse wins, the money will go to the American Cancer Society, which is especially meaningful to Coburn because his sister died of cancer at age 36.
"I look forward to donating that money to charity," Coburn said.
The Coburns will leave Northern Nevada on Friday and head to San Diego, where they'll spend a couple of days with Art Sherman, Chrome's 77-year-old trainer who has finally received his share of the spotlight after decades of toiling in relative anonymity. They'll head to New York on Monday.
Steve Coburn, the most vocal part of the four-person ownership group, has been staunch in his belief California Chrome was going to win the Triple Crown, even before the Derby win. He put his money where his mouth has been when placing that 200-to-1 wager.
On Wednesday, the confidence remained.
"We have the horse," Coburn said to the crowd. "This horse is going to win the Triple Crown. There's no doubt in my mind."