By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The racing gods smiled on California Chrome again on Wednesday, handing the colt post position two for Saturday's Belmont Stakes where he will attempt to become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.
With a field of 11 runners entered for the $1.5 million classic, California Chrome drew perfectly near the inside for the exhausting 1 1/2-mile (2,400 meters) journey that will determine whether he conquers U.S. racing's greatest challenge and joins the sport's immortals.
"It's a good post position," said Art Sherman, California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer. "At least we'll save some ground leaving there.
"But I think it'll be a jockeys' race anyhow. It gives you a chance to see who is going to have the speed and where you land into the first turn."
If the 3-year-old colt can add the Belmont Stakes to his impressive wins in last month's Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, he will become the first horse in 36 years to achieve the elusive Triple Crown.
Racing is a notoriously fickle sport where luck plays a big part but fate could be on California Chrome's side. In 1973, the legendary Secretariat also wore the number two saddlecloth in the Belmont when he broke a 25-year Triple Crown drought.
By coincidence, Secretariat and California Chrome both had the same number three starting gate for the Preakness, but not the Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome was immediately installed as the 3-5 early favorite for Saturday's race in Elmont, New York, after his main rivals all drew outside of him
Wicked Strong, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby before skipping the Preakness to conserve energy for the Belmont, drew the ninth post and was listed as the 6-1 second favorite.
Tonalist, making his first appearance in the Triple Crown series, was placed on the third line of betting at odds of 8-1 after drawing the outside gate in the 11-runner field.
Commanding Curve, runner up in the Kentucky Derby, drew gate four and was listed as a 15-1 chance while Ride On Curlin, who finished second in the Preakness, was given the fifth hole and rated a 12-1 shot.
"I feel good about my post," said Ride On Curlin's trainer Billy Gowan. "I thought all along this might be his best distance because he's got the pedigree to do it and he never really quits."
California Chrome's unlikely rags-to-riches tale has already endeared him to millions of Americans and his outspoken co-owner Steve Coburn said the enormity of what he might achieve was starting to sink in.
"It's all coming to the point, it's all coming to the top of the pyramid right now ... the Triple Crown pyramid," Coburn said.
"I wish every horse owner out there could have a horse like this because he's like, one in a bazillion. This horse could have been born to anyone, but he was born to us and we're very blessed.
"He's America's horse because we've got the entire country, if not the entire world, behind us."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Steve Ginsburg and Frank Pingue)