NEW YORK (Reuters) - California Chrome, American racing's new super horse, arrived in New York on Tuesday to begin his preparations for the Belmont Stakes.
The big chestnut colt made it to the Big Apple to the sort of reception normally reserved for pop stars and heads of state, with the paparazzi and television cameras gathered in force to record his grand entrance.
When the Triple Crown hopeful was led off the van that had transported him from Baltimore after his win in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, he stopped and flexed his giant muscles for the cameras before heading to the barn that will be his temporary home until the race on June 7.
"He likes to stand out here and pose," said his assistant trainer Alan Sherman.
"He loves to get his picture taken. He's a very inquisitive horse. He's always checking out what's going on around him."
California Chrome has been thrust into the spotlight after winning the first two legs of American horse racing's Triple Crown - the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
He now just needs to win the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes to complete the elusive treble that only 11 horses before him have managed to achieve and none since Affirmed since 1978.
For American race fans, the long wait has been unbearable and they see California Chrome as the perfect fairytale horse to break the drought.
In a sport where regally bred horses change hands for millions of dollars, California Chrome has defied the odds.
Modestly bred for just $10,500 by two blue-collar workers who are new to racing, he is trained by a 77-year-old who was an exercise rider for the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps and is ridden by a Mexican who worked as a bus driver before becoming a jockey.
"I think the industry could really use a Triple Crown winner right now, especially with a story like this," Sherman said.
"This horse didn't cost a ton of money to buy him or breed him. It's kind of a feel-good story. This goes to show you never know what can happen in this game."
Sherman has been looking after the horse for his father Art, who became the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby when California Chrome saluted at Churchill Downs on May 3.
The elder Sherman returned to his stables in California after the Preakness to let his son manage the horse's final build-up for the one and a half mile (2400 meters) Belmont Stakes, the longest and most physically testing of the three races.
California Chrome will almost start as favorite although the odds are stacked against him after most of his biggest dangers took a break after the Kentucky Derby to keep fresh for the final leg.
California Chrome did not train on Tuesday after his four and a half hour trip to New York but Alan Sherman said he would have his first workout on the Belmont dirt course on Wednesday morning.
"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's been an unbelievable ride for us," Sherman said.
"It's hard to describe. It's just been so much fun. This horse has taken us on the ride of our lives."
(Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Gene Cherry)