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Where: Elmont, New York
When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday
Post time: 6:52 p.m.

Old, new rivals to challenge Chrome

After California Chrome’s trouble-free trips in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the chestnut colt with four white feet will be running in the Belmont Stakes with a bull’s-eye on his back.

Trainer Art Sherman believes California Chrome can become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 when he races at Belmont Stakes. Win and the horse becomes racing’s next superstar.

“I feel more confident coming into this race than I did any race,” said Sherman, who at 77 is training the best horse of his long career. “I’m getting pumped up.”

So are those aiming to knock off the champ and prevent history from being made Saturday.

At least nine horses are expected for the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont; the field will be set Wednesday. The race appears to be a mix of returning rivals and newcomers to the Triple Crown trail.

Ride On Curlin will test California Chrome again. The colt finished second, beaten 1 1/2 lengths in the Preakness, and was seventh in the Derby. He and California Chrome will be the only horses to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year.

“I’ve gotten closer to California Chrome more than anybody else has this year,” Ride On Curlin’s trainer Billy Gowan said, “and with a little added distance maybe we can take him.”

The Belmont is the longest of the three races. The distance can tire out a horse that has run on the compressed five-week schedule of the Triple Crown. No 3-year-old has run that far, and few will be asked to ever do it again.

“Some horses absolutely do not want to go a mile and a half,” Gowan said, “and some horses thrive on it.”

Commanding Curve, second in the Derby to California Chrome, is rested after skipping the Preakness. His trainer, Dallas Stewart, wouldn’t mind playing spoiler.

“There are a handful of horses that are capable of beating him even on his best day at this distance,” he said. “The horse has really had two perfect trips. It may or may not happen on Belmont day. If he gets in a little bit of trouble, how is he going to handle it?”

Sherman draws his confidence from seeing California Chrome’s progression during his six-race winning streak.

“I can’t believe a horse bounces back like he does,” Sherman said. “He looks alert. He’s doing great at training.”

California Chrome has bulked up by 40 to 50 pounds in the last two weeks.

“He’s a different horse now, he’s maturing, he’s very confident in himself,” Sherman said.

Two other Derby horses are expected to run in the Belmont after bypassing the Preakness: Wicked Strong, fourth at Churchill Downs, and Samraat, who was fifth.

The expected newcomers to the Triple Crown trail are Commissioner, Matterhorn, Matuszak and Tonalist, who won the Peter Pan at Belmont on a sloppy track. Commissioner was second in that race.

Only 11 horses have swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. There have been 11 Triple tries since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, the most recent being Big Brown in 2008.

I’ll Have Another won the first two legs in 2012, but was scratched on Belmont eve with a tendon injury.