This is how far California Chrome has come.
At a press party held Friday night at the beautiful -- and pricy -- Garden City Hotel on Long Island, N.Y., where Chromie's Stetson-wearing co-owner Steve Coburn held sway like some combination of horse-whisperer and svengali, an elderly visitor suddenly arrived with much fanfare and celebration.
Some thought it might be a beloved relative by the way Coburn gathered her into his big arms and protected her as the pair made their way to the center of the ballroom.
This is how far Coburn has come from his modest roots in Bakersfield, the San Joaquin and the Owens valleys.
The visitor was Penny Chenery, the celebrated owner of Secretariat, the god-like equine who seemed to sprout wings in 1973 when he captured the Triple Crown at Belmont Racetrack and set a speed record that has never been equaled.
And so, on the eve of the Belmont Stakes, 41 years after Secretariat set the racing world on fire, the legend's respected owner seemed to bestow her blessing on Team Chrome and their unlikely yet brilliant quest to capture the Triple Crown after a 36-year drought.
If it happens today, the struggling racing industry may get a much-needed shot of energy and publicity. If the fairy tale comes true, California Chrome and his working-class owners, his 77-year-old trainer -- the oldest ever to win the Kentucky Derby -- and his 41-year-old jockey will make history.
Maybe it was the drinks, or maybe Coburn was just tired of holding back, but just three days after he predicted today's contest would be "a jockey's race," he placed his full and complete faith, as he always had previously, in his horse.
California Chrome, he said, will indeed make history at Belmont, the third and final leg of the Triple Crown. When asked what kind of performance the 3-year-old chestnut colt would show, Coburn didn't mince words.
"A winning performance," he said.
And then he said it again, just to drive the point home: "A winning performance."
Coburn's Bakersfield connection coupled with the California name, has ignited interest in the race among many who live in the Bakersfield area. Fans from the southern valley, some calling themselves "Chromies," were in evidence Friday at the famous racetrack in Elmont, N.Y.
Karen Norton, a financial consultant in Bakersfield, had never been a racing fan. But by happenstance, she was invited by a friend to see Chrome race at Santa Anita.
And she was immediately hooked.
"I was not into horse racing in any way. But there was something about him," Norton said of the thoroughbred.
California Chrome simply stood out from all the other horses. This spring, he won the Santa Anita Derby with ease, Norton said. And he didn't even have to give it his all.
So on Friday, Norton showed up at the track wearing purple and green, the colors of Team Chrome. A green jacket, purple-painted toenails, and two rings on one finger: emeralds and amethysts.
Barb Parviainen and her family were here, too. And longtime local horse player Dave Carnell is expected to arrive today.
Steve Coburn's wife, Carolyn, is Parviainen's sister. And other siblings arrived this week as well.
Parviainen said the family was there to witness "history in the making."
She also shared an interesting coincidence -- or is it?
"Chrome was born on Steven's sister's birthday," she said. Coburn lost his beloved sister to cancer when she was 36, Parviainen said.
It's been 36 years since a horse has won the Crown.
It's those sorts of metaphysical aspects that seem to surround the ascension of California Chrome.
"I'm thrilled for my sister and her husband," Parviainen added. "They are salt-of-the-earth people who've worked very hard their whole lives."
At Friday's event, Coburn took a moment with me and another reporter to try to explain what he sees in Chrome's expressive eyes. The eyes are important, he said.
"It's like looking into clear, cool water," he said. "It goes down deep, deep, deep."
And within that unfathomable depth lies something that can't be explained by bloodlines or training.
"I've been around horses all my life," he said.
And Chrome goes deeper than any horse he has known.