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Kingsport couple hoping to witness history at Belmont

Matthew Lane • Jun 7, 2014 at 12:01 AM

KINGSPORT — Charles Clarke III has been attending horse races for more than 40 years and has seen some of the biggest names in the sport cross the finish line — Sunday Silence, Charismatic, Point Given and Thunder Gulch.

But he's never seen a Triple Crown winner.

Clarke and his wife Anne will be attending today's Belmont Stakes, and they believe California Chrome will seal the deal and be the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

"I do believe we're going to see a Triple Crown winner," Clarke said.

California Chrome became the 3-5 favorite this week to win the Belmont Stakes and become horse racing's 12th Triple Crown champion — the first since Affirmed won in 1978. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner secured the number two spot on the line and will face 10 rivals old and new at today's historic event.

California Chrome is also listed number two in the betting program, the same number as 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

Clarke, who has attended 41 Kentucky Derby races, 21 Preakness and 20 Belmont Stakes, bought tickets to today's event before California Chrome won the Santa Anita Derby in April.

"My first Kentucky Derby I went to, my mother was carrying me and I had not been born yet. Forty-one years ago I went to my first Kentucky Derby when I was in high school. I bet $10 on a horse and won $160," Clarke said. "I just love thoroughbred racing. It's the sights, the smells, the sounds, ... the horses are thoroughbreds and when you get close to them, they're just gorgeous. You feel like you're one with them."

Clarke lives in Kingsport, is an author of business books and speaks to Fortune 500 and Ink 500 companies around the world.

"It's my husbands passion, his lifelong dream is to see a Triple Crown winner," Anne said. "This is an historic event and a chance for one horse to make history."

Three horses won the Triple Crown in the 1970s — Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978. Since then, 12 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but were unable to also win the Belmont Stakes.

Clarke, who says California Chrome looks an awful lot like Secretariat, believes the horse will be able to win on today.

"When Chrome goes across the finish line there won't be a dry eye in the place," he said.

For Clarke, part of the appeal of horse racing involves going back to 1875 when the first Kentucky Derby took place, the old time tradition of elegance, pomp and circumstance, when men attended the races wearing seersucker suits and bow ties and ladies wearing elegant dresses and fancy hats.

The bugle calls, singing "My Old Kentucky Home" and drinking mint juleps and Black-Eyed Susan drinks.

The people in attendance run the gamut as well, from singers and rock stars, politicians, athletes, college students and everyone in between. Clarke has met former heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, NBA legend Michael Jordan and NFL great Terry Bradshaw.

Clarke always wears a seersucker suit and a bow tie, wears a hat with pins from previous horse racing events and brings a lucky coin.

"It really is an elegant event for people who aren't necessarily elegant," Clarke said. "And it's not about betting on the horses. I do bet, but it's about the event itself and the history."

Coverage of the Belmont Stakes begins at 5 p.m. on NBC.

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