STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN

• STEVENS: CHROME FACES ‘MOST DIFFICULT FEAT IN SPORTS’

• LETTERMAN AWAITS AS ESPINOZA CELEBRATES 42ND BIRTHDAY

• ‘CASABLANCA’ START OF BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP FOR TALAMO

• PARRANDA SEEKS 10TH CAREER VICTORY IN GRADE I GAMELY

• MAJOR SANTA ANITA DIRT RENOVATION TO START JULY 11

BELMONT IS CALIFORNIA CHROME’S GREATEST CHALLENGE

It’s coming up on 36 years since racing’s last Triple Crown winner, and Gary Stevens knows why the drought has taken on Dust Bowl proportions.

“A three-week turnaround and fresh horses,” the Hall of Fame jockey said with nary a breath of hesitation in explaining why no horse since Affirmed in 1978 has won the Belmont Stakes after capturing the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

“The distances go from a mile and quarter to a mile and three-sixteenths to a mile and a half. It’s the most difficult feat in all of sports. I’ve been through it, and it’s not easy.

“California Chrome is probably going to have a full gate (in the Belmont) trying to beat him. I think we’re all rooting for a Triple Crown winner, but Mike (Smith) said it best the other day. I was sitting here (in the jockeys’ room) and we were all rooting for him (in the Preakness), but as soon as the race was over, he said, ‘Now we’ve got to try and play the spoilers.’” `

Perhaps there was no greater spoiler than Stevens himself, who was aboard Victory Gallop when he hung an excruciating nose defeat on Real Quiet in the 1998 Belmont, preventing the Bob Baffert trainee from becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner since the inception of the series in 1919, when Sir Barton captured the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont.

“Real Quiet had a habit of pulling up when he made the lead easy like he did,” Stevens recalled. “He was just playing around, and although Kent (Desormeaux) was doing everything possible to keep him running, he actually drifted out.

“Kent tried to get his horse to re-engage and we bumped and I wasn’t sure who had won the race. It was bittersweet. It’s tough to explain when you’re competing against a horse going for the Triple Crown. As a fan of the sport, as I am, you’re rooting for him, but I get paid to go out and do what I do.”

The shoe was on the other foot for Stevens in 1997 when his mount, Silver Charm, was overtaken on the outside in deep stretch by Touch Gold and Chris McCarron in the Belmont, denying Stevens the Triple Crown.

“McCarron rode a smart race,” Stevens said. “I passed him down the backside and he didn’t look like he was traveling with any authority, so he was one of my least worries. But about the sixteenth pole, I saw a shadow coming, because at that time of day in New York, the sun’s going down, so a shadow is cast.

“A horse can be four lengths behind you but you can see his shadow before you see the horse. I saw a shadow out away from me, but McCarron knew Silver Charm, because he had been riding him, and he knew if he came up next to me, he wasn’t going to get past me.

“I saw Touch Gold, but my horse didn’t.”

BIRTHDAY BOY ESPINOZA ON LETTERMAN’S ‘TOP TEN’ LIST

The Wild Rides continues for Victor Espinoza as he pursues the Triple Crown with California Chrome. The jockey, who celebrates his 42nd birthday today, barely has time to take a deep breath as he has been swamped with requests for interviews, autographs, photo ops, hand shakes and any other entreaty requiring a Sharpie since winning the Kentucky Derby on May 3 and Preakness Stakes last Saturday.

The media maelstrom continues on June 4 when Espinoza will appear on “Late Night with David Letterman” on CBS-TV.

Agent Brian Beach reports that Espinoza leaves Friday, May 30, for New York to work California Chrome Saturday, May 31, at Belmont Park, will ride at Belmont that day, then return to California before heading back to the Big Apple for the Letterman show.

ADDED DISTANCE NO PROBLEM FOR QUICK CASABLANCA

Quick Casablanca moves up one grade from III to II when he runs in Saturday’s Charles Whittingham Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at a mile and a quarter on turf, but Joe Talamo is confident the 6-year-old Chilean-bred horse can handle the jump.

“I think he’s going to love a mile and a quarter,” said Santa Anita’s Spring Meet riding and stakes leader through 16 days with 17 and four wins, respectively. “He ran at a mile and an eighth winning the Last Tycoon and it felt like he was just getting going.”

The Last Tycoon, run on April 25, was Quick Casablanca’s first start in five months and his first under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally. Christophe Clement previously trained the bay horse.

“The Last Tycoon really impressed me,” Talamo said, “because they went so slow. He had every chance not to get up and win, but he had an amazing turn of foot that day.”

The field for the Whittingham: Soi Phet, Martin Garcia, 15-1; Quick Casablanca, Joe Talamo, 7-2; Bright Thought, Victor Espinoza, 3-1; African Oil, Kent Desormeaux, 12-1; Irish Surf, Elvis Trujillo, 20-1; Fire With Fire, Tyler Baze, 4-1; Segway, Gary Stevens, 7-2; Joelito, Corey Nakatani, 9-2; and Dr Action, Tiago Pereira, 8-1.

PARRANDA AT THE READY FOR MONDAY’S GAMELY

Parranda is doing well as she awaits the Grade I, $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares, age three and up at 1 1/8 miles on turf, one of two stakes races on Monday, Memorial Day.

Previously trained by Rodolfo Garcia, Parranda won the Grade III Wilshire Stakes at one mile on turf in her first start for Jerry Hollendorfer on April 27. The 5-year-old English Channel mare has won at distances from one mile to a mile and an eighth. Overall, she has a 9-2-2 record from 22 starts with earnings of $512,655.

Hollendorfer said “I hope not” when asked if the additional eighth of a mile in the Gamely would be an issue.

The field for the Gamely, race seven of nine: Customer Base, Mike Smith; Emotional Kitten, Victor Espinoza; Stormy Lucy, Joe Talamo; Changethechannel, Tyler Baze; Premier Steps, Gary Stevens; Miss Serendipity, Brice Blanc; Parranda, Corey Nakatani; Emollient, Rosie Napravnik; and Rhagori, Kent Desormeaux.

First post time at Santa Anita on Memorial Day will be 1:30 p.m., not 1 p.m., to accommodate fans who wish to bet on Monday’s Rainbow Pick 6 at Gulfstream Park.

The potential for a life-changing score will highlight Gulfstream Memorial Day card if the Rainbow 6 goes unsolved on Saturday and Sunday’s programs. There will be a record $6,303,426.30 carryover jackpot available heading into Saturday’s card. In order to crack the jackpot, a Rainbow 6 bettor must hold the only unique ticket with the winners of the final six races on the card.

However, on Monday, the whole multi-million pool must be paid out in full, whether there is a single ticket or multiple tickets with all six winners. Gulfstream's 10-race Memorial Day program drew full fields and a total of 120 horses. There were 79 horses entered in the Rainbow 6 races. Monday’s Rainbow 6 sequence will start on race five and finish on race 10.

POPULAR DOLLAR DAY RETURNS ON MEMORIAL DAY

Santa Anita presents another of its popular Dollar Days this Monday, Memorial Day, May 26. Beers, hot dogs and sodas will be just a dollar each. First post time is 1:30 p.m. Gates open at 11 a.m. Come one, come all, come hungry!

SANTA ANITA’S MAIN TRACK TO UNDERGO MAJOR RENOVATION

Santa Anita has announced that its one mile main track will undergo a major renovation beginning July 11 that will result in the track transitioning to a single-source material consisting of highly coveted El Segundo Sand, a natural soil that will ensure balanced drainage during periods of wet weather and uniform, safe cushion year ’round.

“Beginning July 11, we’re going to take out the existing surface and go down to the base of the track,” said Santa Anita Track Superintendent Dennis Moore. “At that point, we’ll survey the existing base and ensure we’re meeting all specifications relative to slope and grade.

“We’re going to be moving 20,000-plus yards of material and we anticipate this process is going to take about four or five weeks. We’re very fortunate to have been able to locate this soil which is currently being excavated due to construction projects at LAX.

“El Segundo Sand is naturally occurring and we won’t have to mix it with any other material, which is best-case.

“The best surfaces around the country are all made of naturally occurring soils that are indigenous and not made by man.”

Moore, one of America’s most highly respected track superintendents, was hired by Santa Anita following a highly successful run at Hollywood Park, which closed Dec. 22, 2013. He also currently oversees a newly converted one mile oval at Los Alamitos and has built and maintained track surfaces the world over for the past 40 years.

The material, which is currently being trucked from LAX and staged in Santa Anita’s Infield parking lot adjacent to its hillside turf course, is in the process of being screened and will be ready for installation upon the removal of the existing main track.

Santa Anita’s current Spring Meet will conclude June 29 and the track will be closed to training from July 10 through the conclusion of the Del Mar’s final weekend, Aug. 30 and 31.

Santa Anita’s 2014 Fall Meet will start on Sept. 26 and be highlighted for an unprecedented third consecutive year by the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Closing day is Sunday, Nov. 2.

FINISH LINES: Two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder is scheduled to leave May 29 for New York where she will run in the $1 million Ogden Phipps on Belmont Stakes Day, June 7. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella sent the 4-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes seven furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Monday in 1:26.60 under regular rider Gary Stevens . . . California-bred Tiz Flirtatious, winner of the Grade I Rodeo Drive Stakes, worked four furlongs Thursday on Santa Anita’s dirt training track in 51 seconds, breezing, as she prepares for a return to the races. “That was her third work,” trainer Marty Jones said. “She went really nice. Hopefully we’ll find a race for her at Del Mar.” . . . Deepest sympathies and condolences to family and friends of long-time usher Georgeanna (Georgie) Arias, who died May 19 at the age of 74. A veteran employee at Southern California tracks, including Santa Anita where she was a familiar fixture in the Mezzanine box area, Georgie was a true fan and friend of the sport. Funeral services will be held Tuesday, June 3, 11 a.m., in the Oakdale Chapel of Oakdale Memorial Park, 1401 S. Grand Ave., Glendora (phone 626-691 2000).