There is a lot on the line in Saturday's running of the 146th Belmont Stakes.
Along with the chance to make racing history and win a $1.5 million purse, if California Chrome wins the one-and-a-half mile race to complete the Triple Crown, he will also be awarded an elegant trophy that was created by Cartier in 1950.
Commissioned by the Thoroughbred Racing Association to be not only a prize for the sporting world's toughest challenge, but also a work of art, the Triple Crown Trophy is a three-sided vase, each face equally representing the three jewels of the crown to signify the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
After it was first made in 1950, retroactive trophies were presented to the first eight winners of the Triple Crown, including War Admiral.
Since then it has been won by Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) and presented to their owners -- including Penny Chenery, who was portrayed by Diane Lane in the 2010 film Secretariat -- but has eluded contenders for the past 36 years.
On Tuesday, the trophy -- 15 inches wide, 15 inches tall, weighing 10 pounds -- was flown from its home in Louisville, Ky., to New York to be transported to the racetrack in Elmont.
Rather than being accompanied by a security team, Churchill Downs representative Darren Rogers carefully escorted the glittering vase.
"The last time I did this was two years ago, when I'll Have Another won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but he got scratched from the Belmont the day before the race," he tells The Hollywood Reporter.
"It is very rare and probably the most elusive and difficult trophy to achieve. It is sterling silver, but in reality, it's priceless, as there are only three people out there who have one!" he explains.
For the special trip across the country, "we notify the airline ahead of time, check in and let some of the staff take pictures. Then we get a personal escort through the TSA line with the trophy in custom travel luggage," says Rogers. Rather than going in the overhead bin, "this year it got its own seat, as the flight was underbooked and had a window view in 7C," on the Delta flight in coach to JFK.
"It stays with me in the hotel overnight until it is delivered to Belmont Park on Saturday morning, where it will be locked up in the basement safe."
If the 3-year-old chestnut colt from central California lives up to being the 3-5 favorite, "it will be presented to the owners in the winning circle, and representatives from each of the Triple Crown racetracks will be in attendance.
"Win or lose, the trophy will return with me to Louisville afterward. If he wins, it will be specially engraved with each side of the vase telling a story of each race. Then there will be a formal presentation down the road, and a new one will be minted.
"The three tracks will get together to see if they want to make a replica of the 1978 trophy or modernize the design," he adds.
Unlike the Vince Lombardi Trophy or the Stanley Cup, which are guaranteed to be won every year, "this trophy doesn't get a lot of photo ops. It's part of our Friday rehearsal. It's the only trophy in sports I'm aware of that makes an appearance and may never be presented," NBC's versatile field producer Billy Rapaport tells the New York Daily News. "And all the [Triple Crown] attempts I was there for, it just went quietly back into its black box."
When not on tour during the live running of the royal trio of races, the trophy is on public display at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Kentucky.
Along with the Triple Crown Trophy, any horse that wins all three races will also have been awarded the solid gold Kentucky Derby Trophy, worth $90,000; the Woodlawn Vase for the Preakness; and the August Belmont Trophy, which is a silver tray.
As for California Chrome's chances of becoming the 13th horse to complete the Triple Crown, "The weather is sensational. There is a tremendous buzz in New York City this weekend -- it is not going to be easy with 10 horses in the running, but he has a good chance, and we're all hoping he can do it," says Rogers.