There's a barely noticeable wooden door in one of the barns at Harris Farms.
It leads to what, on most days, is the office but on Saturday was the inner sanctum where the working people who foaled and exercised and trained and love California Chrome watched the Belmont Stakes.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Russell Girvin.
California Chrome lost.
But a person would have been hard-pressed to know that by watching the ranch manager, or the man who taught Chrome to back out of a trailer, or the woman who treated his ailing mother when he was born.
At the end of the race, those in the room stood and applauded.
The tears they wiped away were left over from during the race. This crowd knows horse races. They knew it was over on the home stretch.
Debbie Winick, race manager, was still on her knees from where she'd crawled over to the TV seat from her seat on the floor — then seemed like she was going to crawl into the set. She was the first to speak.
"It's OK. He's an amazing horse."
People drifted outside, standing in quiet groups beneath a shade tree with views of horses at pasture.
"Don't y'all be so quiet," shouted Steven Helm in an accent that was pure Kentucky. "He's still Harris Farms' hero and we got 121 babies to start next year."
Helm, 25, an exercise boy who has been riding thoroughbreds since he was 9, said Chrome just didn't have that kick he had in his last two amazing, far-fetched wins. "But he's a powerhouse and he's ours."
Ranch manager Dave McGlothlin said, "Nobody's to blame. It's a horse race."
The groom and stable hands, who had been working since 4 a.m., had their children grab green-frosted cupcakes for the road.
Helm packed a plate of hot dogs and chili and shouted his goodbye: "Got to get up tomorrow morning and ride some more horses."
Megan Dodd, 23, on the foaling crew, left to put fly ointment on a horse's scratched leg.
"Before, I thought about how awkward it would be if he lost," she said. "But you know what? He's still a cow-bred horse — no real fancy bloodlines — and he went to Kentucky and won against the best of them, and when he runs, he flies."
McGlothlin, his wife, Sandy, and a few friends settled on a picnic bench outside the barn.
"Listen up," McGlothlin said. "This is how horse people speak of a less-than-optimal outcome."
To be in the race game, he said, you have to be a hopeless optimist.
"Chrome ran a hell of a race, and he's a heck of a horse and has done so much already."
"Oh, fine, Dave," said Russell Girvin, a local horse breeder with the thickest of Scottish brogues. "But I'm going to go home and shoot myself."
The table laughed.
"Dadgum him," said Lisa Antonsen, the wife of Per Antonsen, the trainer at Harris Farms.
"California Chrome?" asked a listener in surprise.
"No — Per."
She wondered if her husband — playing golf, taking a nap and watching the race at home instead of with them at the office where he watched last time — had thrown off the karma.
"You're not superstitious?" McGlothlin asked her.
"Hey, haven't you been wearing that same vest since the Kentucky Derby?" Girvin asked him.
The only criticism McGlothlin had was for Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn saying the race wasn't fair.
Sandy McGlothlin pointed out that the other horses that had run the last two races with Chrome had come in dead last.
"All part of it," her husband said.
A young couple had shyly introduced themselves to Dave McGlothlin at the beginning of the party, explaining that they worked at the feed lot but were told it might be OK for them to watch the race with the horse crew.
He'd warmly welcomed them. Now they approached to say their goodbyes.
"Happy you could join us," he said. "Sorry we couldn't give you a Triple Crown winner. But hope you enjoyed the race."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times