Preakness favorite California Chrome a good bet on any track
Exercise rider Willie Delgado jogs Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome past fans attending Sunrise at Old Hilltop at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The Preakness Stakes is scheduled for Saturday, May 17. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome tries to taste the flowers outside the stake barn after his morning bath at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The Preakness Stakes is scheduled for Saturday, May 17. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Assistant trainer Alan Sherman, center, watches Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, held by exercise rider Willie Delgado, get a bath outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The Preakness Stakes horse race is scheduled for Saturday. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Groom Raul Rodriguez rinses the face of Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome during his morning bath at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The Preakness Stakes horse race is scheduled for Saturday. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Preakness Stakes hopeful Ride On Curlin stops to watch people outside the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md., Tuesday, May 13, 2014 as he is walked by trainer Billy Gowan. The Preakness Stakes horse race is scheduled for Saturday. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
BALTIMORE – No matter what scenario he’s thrust into, California Chrome usually finds a way to make the adjustment.
Sloppy track? No problem. Slow pace? Got it covered. Fast pace? Piece of cake.
The Kentucky Derby winner tested the track at Pimlico Race Course for the first time yesterday and took to it like a kid in a sandbox.
“He seemed to handle the track just great,” assistant trainer Alan Sherman said. “He just jogged but he was happy. He’s really happy right now. So that’s a good thing.”
The Triple Crown hopeful brings a five-race winning streak into Saturday’s Preakness. Because there is a smaller field than the Derby, a shorter distance and several new shooters, this race has the potential to be different.
Regardless of how it shapes up, California Chrome should be ready to deal with it.
“He’s so tactical,” Sherman said. “If they go slow in front, he’ll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him. If they’re going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace. That’s the good thing about him. He doesn’t have one style of running. He’s pretty pushbutton. If you ask him, he’ll do it.”
It’s supposed to rain on Friday, but the weather forecast for Saturday is 70 degrees and partly cloudy. Sherman has no intention of watching The Weather Channel on an hourly basis.
“We’re not scared,” he said. “He trained really good at Churchill on a sloppy track. He actually looked like he liked it a lot.”
No two tracks are alike, except perhaps to the undiscerning California Chrome.
“He had no issues on the track surface at all,” Sherman said after yesterday’s practice run. “This horse hasn’t had to take his track with him. He’s won on four different tracks now. So I don’t think that’s an issue. I’m hoping it isn’t anyway.”
Owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred an $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion to produce California Chrome, whose racing career did not generate much fanfare until he won the final stakes race at Hollywood Park, the King Glorious, by 6¼ lengths. That launched the five-win streak that propelled him into position to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Along the way, the father-son training duo of Art and Alan Sherman realized they had a horse most handlers only dream about.
“The King Glorious race, that opened my eyes up,” Alan said. “Then he just kept getting better. Then he won the California Breeders Derby. That was another impressive race. But the San Felipe was probably when I went, ‘Wow.’”
In that wire-to-wire victory at Santa Anita, California Chrome ran the second-fastest time in the history of the race and beat trainer Bob Baffert’s Midnight Hawk by 7¼ lengths. Kristo was third, 13½ lengths behind the winner.
“First time against open company and he just broke in front and won so easy that day,” Sherman recalled. “I was pretty excited about that one.”
The Shermans’ enthusiasm was justified in the Kentucky Derby.
“Every year when you get the 2-year-olds in you’re saying, ‘Maybe this will be the one to get us to the Derby,’ ” Alan Sherman said. “But we’ve been saying that for a lot of years now, and we finally made it. It’s really special. My dad is deserving of it. He works hard.”
Ride On Curlin had an excellent practice run at Pimlico yesterday, much to the delight of trainer Billy Gowan. But Gowan concedes that California Chrome is the horse to beat on Saturday.
“I haven’t seen a flaw in him,” Gowan said.
Ride On Curlin finished seventh in the Derby after getting stuck in traffic from an outside post. Gowan hopes a new jockey, Joel Rosario, and smooth run Saturday will produce a different result.
“California Chrome is an awful nice horse,” Gowan said, “but I’d just like a clean trip so I can what our horse is really made of.”