The Kentucky Derby trip for California Chrome was so ideal it seemed like a movie scene.
The chestnut colt sat comfortably in third in a pocket created by the perfect storm of front-runners cruising at a moderate pace and closers clustered in a battle for position. Once he got clearance and the call from jockey Victor Espinoza, California Chrome separated from his 18 rivals with ease.
The Preakness trip? It could be a whole new game plan for the California-bred when he starts from the No. 3 post this Saturday in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
Positioned between General a Rod (No. 2 post) and Ring Weekend (No. 4 post), California Chrome, the overwhelming 3-5 favorite in a field of 10, is surrounded by pace horses. Social Inclusion (No. 8 post), Bayern (No. 5 post) and Pablo Del Monte (No. 9 post) are also speedy types who will be vying for a role at the head of the pack.
It’s also possible early leaders will carve out quicker fractions than the Derby, forcing the versatile California Chrome to adjust so he avoids becoming part of a taxing pace duel. He’s done it before. He’s been as far back as fourth in two of his wins, the King Glorious Stakes and the Graduation Stakes, and he closed into a swift pace.
“There will be a lot more speed in the race,” said Alan Sherman, assistant to his father, Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome. “It looks like it on paper. So I don’t think he’ll be quite as close to the pace, which is not a problem. He can come from off of the pace.”
The elder Sherman spoke with confidence when the field was set.
“My horse is kind of push-button,” Art Sherman said. “People don’t know that he’s got enough lick that he can stay with any horse in the race.”
Just as interesting as the developing pace scenario is the discussion of California Chrome’s ever-changing physique. The growing 3-year-old colt is, from all reports, thriving and didn’t take long to bounce back from the 10-furlong test that can often zap its winners of energy.
“He lost a little weight after the race, but put it all back on and then some,” Alan Sherman said.
According to Preakness media notes, Art Sherman estimated the colt had put on 35 pounds since the Derby. Exercise rider Willie Delgado has been aboard California Chrome every morning he’s gone to the track and said he’s more than maintained his fitness level.
“It’s amazing how quick he’s recovering after each race,” Delgado said. “After the Derby here he was squealing and kicking and eager to get back to the track. He handled it well and came out of the race perfect.”
Weather forecasts for Baltimore predict heavy rain is possible for Friday with improving, dry conditions on Saturday. In 11 starts, California Chrome has yet to encounter a wet track.
Photo by J.J. Hysell