Rain in the forecast forced a change in California Chrome 's training schedule in preparation for the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup (gr. I), but it didn't alter the standard mood on the deck at Schwanie's At The Gap Dec. 29.
Per usual, trainer Art Sherman and assistant trainer Alan Sherman greeted onlookers with warmth or an occasional, good-natured verbal jab on the elevated platform of Los Alamitos Race Course's trackside grill.
In the absence of normal Schwanie's workmate, Quarter Horse trainer John Cooper, Hall of Fame conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer filled in as the lights turned on in the early morning darkness.
"We opened the track early for you. What took you so long?" Alan Sherman said with a laugh, as the well-known early riser Hollendorfer approached in a golf cart.
"Make sure you write in your article that I woulda worked him five-eighths," Hollendorfer playfully shot back.
California Chrome didn't work five furlongs, of course, but covered a half-mile in an easy :48 1/5. Although the son of Lucky Pulpit was eager to run before breaking off to work, the chestnut relaxed under regular exercise rider Dihigi Gladney into a comfortable stride as the drill commenced and ran the first quarter in :24 2/5.
Unlike standard works as he gets closer to races, which start slow and finish quickly, California Chrome cruised through Thursday's stretch run and galloped out to five furlongs in 1:02 2/5. Art Sherman said the decision to move up the work two days was twofold—because of the weather and because his star pupil has been hankering to do more during recent morning gallops.
"He's been full of himself," Art Sherman said. "I've never seen him train like this. Of course we missed a couple of days because of rain and he was fresh. Then he galloped three or four straight days and he was wanting to run off every day. It's just been unbelievable. We couldn't be any happier with the way he's going right now.
"This work was to get the energy out of him, but also because of the rain. When it rains here, they close (the track) and I can't miss any works as we're getting closer to the main event."
The altered training plan also allows for one more local workout for the 2014 Horse of the Year. The initial plan was to have his final Los Alamitos workout Dec. 31, but with the drill moved up two days, California Chrome is now scheduled to log another move Jan. 5—likely another half-mile or five furlongs, according to Art Sherman—before departing for Gulfstream Park Jan. 6. The seven-time grade I/group I winner should get two timed drills over the Gulfstream main track following his arrival at Todd Pletcher's barn in South Florida.
"I know (Arrogate) is a mile-and-a-quarter horse," Art Sherman said. "A mile and an eighth will probably be a little to my benefit. Maybe I'm mistaken, but I always thought this horse could run any distance. Seven-eighths, a mile and a half—it wouldn't make any difference."
The Arrogate-California Chrome rematch is likely to overshadow all other storylines leading up to the race and Art Sherman is already fielding a deluge of media inquiries about his feelings on getting another crack at the gray Unbridled's Song colt trained by Bob Baffert. California Chrome got his prep race in Dec. 17 in the $180,000 Winter Challenge at Los Alamitos, while Arrogate will prep Jan. 1 in the $200,000 San Pasqual (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
"Boy, this media is going crazy over this race coming up," Art Sherman said. "It's all from back East. Every day somebody calls me from back East asking what I think—if I'm looking forward to the race. They're making it like a grudge race—trying to redeem yourself. They're building it up.
"I don't blame them. It'll be standing room only that day."