Now that the second hurdle has been cleared by Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner California Chrome, who with his Preakness (gr. I) victory became the first California-bred in history to win two legs of the Triple Crown, trainer Art Sherman and his team can relax for a few days before the pressure builds leading into the June 7 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in New York.
On the morning of May 18 around 5:30 a.m. EDT, it was time for Sherman to check his horse and relive the thrill of the 3-year-old Lucky Pulpit colt's 1 1/2-length victory a day earlier, while trainer Billy Gowan was all smiles about a hard-closing runner-up finish from Ride On Curlin.
Both horses came out of the 1 3/16-mile challenge in good order, ate up well, and walked the shedrow in the Pimlico Race Course stakes barn. California Chrome and Alan Sherman following Ride On Curlin for a bit with Gowan handling his charge.
"I finally got ahead of 'Chrome,' " Gowan joked. "I'm trying to show him how to do it."
With Art Sherman headed back to California May 19 to check on his string there, his son and main assistant Alan Sherman and groom Raul Rodriguez will accompany Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's homebred chestnut on to Belmont Park by van in a few days, most likely May 20. Ride On Curlin will also share that ride, and the two are expected to stable together at the New York oval. Each contender is expected to breeze once before the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
"I'll play it by ear," Sherman said of a timetable for California Chrome's pre-race work. "He don't need much, (just) a half a mile work. I kind of keep them fresh. It's usually five to six weeks before I even run them. Now, I'm running (three) major races in five weeks. To me, it's awful tough on a horse. He'll get a nice rest after the Belmont."
Rontos Racing Stable's Social Inclusion, the Manny Azpurua trainee who finished 6 1/2 lengths back in third, also walked the shedrow at Pimlico and emerged from the race in good order.
"He ate everything and he's happy. He didn't show that he was tired at all," owner Ron Sanchez said.
Social Inclusion is scheduled to remain at Pimlico until May 23 before shipping to Belmont Park for a probable start in the Belmont.
"The Belmont is in the picture, but we'll see what's good for the horse. We'll look at all the options we have," said Sanchez, who mentioned the Metropolitan (gr. I) and the Woody Stephens (gr. II) on Belmont Stakes Day as options. "It's early, but we're going to New York, definitely."
Starlight Racing and Skychai Racing's General a Rod, fourth for trainer Mike Maker, loaded aboard an airport-bound van for the flight back to Kentucky along with Pablo Del Monte (sixth), Dynamic Impact (seventh), Bayern (ninth) and the filly Ria Antonia (10th).
Jack Wolf, managing partner of Starlight Racing, said Sunday morning that his group will confer with their partners later this week and decide on the colt's future.
"I would like to run him in the Belmont," Wolf said. "I'm a racing fan first and an owner second, and I'd like to see a Triple Crown. I'd like to win the Belmont, too."
The son of Roman Ruler was only a head from finishing third behind Social Inclusion. The Gulfstream Park Derby winner finished eight lengths behind California Chrome.
Fifth-place finisher Ring Weekend had already been vanned back to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., while Kid Cruz, eighth, returned to Belmont Park in the early morning hours. Linda Rice, trainer of KId Cruz, said she was "50-50" regarding a potential run in the Belmont Stakes. Graham Motion, trainer of Ring Weekend, said he also would discuss a Belmont run with his runner's connections, but that the summer races would be a likely target.
No major issues were reported by the connections of any of the also-rans.
At Belmont, California Chrome and Ride On Curlin will face a full slate of new rivals. The New York Racing Association released an early list of probable starters for the $1.5 million Belmont, including Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Commissioner, Danza, Intense Holiday, Samraat, Tonalist, and Wicked Strong.
Gowan said he is excited about the upcoming challenge and was thrilled with the Preakness result.
"I told you guys all week, if I couldn't win it, I wanted them to win it," he said in reference to the California Chrome camp. "And I'm a racing fan too, and if I can't win the Belmont, I dang sure want to see them win the Triple Crown. It's going to be as exciting as heck; you've got a Triple Crown on the line...my horse is good, his horse is good, we've become friends, so it's going to be fun."