As Triple Crown contender California Chrome went about his daily routine May 24 in preparation for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I), a sizable field was shaping up to challenge the colt in the 1 1/2-mile race known as the "Test of the Champion."
As many as 11 could line up June 7 against California Chrome, who galloped 1 3/4 miles over a sloppy main track at 6 a.m. EDT, picking up the pace considerably as he went through the Belmont Park stretch a second time.
"That's the way he gallops all the time," said Alan Sherman, assistant to California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman, his father. "He kind of loafs the first mile and then he decides, 'OK, let's get serious,' and grabs the bridle and pulls Willie (Delgado) around there."
Galloping on the track at the same time was Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner Tonalist, who could be the second or third choice in the Belmont wagering.
Also under consideration for the Belmont are the Todd Pletcher-trained duo of Peter Pan runner-up Commissioner and Intense Holiday, 12th in California Chrome's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) win; TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Wicked Strong, who was fourth in the Derby; Derby runner-up Commanding Curve; Ride On Curlin, who was second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I); Kid Cruz, winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes who ran eighth in the Preakness; Matuszak, second in the Federico Tesio; Samraat, who was fifth in the Derby, and possibly Social Inclusion (third in the Preakness), and Candy Boy (13th in the Derby).
According to the New York Racing Association, no horse has won the Triple Crown facing more than seven rivals, which Seattle Slew and Citation accomplished in 1977 and 1948, respectively. Secretariat in 1973 and Affirmed, the most recent Triple Crown winner in 1978, both defeated four others.
Sherman said his only concern was California Chrome.
"It's a horse race and anything can happen," he said. "But as far as being worried or concerned about anything, once he gets out there it's out of our hands. You just have to have some racing luck and hope all goes well; he'll run his race.
"Three hard races in five weeks is tough on them. I'm not saying Chrome can do it any easier than any other horse who's done it, but the horse is going to try. If he's good enough, he'll get it done."