California Chrome Schools at Rainy Belmont
Photo: Rick Samuels
California Chrome attracts a crowd on Thursday morning.
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California Chrome schooled at the starting gate for the second and final time June 5 at rainy Belmont Park as his date with destiny in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I) draws closer.

At 6:30 a.m., California Chrome set foot on Belmont Park's main track and jogged approximately 1 3/8 miles clockwise before arriving at the starting gate in the 1 1/8-mile chute on the backstretch. There he stood in the gate, backed out, and began an easy 1 1/4-mile gallop outside the cones that had been placed on the muddy main track.

"He was perfect in there (the gate)," said Alan Sherman, assistant to his father, trainer Art Sherman.

California Chrome has won six straight races, including the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness (both gr. I). He is attempting to become the 12th thoroughbred in history to win the Triple Crown and first since Affirmed in 1978.

Sherman said California Chrome, who is owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, will school in the paddock and gallop Friday, June 6. He'll jog on Saturday, the morning of the Belmont Stakes.

"He's got his lead changes down and everything," said Alan Sherman. "He's doing really good on this track."

Sherman took a moment to analyze the impact of California Chrome's post position. The colt drew post 2 of 11 at the June 4 draw.

"It helps that (jockey) Victor (Espinoza) has been riding here all week," said Sherman. "I'm sure they'll take a few different runs at him, like they did at Pimlico. As long as he doesn't get in any traffic problems, I don't think it will be a problem for him. You can't move too early on him; you just have to sit as long as you can."

Sherman continued to stress how California Chrome's connections will always be grateful for having had the opportunity to win the Triple Crown, regardless of the outcome of Saturday's race.

"Everything from here on out is a bonus," said Sherman. "He already has exceeded our expectations. It just has been an amazing ride; I just thank God we get to train a horse like that."

Yesterday, 45-year-old Alan Sherman became a grandfather when his daughter, Brianne, gave birth to a boy. The baby, named Logan, weighs six pounds and was born in Temecula, Calif.

"I'm so excited," said Sherman. "It's great."
 
Elsewhere, trainer Christophe Clement said he's not overly concerned that his contender Tonalist had the misfortune of drawing the outermost post. Robert Evans' Tapit   colt will break from post 11 with Joel Rosario aboard.

"I don't let myself worry about (the post)," said Clement. "I've just got to worry about the horse. Rosario will come tomorrow and we'll discuss it, and we'll deal with it. The plus is you're in the gate last. He's a really, really big horse with a long stride, so he can basically run his own race without worrying about anybody else."

The addition of blinkers in the Peter Pan helped Tonalist find a little extra zip, which Clement believes could result in him being on the lead in the Belmont Stakes.

"Why not? He did show the pace in the Peter Pan," said Clement. "The great thing is he's versatile. Rosario can break and, judging by the way he breaks, ride accordingly. It's a wonderful luxury."

The 3-year-old colt continued his regular preparations on Thursday morning, narrowly missing a morning rainstorm that rolled through the area.

"He trained today and looked well; he galloped a mile and a quarter," said Clement. "He schooled by the paddock, as well, on his way to the track. We'll probably do the same tomorrow. We got lucky today because I trained just before the rain, so the track was still OK at the time he trained."

A four-length winner of the Peter Pan, Tonalist likely will vie with Wicked Strong to be second choice in the wagering. He is 8-1 on the morning line.

Looking to beat the worst of the weather as well, trainer Jimmy Jerkens sent Wicked Strong out with his first set of horses shortly after 6.

Second choice in the program at 6-1, Wicked Strong galloped 1 1/2 miles over the training track in a misty rain.

"It was just coming down lightly; the track was sealed and it wasn't muddy at all," Jerkens said. "It had a lot of moisture in it, naturally, but it was good. It doesn't really pay to go out in the cold rain for a variety of reasons, especially for a horse like him. The noise of the horses hitting the slop, he reacts to stuff like that. It just paid to come out early."

Stabled near the training track in Barn 57, Jerkens has kept Wicked Strong primarily close to home for his preparations rather than bring the Hard Spun   colt to Belmont's main track.

"Sometimes, it gets a little rough coming home. The long walk home gets him a little nervous," Jerkens said. "A couple of times last week it got real hairy where he almost got loose, so we just figured we'd be a little safer and keep him closer to the barn."

The trainer has gone so far has taken precautions in Wicked Strong's training that he may carry over to the Belmont Stakes, which is expected to be run before a near-record crowd. Run at 1 1/2 miles, the Belmont starting gate will be positioned directly front of the grandstand for the race. Wicked Strong drew post nine of 11.

"He reacts to a lot of noise and stuff like that, so we've been galloping him and breezed the other day with little bits of cotton stuck in his ears," Jerkens said. "It seemed to help him a little bit, so maybe we'll do that for the race."

This will be the third Belmont for Jerkens, who was ninth with Thomas Jo in 1998 and fifth with Oh So Awesome in 2006.

"It's a mixture of exciting and nerve-wracking. I'll be glad when it's over," Jerkens said. "He's doing well. I don't see anything that I don't like."

Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin enjoyed his trip around Belmont Park's main track, which came during some of the morning's heaviest rain.

"It started raining as soon as we got out there, but it was all right. The track was good," trainer Billy Gowan said. "I thought he looked super. It was a little nasty out, but he loves that kind of track."

Ride On Curlin enters off a 1 1/2-length loss to California Chrome in the Preakness, the closest any horse has come to the Kentucky Derby winner during his six-race win streak.

A son of 2007 Belmont runner-up and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin  , Ride On Curlin drew post 5 of 11 in the "Test of the Champion," three spots outside of California Chrome.

"I like my post. We're right in the middle, so we just hope we get a clean break and a clean trip," Gowan said. "Everything is right on 'go.' I think he's perfect. I think he's got a heckuva shot, and he's going to love the distance."

A Lousiana native now based in Kentucky, Gowan, 48, has enjoyed the moment with Ride On Curlin, a $25,000 yearling purchase who has earned $714,687 in 11 starts. In 20 years as a trainer, Gowan has totaled 80 wins and more than $1.5 million in purses, mostly with hard-knocking claiming horses.

"This horse has meant everything. A lot of people are talking to me now that never talked to me before," he said. "I've met a lot of nice people and gotten a lot of compliments, so it's been great."
 
Trainer Todd Pletcher reported that Commissioner and Matterhorn, second and fourth, respectively, in the Peter Pan, both galloped Thursday. Commissioner went 1 3/8 miles and Matterhorn 1 1/4 miles, he said.

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