Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome went for a slow and easy gallop over the main track at Belmont Park June 3, with 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman on hand to watch after arriving from California the previous day.
His stable star is aiming to become the 12th Triple Crown champion with a victory in the June 7 million Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
"I haven't been back here for a lot of years, and I rode here years ago," said Sherman, who won more than 2,000 races as a jockey from 1957-78. "It's changed quite a bit. I didn't realize it was this big. After you get away from it, it's a huge racetrack. It's beautiful. It's good to be back."
After schooling in the paddock, California Chrome got a hug around the neck from regular exercise rider Willie Delgado before heading to the 1 12-mile track, where he jogged a half-mile before turning around for his 2 3/8-mile gallop.
"I thought he looked better now than he did after the Preakness," Sherman said. "I couldn't believe how much weight he put on. He really looks good right now. Going on the Triple Crown trail, it's kind of rough. He's an amazing horse."
Sherman returned to Los Alamitos Race Course near Los Angeles following the May 17 Preakness, leaving California Chrome with his son and assistant, Alan. Following wins in the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and May Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit will be the heavy favorite to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
"I don't think he has to win the Triple Crown to be a hero," Sherman said. "He's on a six-race winning streak. He'll always be my hero. Just to win the Derby and Preakness is good enough for me. If he gets the Belmont, that's the hat trick. Believe me, I'll be really satisfied then. I'm the kind of guy that I take one race at a time. I hope we have a good trip and everybody comes away healthy. That's my main concern."
Sherman said his last visit to New York came in 2005, when he attended the Breeders' Cup to cheer on his friend and fellow trainer Greg Gilchrist and his horse, Lost in the Fog. Despite finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), the 3-year-old earned the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.
"I am kind of a city guy," Sherman said. "I like going around, and New York has always been a fun town for me. I remember when I was riding, there was a lot of action when I was a young feller."
Sherman, who has won nearly 2,200 races as a trainer, sounded confident when asked if California Chrome would run as a 4-year-old should he sweep the Triple Crown.
"We'd like to race him for another year, although I don't know," he said. "Sometimes when you're offered so much money, it's hard to refuse. I think that the owners will sure run him next year, from what I gather. They just got him insured for a lot of money. You don't pay the insurance premium and sell him right away."
Belmont contender Wicked Strong continue his preparations for the classic, galloping on the main track at Belmont Park after a bullet breeze June 1.
Trained by Jimmy Jerkens for Centennial Farms, the son of Hard Spun galloped 1 1/2 miles after walking the shedrow on Monday. On June 1, he was clocked in :59.10, the fastest of a dozen horses breezing on the training track.
"I galloped him at 7 o'clock (EDT) because I thought it was going to get kind of hot and I didn't want to wait until 9:30 or 10 o'clock like we usually do the first day back after working hard," Jerkens said. "He's doing great."
Jerkens said Wicked Strong will stand and school in the starting gate on Wednesday morning.
"I haven't figured out what time yet," he said. "It all depends on when we can get our pony boy."
A closing fourth to California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) despite a troubled trip, TwinSpires Wood Memorial (gr. I) winner Wicked Strong is gathering momentum as one of the primary roadblocks to California Chrome's quest to win the Triple Crown.
"I can see why," Jerkens said. "He had a pretty good excuse in the Derby. His Wood was great, and he's trained really well since then. He really is training great. But, you never know until you lead them over there."