With his gate schooling now out of the way, California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), has pretty much concluded his preparation for the May 17 Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
All that is left for Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's son of Lucky Pulpit is another gallop May 16 at Pimlico Race Course and perhaps a light jog the morning before he runs in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Trainer Art Sherman and his son and assistant Alan had mentioned the possibility of schooling the Cal-bred in the paddock, but because the colt will be saddled in the infield, they felt there was no need for any such schooling after all.
California Chrome has had a few minor issues at the gate in previous races, but according to Art Sherman, the gate crew was happy with the way the colt handled schooling May 15.
"The crew said he stood in the gate perfectly and was nice and relaxed," Sherman said. "In the afternoon he has a tendency to rock in the gate. If he gets off a shade slow, the rider will have to ride a different race. If he breaks sharply, we should be in good shape. He has 1:09 and change speed in California and can go with the best of them. He's already proven he's a fast horse and push button. When you ask him, he gives you that burst."
Now comes the waiting, and Sherman knows all too well that anything can happen at any time, especially when the temperature drops 25 degrees and you have precipitation. It was a cool and foggy morning at Pimlico, and has been that way for the past two days. Rain showers are predicted for May 16.
"I've alway got concerns: the weather, hoping that he don't get a cold," Sherman said. "You're always watching him, taking his temperature three times a day because of the change in weather. One day it's hot. One day it's like this. The next day it will be raining. You've got to monitor your horse really well and make sure that he is 100%. That's my key worry right now, that he doesn't catch a cold, or anything like that."
Later in the afternoon, the folks at Sherman Racing had to respond to rumors that California Chrome was indeed getting sick. But the trainer said while he is keeping a close eye on the Derby winner, he couldn't expect his colt to be doing any better.
"Sometimes, it amazes me how much he's filled out," Sherman said. "It's like watching a kid grow up. If you had told me on the first of the year that he would win the Derby and we'd be here at the Preakness, I would have said, 'Are you kidding me?' It's just so awesome when he draws away from his field. I always thought Swaps was going to be the thrill of my life. To be where we are now, I have to pinch myself.
"This is going to be a tough race and he's going to have a target on his back. Normally, I don't like coming back in two weeks; that gets me a little nervous. It's tough on a horse, but I know it's a tradition. It takes a certain kind of horse to do this and I'm just hoping it's mine. Racing luck is so important and to get off cleanly. Those first 70 yards are going to be the key."
California Chrome had a solid gallop, and as usual took his sweet time getting to the track. From the number of times he stops and looks around he should be pretty familiar with his surroundings by now.
General a Rod was the first horse to go to the track, galloping strongly through the fog and mist. He, along with California Chrome and Ride On Curlin, have bounced out of the Derby in great shape, and all have put on weight. General a Rod packs a lot of power in his shoulders and hind quarters.
Two horses who made a great impression this morning were Bayern and Social Inclusion, two different types who cover the ground in different ways. But are both extremely impressive with the way they get over the track.
Another horse who galloped strongly this morning, and who has already proven he loves this track, is Kid Cruz, winner of the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel and Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico.