BALTIMORE — No matter what scenario he’s thrust into, California Chrome usually finds a way to make the adjustment.
Sloppy track? No problem. Slow pace? Got it covered. Fast pace? Piece of cake.
The Kentucky Derby winner tested the track at Pimlico Race Course for the first time Tuesday and took to it like a kid in a sandbox.
“He seemed to handle the track just great,” assistant trainer Alan Sherman said. “He just jogged but he was happy. He’s really happy right now. So that’s a good thing.”
The Triple Crown hopeful brings a five-race winning streak into Saturday’s Preakness. Because there is a smaller field than the Derby, a shorter distance and several new shooters, this race has the potential to be different.
Regardless of how it shapes up, California Chrome should be ready to deal with it.
“He’s so tactical,” Sherman said. “If they go slow in front, he’ll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him. If they’re going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace. That’s the good thing about him. He doesn’t have one style of running. He’s pretty pushbutton. If you ask him, he’ll do it.”
It’s supposed to rain on Friday, but the weather forecast for Saturday is 70 degrees and partly cloudy. Sherman has no intention of watching The Weather Channel on an hourly basis.
“We’re not scared,” he said. “He trained really good at Churchill on a sloppy track. He actually looked like he liked it a lot.”
Owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred an $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion to produce California Chrome, whose racing career did not generate much fanfare until he won the final stakes race at Hollywood Park, the King Glorious, by 6¼ lengths. That launched the five-win streak that propelled him into position to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Along the way, the father-son training duo of Art and Alan Sherman realized they had a horse most handlers only dream about.
“The King Glorious race, that opened my eyes up,” Alan said. “Then he just kept getting better. Then he won the California Breeders Derby. That was another impressive race. But the San Felipe was probably when I went, ‘Wow.’”
In that wire-to-wire victory at Santa Anita, California Chrome ran the second-fastest time in the history of the race and beat trainer Bob Baffert’s Midnight Hawk by 7¼ lengths. Kristo was third, 13½ lengths behind the winner.
Ride On Curlin had an excellent practice run at Pimlico on Tuesday, much to the delight of trainer Billy Gowan. But Gowan concedes that California Chrome is the horse to beat on Saturday.
“I haven’t seen a flaw in him,” Gowan said.
Ride On Curlin finished seventh in the Derby after getting stuck in traffic from an outside post. Gowan hopes a new jockey, Joel Rosario, and smooth run Saturday will produce a different result.
“California Chrome is an awful nice horse,” Gowan said, “but I’d just like a clean trip so I can what our horse is really made of.”