California Chrome eyes 2nd leg of Triple Crown
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome is bathed in preparation for the 139th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 15, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland - by Patrick Smith
"I think he loves it," assistant trainer Alan Sherman said of the adulation the chestnut colt has received since arriving this week at the Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore, where the $1.5 million, 1 3/16 mile Preakness will be run.
The glow surrounding Chrome dimmed just a bit on Thursday, when word went round he had been seen by a vet, but his connections quickly moved to dispel any concerns, saying the colt had a small blister in his throat that was not serious and would not keep him out of the race.
"He's fine," said Alan Sherman, son and assistant to trainer Art Sherman. "It's not a big deal at all."
California Chrome's emphatic Kentucky Derby triumph on May 3 has made almost everything about him a big deal, and if he wins in the field of 10 on Saturday things will only get bigger.
That would give him a chance to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the coveted treble of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes -- with the last race of the trifecta coming on June 7 at Belmont Park in New York.
"It's an awesome feeling having a horse of this caliber," Alan Sherman said. "It's the first time we've had a horse this good, so we're enjoying the ride."
California Chrome comes complete with an appealing story of humble beginnings, bred by owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin from an $8,000 mare that they matched for $2,000 with an undistinguished stallion.
But after five victories in his last five starts by a combined 26 lengths, Coburn is not afraid to predict that California Chrome will be the first horse in 36 years to pull off the Triple Crown.
California Chrome is an odds-on 3-5 favorite to add the Preakness to his resume.
- 'Pretty good that way' -
Kentucky Derby winners have often run well in the slightly shorter Preakness. Since Affirmed won the Triple Crown, a dozen horses have won both the Derby and Preakness only to falter at Belmont.
Since 1997, eight of the 17 Kentucky Derby winners have won the Preakness, and California Chrome's jockey Victor Espinoza rode one of them -- War Emblem in 2002.
He will break from the third post under Espinoza, and will likely confront early speed.
"He'll do whatever Victor asks him to do," Alan Sherman said. "He's pretty good that way."
Only two other horses from the Kentucky Derby field will line up in the Preakness, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod.
Ride On Curlin finished seventh at Churchill Downs after a tough trip under Calvin Borel, and trainer Billy Gowan has replaced Borel with Joel Rosario, who won the 2013 Kentucky Derby aboard Orb.
Gowan said his horse has bounced back well from the Derby.
"He's one tough horse," Gowan said. "We sure didn't have a very good trip (in the Derby). Hopefully we can turn the tables."
Among the seven new challengers, few have posted times that indicate they are major threats, apart from Social Inclusion.
Social Inclusion is expected to set the early pace and after drawing the eighth post was installed as the second choice at 5-1, followed by Bayern at 10-1 in the number five post and Ride On Curlin at 10-1 out of the outside post.
The lone filly in the field will be 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia. Trained by Tom Amoss, she will start from post six with Borel aboard.
Borel won the 2009 Preakness with champion filly Rachel Alexandra but Ria Antonia is the longshot of the field at 30-1, although owner Ron Paolucci is optimistic.
"We've always wanted to run this race," he said. "She's a very big filly and very sound."