05/23/2014 12:43PM

California Chrome keeps a cool head


California Chrome hasn’t had too many things in his path this year as he’s rolled to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, putting him one step away from a Triple Crown sweep going into the Belmont Stakes on June 7.

Sure, he had to outrun 18 horses in the Derby and nine rivals in the Preakness, but he handled both tasks with aplomb. Worries over a tiny throat blister before the Preakness and concerns as to whether he’d be permitted to use a nasal strip in the Belmont proved to be unfounded.

California Chrome’s equanimity served him well Friday at Belmont Park, where an opossum dashed across the track while he was out for his routine gallop. He didn’t even flinch. Apparently, encountering wildlife is part of his routine, even back home at Los Alamitos.

“We got coyotes running on the track at Los Al sometimes,” said assistant trainer Alan Sherman.

California Chrome galloped about 1 3/4 miles Friday under regular exercise rider Willie Delgado. The track still had some moisture in it from rain earlier in the week, which had left the track sloppy for California Chrome’s first gallop over the track Thursday.

“He galloped good,” Sherman said after Friday’s gallop. “The track was a little bit heavier than yesterday. He seemed to get over it fine.”

Alan Sherman is overseeing California Chrome’s training while his father, Art, attends to the rest of their runners at Los Alamitos. Alan Sherman made his comments at a daily morning press briefing.

California Chrome will have a similar training schedule through May 31, when he is slated to work a half-mile, his lone workout between the Preakness and Belmont.

As of Friday, there were still 11 horses in various stages of commitment toward challenging California Chrome in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the last and longest of the Triple Crown races. The potential field was reduced by one Friday when Ring Weekend, who had been considered no more than a possibility for the Belmont after finishing fifth in the Preakness, officially dropped out.

“I don’t see any need to come back in three weeks and run him a mile and a half,” said trainer Graham Motion. “We’ve got lots of options – grass options, dirt options.”

Ring Weekend is owned by a partnership that includes West Point Thoroughbreds, which also is a co-owner of Commanding Curve, who sat out the Preakness after finishing second in the Derby and is an expected starter in the Belmont. On Friday at Churchill Downs, Commanding Curve was timed by Churchill clocker John Nichols working five furlongs on a fast track in 59.80 seconds for trainer Dallas Stewart.

Exercise rider Emerson Chavez was aboard Commanding Curve, who worked outside of his older stablemate Perfect Title. Stewart said the work was designed to go past the wire. He caught the pair going six furlongs in 1:13.40.

“I thought it was perfect, whatever it was,” Stewart said.

The work was the second for Commanding Curve since he rallied to finish 1 3/4 lengths behind California Chrome as a 37-1 shot in the Derby. Stewart said Commanding Curve would be flown by equine charter to New York next Thursday and will have one work over the Belmont Park surface prior to the Belmont Stakes.

At Pimlico, Social Inclusion went back to the track Friday for the first time since finishing third in the Preakness, jogging a half-mile and galloping 1 1/8 miles, according to owner Ron Sanchez.

“He was happy to be back on the track,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said Social Inclusion remains “50-50” for the Belmont. He said Social Inclusion also will be nominated to the Woody Stephens, a seven-furlong race for 3-year-olds, and the Metropolitan Handicap, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up, both run on the same day as the Belmont Stakes.

Sanchez said he wants to talk with New York Racing Association stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes to get an idea of the composition of the fields for the Woody Stephens and Met Mile. The Met Mile is expected to include Palace Malice and Goldencents.

“We’re going to wait until next week to make a decision,” Sanchez said.

Social Inclusion is expected to van from Pimlico to Belmont on Sunday.

– additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee