05/03/2014 9:32AM

Derby scene: California Chrome jogs; countdown begins

Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome, shown at Churchill Downs on Thursday, jogged a mile Saturday morning.

Steve Coburn knew when he saw the newborn colt.

“I saw this baby twice,” the co-owner of California Chrome said. “Once in a dream, and then the day after he was born.”

Since the chestnut colt with the white face hit the ground Feb. 18, 2011, the clock has been ticking down to today. Tick-tock.

On Saturday morning, California Chrome went for an easy one-mile jog with exercise rider Willie Delgado aboard, the sun just beginning to brighten the twin spires as they loomed over the Kentucky Derby favorite.

More than three years of planning, now just over 12 hours to post. Tick-tock.

The colt walks back to Barn 20, his home for the last week since arriving with trainer Art Sherman to intense media scrutiny. He disappears into the shed row. He won’t leave the stable area again until just before 6 p.m., when the call comes for the 19 Derby horses to assemble in the chute for the walkover.

Across the way in Barn 38, Tapiture – who was foaled on this date three years ago – pokes his head out of the stall. It’s a quiet morning for stablemate Untapable, walking the shed row, having emerged in good order from her emphatic Kentucky Oaks victory Friday before a near-record crowd of 113,071.

An even bigger gathering is expected today, and the eyes of that crowd and beyond will be on trainer Steve Asmussen, in the wake of allegations by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that led to his removal from the Hall of Fame ballot, the firing of his top assistant, and a prominent client moving his horses. Asmussen now has a chance to become the first trainer to pull off the Oaks-Derby double since Ben Jones with Real Delight and Hill Gail in 1952.

Over in Barn 41, Ride On Curlin is full of energy, a hand-lettered sign on his stall door warning well-wishers that the colt bites. Earlier this week, trainer Billy Gowan – like Sherman, a Derby first-timer – leaned back in his chair and recalled his first Kentucky Derby memory – watching Secretariat launch his Triple Crown run in 1973.

A moment 41 years in the making comes later today when Gowan tightens the girth on his own Derby colt. Tick-tock.

It’s 8:30 a.m., training hours are over early, and fans are steadily streaming through the gates at Churchill Downs. Many congregating in the paddock area are sporting the colors of their Kentucky Derby selections – purple and green for California Chrome, red and white for Ramsey Farm’s two colts, blue and yellow for Intense Holiday. Women are sporting hats in an array of colors and styles, some matching the theme of their Derby choices.

The crowds gathering won’t have to contend with the breezy, occasionally cloudy conditions that prevailed on Oaks Day. Saturday morning dawned clear, and the weather at post time is expected to be in the 70s and sunny.

The track is fast. The turf is firm. It’s Kentucky Derby Day.

“The Derby is America’s race,” Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, riding in his second Derby since coming out of retirement, said. “It’s definitely my favorite place in the world.”