09/17/2014 1:06PM

Hovdey: California Chrome, Shared Belief on collision course

Kim Pratt
California Chrome, with assistant trainer Alan Sherman, trains at Parx on Wednesday for Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby.

Beginning on Saturday, with the appearance of California Chrome in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby, every 3-year-old who matters will be running somewhere in something important over the next two weekends. For once, the glamour division has risen from the rubble of the Triple Crown to stand tall in the fall, and thank goodness.

What looked like a muscular bunch of older horses that included Palace Malice, Will Take Charge, Game On Dude and Mucho Macho Man has been winnowed to a rivalry between Moreno and Itsmyluckyday. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bayern, Tapiture, and Candy Boy give depth to the field California Chrome will face in Philly, while Tonalist, Wicked Strong, and V. E. Day meet Sept. 27 in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. That leaves Pacific Classic winner Shared Belief, unbeaten and untied, with the last word before the Breeders’ Cup Classic when he runs in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita Park, also on Sept. 27.

To that end, Shared Belief worked three-quarters of a mile in 1:15.20 on Tuesday over the Tapeta synthetic surface at Golden Gate Fields. He will have one more work there next Tuesday, after which he will ship to Santa Anita.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer had this to say about the workout, in which Shared Belief broke off behind two stablemates, then blew past them in the stretch:

“It was a very good work on a very dead track. I always like to give him a target. I’ve seen other people do that a lot – Bob Baffert, John Shirreffs with Zenyatta. Not that I’m copying someone, but sometimes it’s helpful. When I work him alone, we’re just looking for a little maintenance. In this case, I’m training him up to the race on the 27th.”

Shared Belief, a gelding, has a low-key professionalism about him that taps into the class provided by such ancestors as Candy Ride, Key Phrase, Tribal Rule, and Pirate’s Bounty.

“He’s remarkably consistent,” Hollendorfer said. “In all fairness, I think that’s how all trainers gauge their horses. If they show them a little bit more or a little bit less, they try to adjust. He’s in a good, consistent place right now, and I hope he stays that way.”

While Hollendorfer has a horse in perfect racing trim, with three well-spaced appearances since Memorial Day and no hiccups along the way, the training challenge for Art Sherman has been decidedly different. California Chrome must go from the dead stop of his post-Belmont downtime at Harris Ranch to full speed ahead Saturday against three very talented colts at 1 1/8 miles.

“He’s an easy enough horse to train,” Sherman said of California Chrome. “But you’ve got to know him. He’s a totally different horse in the afternoon. He’s so competitive, it takes the atmosphere of a race to really get his engines going. That’s why the work before last between races at Los Alamitos was so important. The light went on. He figured out what we were asking him to do.”

Sherman was in Lexington, Ky., on Tuesday afternoon, awaiting word from Philadelphia of his colt’s safe arrival at Parx after leaving Ontario International Airport in eastern L.A. County early that morning. Sherman would be joining the party in Pennsylvania on Thursday. To kill time, he bought two yearlings at Keeneland.

“One of them looks just like Chrome,” Sherman said. “Three white feet, not four, big blaze down his face, and he has a swagger to him you won’t believe.”

Sherman bought the colt for Dr. Ed Allred, the owner of Los Alamitos, where California Chrome has trained since February. The colt’s dam, Shes Roughin It, is a daughter of Forest Camp, and her granddam, Tennis Lady, is a full sister to 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Concern.

“I gave $160,000 for him and wasn’t sure I could get him for that,” Sherman said. “But all the big guns were gone, so I had a shot. I told Doc Allred I bought him the next Chrome.”

Of course, Sherman knows the chances are slim that lightning like California Chrome will strike the same barn twice. He is more concerned right now with making sure the real thing is ready to roll Saturday. Earlier in the day, the trainer found himself defending the decision to run the Derby-Preakness winner in the Pennsylvania Derby instead of waiting a week to play at home in the Awesome Again.

The suggestion was that Sherman and the owners – Perry Martin and Steve Coburn – were doing it more for the $200,000 in Parx incentive payments they would be sharing for simply bringing California Chrome to the race. Sherman, who gets $100,000, was hardly sneezing at the bonus. But the idea of six weeks to the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic instead of five was every bit as appealing. And ultimately, winning the Classic – and with it Horse of the Year – is the point of the exercise.

“If you can help it, the last thing you want to do bringing a horse back is ask him to run in the toughest race around,” Sherman said. “I think the Awesome Again comes up a much tougher race than the Pennsylvania Derby.”

An earlier version of Sherman’s answer was greeted with a degree of skepticism during a national teleconference. How could any comeback challenge be tougher than what California Chrome will face in the Pennsylvania Derby? Sherman had to laugh.

“I guess they never heard of Shared Belief,” he said.