08/28/2014 2:02PM

Hovdey: The envelope, please


If Tiger Woods can be paid $3 million for simply teeing off in a Turkish golf tournament, as he was last November, who could possibly have any problem with the owners and trainer of Derby-Preakness winner California Chrome carving up $200,000 in appearance fees for running in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20? Perhaps a quote from a dozen years ago will clear the air:

“There’s nothing illegal about it, and nothing was done under the table. It’s business, right? It’s the American way.”

The above was brought to you by Bob Baffert, who was asked by Bill Finley in The New York Times to justify the $50,000 fee he was being paid to take Derby-Preakness winner War Emblem to Monmouth Park for the 2002 Haskell Invitational. The handsome gratuity was consistent with the 50K paid the trainer in 2001 for Point Given’s participation in the same event. Both colts won, which is also the American way.

No one in his or her right mind should ever begrudge anyone doing anything to make an honest buck, especially since there seems to be fewer of them around these days. The owners of California Chrome have a commodity in demand, and the management of Parx Racing has the casino cash on hand to take advantage of the colt’s undeniable appeal. In a perfect world, the million-dollar purse should have been enough to lure California Chrome east. But the conditions are right there in the Parx stakes book, following the breakdown of the purse:

“All horses that start in this race that which have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes, Haskell Invitational or Travers will qualify the owner and trainer to receive $50,000 additional.”

Hopefully, Parx will have a big day with California Chrome, and the attendance will be considerably more than the “unavailable” listed daily. In sending their colt to suburban Philadelphia, however, owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn have put a price of their $100,000 plus the $600,000 winner’s prize on risking California Chrome’s chances to be Horse of the Year.

California Chrome will be competing for the first time since early June. He will be traveling 2,400 miles from his West Coast training grounds. He will be running over a surface with which his trainer, Art Sherman, is not familiar. In terms of money, his people have plenty to win, but in terms of reputation, California Chrome has everything to lose.

On the plus side, California Chrome already has proven that he has a devastating road game. He holds his weight well, and his spirit never seems to sag. No matter who shows up, the Pennsylvania Derby should be at his mercy. After that, it will be a matter of how much horse Sherman has left for the Big Dance – the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 1 – when the Horse of the Year title will be squarely on the line.

That is why the unbeaten Pacific Classic winner Shared Belief will be staying home in California, even though the rich Pennsylvania Derby option is tempting. On Thursday, Jerry Hollendorfer reported that the gelded son of Candy Ride settled back into his familiar digs at Golden Gate Fields the night before and likely would be going back to the track Friday following his regular post-race routine. He emerged from his Classic win with only the superficial scrape on his forehead he sustained shipping south in the van last week.

“A flesh wound,” Hollendorfer said. “That’s what it was. Reminds me of the old westerns I used to watch on TV.”

After the struggle earlier this year to heal Shared Belief’s injured hoof, the trainer enjoys how mundane the care of the stable star has become.

“He stays about the same,” Hollendorfer said. “He doesn’t back off his feed in any way after his race and acts no different no matter where he is.”

To get Shared Belief to the Breeders’ Cup, Hollendorfer does not see beyond the two options he outlined in the immediate wake of the Pacific Classic: run in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 27 or train up to the Breeders’ Cup. By Thursday, he was starting to lean.

“I think he has proved he can train up to a race and run very well,” Hollendorfer said. “But to run in the Breeders’ Cup, we have to be super ready, so I’m probably going to look at the Awesome Again for him and think pretty hard about running in that race. I would rather have a race in between. I don’t think it’s going to hurt him for sure.”

So, while California Chrome and his gang go for the big bucks in the City of Brotherly Love, Hollendorfer and Shared Belief will keep their eyes on the prize out West. After stepping up dramatically in distance and company in his last two wins, the only variable he’ll face in the Awesome Again would be the newly installed Santa Anita dirt track.

“So far, our horse has handled every surface we’ve put him on,” Hollendorfer said. “I think he’ll be able to handle that surface also, and hopefully it will be a great surface. So, we’re thinking very positive thoughts about Shared Belief and hope we can stay sound and be around for the end of the year.”