05/13/2014 11:18AM

Jerardi: Willie Delgado finds his big horse

Barbara D. Livingston
Willie Delgado is the regular exercise rider for California Chrome. Here they test the Pimlico racing surface on Tuesday.

Willie Delgado left Maryland in August. He had been training a few horses and exercising horses for another stable. He went to Southern California to visit his brother, Alberto, a longtime jockey and former Maryland mainstay with more than 2,900 wins. Willie, 46, moved to California in September.

“I had a bunch of bad horses,” Delgado said. “I was galloping for Dove Houghton and training on my own. It just never peaked for me with training. I just went back to what I do best, which is galloping horses.”

A few months after the move, Delgado became an exercise rider for trainer Art Sherman and started galloping a promising 2-year-old California-bred named California Chrome. Alberto had ridden the colt in five of his first six races. Sherman decided to make a jockey change after California Chrome got off to a terrible start in the Golden State Juvenile on Nov. 1. But Willie stayed.

Now, Willie is back in Maryland, galloping Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome. It is a Maryland story with horse and exercise rider. California Chrome’s dam, Maryland-bred Love the Chase, was purchased for $30,000 at Timonium a few days after Big Brown won the 2008 Preakness.

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“I have friends ask me, ‘How does it feel?’ ” Willie Delgado said about the Derby win. “I say, ‘I’ll tell you what: When my daughter was born, it’s right there with that.’ I’d say it’s a dead heat. It was the most exciting feeling I’ve had when I saw my daughter born. This was just about the same.”

Delgado’s daughter, Savannah, 6, lives with her mother in Maryland.

“As soon as the horse crossed the wire, the first text I got was from her,” Delgado said. “It said, ‘Daddy, I can’t believe you won the Kentucky Derby. I’m so proud of you.’ That’s when I started crying.”

Trainer bonuses

Beyond Saturday’s Preakness, Pimlico will have 14 other stakes races and two Maryland-bred starter handicaps spread over Friday and Saturday. A total of 483 horses were nominated to the races. Trainers with horses in the 15 stakes will be trying to accumulate points to get a piece of $100,000 in trainer bonuses, $50,000 for first, down to $2,000 for sixth. Trainers have to start at least five horses to be eligible.

Friday’s card is topped by the Grade 2, $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special and has six other stakes races. But the star of the show is always Ben’s Cat, defending his championship in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint. Ben’s Cat will be going for his 21st stakes win.

Ness to defend Delaware title

The 77th season of racing at Delaware Park begins on Preakness Day. There will be 81 days, ending Oct. 22. The Grade 2 Delaware Oaks and Grade 1 Delaware Handicap are scheduled for July 5 and July 12.

Jamie Ness, the two-time defending leading trainer, will have approximately 40 horses this year at Delaware. Most are owned by Midwest Thoroughbreds, the defending four-time leading owner at the track.

“I think we are going to have a pretty good season at Delaware Park,” Ness said. “I do not have the numbers like I have had in the past. We are focusing more on the quality than the quantity, but regardless, I am sure we are going to do our fair share of winning, and we look forward to returning to the summer base.”

Penn Mile next in series

Two weeks after the Preakness, the second $500,000 Penn Mile will be run at Penn National. The Mile will be next in the Penn Gaming Racing Challenge, a 20-race series at Penn Gaming tracks that rewards owners, trainers, and jockeys.

Tom Amoss (47 points) has the early lead in the trainers’ standings after Rise Up won the Robert Hilton Memorial at Charles Town, Amoss’s second win in the series.

Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and jockey Julien Leparoux lead their standings.

Penn Gaming tracks include Penn National, Charles Town, Sam Houston Race Park, and Zia Park.