Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome's first visit to the track at Pimlico Tuesday morning was more about getting acclimated to the home of the Preakness than exercise.
Exercise rider Willie Delgado took the big chestnut out for a tour of the one-mile course at 6:45 a.m. (EDT), approximately 16 hours after he arrived at the Preakness Stakes Barn on a trip from Louisville, Kentucky.
"He jogged and he was great," said assistant trainer Alan Sherman, who has managed the horse since the Derby while his father, Art, has tended to the rest of his stable in Southern California. "He stood out there for a while, just looked around and took it all in. He's a really curious horse. He likes to look around a lot and check out the surroundings. He was good. He was really good."
Alan Sherman said the colt has settled in nicely in Stall 40, traditionally the Pimlico home of the Kentucky Derby winner. The next step, Sherman said, was to let the horse check out the track while he was stretching his legs and getting a feel for the surface.
"Yeah, just let him look around," Alan Sherman said. "When he gallops, I want him to be focused on what he's doing and not be looking around and stub his toe or anything."
Art Sherman, 77, was scheduled to arrive from California Tuesday afternoon and will be at Pimlico when California Chrome returns to the track at 6:45 Wednesday morning.
"He is enjoying the ride immensely, but he's not a young guy and was getting a little tired toward the end of all that. He's fresh now," Alan Sherman said.
California Chrome's emergence from promising young horse to the leader of his division with his resounding Derby victory has put the Shermans in the spotlight. Art Sherman has spent 60 years in the business as a stable hand, exercise rider, jockey and trainer. Alan Sherman works for his father and his brother, Steve, is a trainer in Northern California. The Sherman family is enjoying its ride with California Chrome.
"It's pretty awesome," Alan Sherman said. "Every year when you get the two-year-olds in you're saying, 'maybe this will be the one that will get us to the Derby,' but we've been saying that for a lot of years now and we finally made it. It's really special."
California Chrome, bred and owned by Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, brings a five-race winning streak into the Preakness, but he wasn't an overnight sensation. He won two of his first six starts, most of them races against other California-bred horses before he stepped forward.
"In the King Glorious, the last stakes at Hollywood Park, that opened my eyes up. Then he just kept getting better," Alan Sherman said. "Then he won the California Cup Derby and that was another impressive race. But the San Felipe was probably when I went, 'wow.' It was the first time against open company and he just broke two in front and won so easy that day. I was pretty excited about that one."
After the San Felipe, California Chrome won the Santa Anita Derby by 5 1/4 lengths, a performance that made him the Derby favorite. His victory at Churchill Downs on May 3 made Art Sherman the oldest trainer to win the Derby and punctuated a solid career.
"My dad is so deserving of it," Alan Sherman said. "He works hard. He goes to the sales and buys horses himself and claims horses with his own money. He puts up his own money. He deserves it."
Having prevailed from the 19-horse Derby, in which several participants ran into traffic, California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza move to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, a slightly shorter test at 1 3/16 miles with 10 likely starters.
"You're not going to get the traffic problems, hopefully," Alan Sherman said. "You can get in traffic problems in a four-horse race, but it's not 20, by any means. And he's got enough turn of foot. All Victor has to do is squeeze on him a little bit and he can keep himself out of trouble."
When someone asked him what the worst possible scenario might be, Alan Sherman grinned and said, "Losing." Sherman understood that the question was about race dynamics and quickly said the colt's versatility would enable Espinoza to ride the race as it develops.
"If they go too slow in front, he'll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him. If they are going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace," he said. "That's the good thing about him -- that he doesn't have one style of running. He's pretty push-button. If you ask him he'll do it."
Trainer Billy Gowan took a very active role in Ride On Curlin's morning activities at Pimlico. After leading the son of Curlin out to the track for a vigorous 1 1/8-mile gallop under exercise rider Bryan Beccia, Gowan walked his Preakness hopeful in the shedrow and assisted in the bath and the grooming of the star of his four-horse stable.
"It looked like he got over it (the track) perfect to me," said Gowan, whose colt shipped into Pimlico from Kentucky Monday afternoon. "Every track he's ever been on he's gone over good. This one looks just like the rest of them, really good. I was really happy."
Ride On Curlin is scheduled to breeze "an easy half-mile" Wednesday morning.
Trainer Mike Maker was on the scene for General a Rod's first trip to the racetrack at Pimlico, supervising the colt's 1 1/2-mile gallop under exercise rider Joel Barrientos.
"He really seems to like it here," said Maker, the former D. Wayne Lukas assistant who is preparing his first Preakness runner. "He likes that big stall. He's all sprawled every time I've seen him. Last night and this morning he was in the same spot, sprawled out and relaxed."
General a Rod has impressed his trainer with his consistency through his sophomore season.
"He's been exactly the same," Maker said. "Obviously he needs to get a little better, but, knock on wood, he's had a string of great days for a long time."
Social Inclusion jogged once around the Pimlico racetrack under exercise rider Domingo Navarro the morning after turning in a sharp :47 half-mile workout in preparation for Saturday's Preakness.
"He is feeling good. He ate up everything," trainer Manny Azpurua said. "I really think he is going to run a big race."
Azpurua is greatly encouraged by the way Social Inclusion has trained over the Pimlico surface since arriving from Gulfstream Park on Thursday.
"After his work, he came back with his head up and looking around. Sometimes after a work, horses that are tired will drop their heads. He was looking around. It was like he did nothing," said the 85-year-old native of Venezuela who has been training in South Florida since 1979.
The son of Pioneerof the Nile also pleased his trainer during his trip to the track Tuesday morning.
"My main concern is if there is rain for Saturday, but I believe he'd handle it," Azpurua said. "I think the track will be nice either way. I like the racetrack here."
Assistant trainer Samantha Randazzo supervised a routine gallop for Kid Cruz in the colt's first trip over the Pimlico racing strip shortly after 6:30 a.m.
Trainer Linda Rice is scheduled to be on hand at Pimlico for Wednesday's post-position draw for the Preakness.
"He got in last night at about 8 o'clock and had a nice mile and a half gallop this morning over the track," Rice said by phone from her Belmont Park base.
Rice said she plans to gallop the colt the rest of the week and plans to school him in the paddock sometime on Thursday.
"He's stepping up in class considerably," said Rice, who is preparing to saddle her first Preakness starter. "His numbers aren't as good as most of the horses in the field, so we know he'll have to step up in this race, but we're excited to give him the chance. He deserves it."