Now that the second hurdle has been cleared by Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, who with a May 17 Preakness victory became the first California-bred in history to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, trainer Art Sherman and his team can relax for a few days before the pressure builds leading into the June 7 Belmont Stakes in New York.
And so, on the morning of May 18 around 5:30 a.m. EDT, it was time for Sherman to check his horse and relive the thrill of the 3-year-old Lucky Pulpit colt's 1 ½-length victory, while trainer Billy Gowan was all smiles about a hard-closing runner-up finish from Ride On Curlin.
Both horses came out of the 1 3/16-mile challenge in good order, ate up well, and walked the shedrow in the Pimlico Race Course stakes barn, California Chrome and Alan Sherman following Ride On Curlin for a bit with Gowan handling his charge.
"I finally got ahead of 'Chrome,'" Gowan joked. "I'm trying to show him how to do it."
With Art Sherman headed back to California May 19 to check on his string there, his son and main assistant Alan Sherman and groom Raul Rodriguez will accompany Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's homebred colt on to Belmont Park by van in a few days, most likely May 20. Ride On Curlin will also share that ride, and the two are expected to stable together at the New York oval. Each contender is expected to breeze once before the third leg of the Triple Crown.
"I'll play it by ear," Sherman said of a timetable for California Chrome's pre-race work. "He don't need much, [just] a half a mile work. I kind of keep them fresh. It's usually five to six weeks before I even run them. Now, I'm running two major races in five weeks. To me, it's awful tough on a horse. He'll get a nice rest after the Belmont."
Rontos Racing Stable's Social Inclusion, the Manny Azpurua trainee who finished 6 ½ lengths back in third, also walked the shedrow at Pimlico and appeared in good order.
Starlight Racing and Skychai Racing's General a Rod, fourth for trainer Mike Maker, loaded aboard an airport-bound van for the flight back to Kentucky along with Pablo Del Monte (sixth), Dynamic Impact (seventh), Bayern (ninth) and the filly Ria Antonia (10th). Fifth-place finisher Ring Weekend had already been vanned back to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., while Kid Cruz, eighth, returned to Belmont Park in the early morning hours.
No major issues were reported by the connections of any of the also-rans.
At Belmont, California Chrome and Ride On Curlin will face a full slate of new rivals. The New York Racing Association released an early list of probable starters for the $1.5 million Belmont, including Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Commissioner, Danza, Intense Holiday, Samraat, Tonalist, and Wicked Strong.
Gowan said he is excited about the upcoming challenge and was thrilled with the Preakness result.
"I told you guys all week, if I couldn't win it, I wanted them to win it," he said. "And I'm a racing fan too, and if I can't win the Belmont, I dang sure want to see them win the Triple Crown. It's going to be as exciting as heck; you've got a Triple Crown on the line my horse is good, his horse is good, we've become friends, so it's going to be fun."