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California Chrome held off Ride On Curlin to win the Preakness Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course and set up a bid for a historic sweep of the Triple Crown in three weeks at Belmont Park. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

BALTIMORE – “New York, here we come!”

The words were spoken by Art Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer of California Chrome, after his big-hearted California-bred easily held off Ride On Curlin by 1 ½ lengths in the Preakness Stakes on Saturday to take an enormous step toward the Triple Crown.

Those words might as well have been shouted from sea to shining sea, for this streaking colt has captured the imagination of both coasts and every state in between in winning six consecutive starts since he teamed with jockey Victor Espinoza — all stakes races — by a combined margin of 27 1/2 lengths.

Racing has endured the longest Triple Crown drought since Sir Barton established himself as the first of 11 such winners in 1919. No horse has withstood the three-races-in-five-weeks grind since Affirmed outdueled Alydar to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1978. But now, this 3-year-old of modest pedigree seemingly has everything necessary to join the legends of the sport.

He possesses early speed that was evident as he battled for third in the early going behind front-running Pablo Del Monte and the filly, Ria Antonia. He boasts tactical speed as he showed in settling beautifully behind those two for the heady Espinoza. His ability to accelerate is breathtaking as he displayed when he opened up after bounding out of the final turn. Once he takes off, there is no catching him as he showed in deep stretch.

2014 PREAKNESS

Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed, hopes history may finally be at hand.

“California Chrome looks like he is not bred to go a mile and a half, but Affirmed really wasn’t bred to go a mile and a half,” he said.  “He did it because he had guts and determination.”

Sherman admitted he once doubted his 3-year-old’s ability to sustain his speed for 1 1/2 taxing miles in the Belmont Stakes on June 7 at Belmont Park. Not any longer. Not after the ready-for-Broadway show he and a record 123,469 spectators witnessed at Pimlico Race Course.

“When you have a speed horse that will rate, they are always dangerous,” Sherman said.

Sherman learned about greatness at a young age, when he was an 18-year-old exercise rider and accompanied Swaps in a boxcar on a four-day journey from California to Louisville to win the 1955 Kentucky Derby.

Now, in his twilight years, he cannot believe that greatness is before him again as he struggled to control his emotions.

“I have to have a tear because we worked hard all year, and Victor rode him perfect,” Sherman said. “It’s a dream for any trainer to do this, believe me.”

CALIFORNIA CHROME SLIDESHOW

Photos by Eclipse Sportswire

Much was made of California Chrome’s slow time of 2:03.66 in the Derby. The Preakness proved the adage that time only matters to those serving it. He completed the 1 3/16-mile middle jewel of the Triple Crown in a solid 1:54.84. Much also was made of a post-gallop cough last Thursday morning. His robust health is no longer in question.

Social Inclusion, making only his fourth start, abandoned his expected front-running style and rallied to be third. General a Rod, rebounding from a difficult trip in the Derby, took fourth in the field of 10.

With the way California Chrome performed, Billy Gowan, trainer of runner-up Ride On Curlin, could not be downcast.

“California Chrome ran a great race and he’s a great horse. My horse ran a great race,” Gowan said.

Gowan said of Ride On Curlin: “He came running in the stretch and he gave me a heckuva thrill. I’m really proud.”

Gowan plans to test the winner again in the Belmont if his horse comes out of the Preakness well.

Possible Contenders for 2014 Belmont Stakes on June 7 

Horse

Owner

Trainer

California Chrome

Steven Coburn
& Perry Martin

Art Sherman

Commanding Curve

West Point Thoroughbreds

Dallas Stewart

Commissioner

WinStar Farm

Todd Pletcher

Danza

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners

Todd Pletcher

Intense Holiday

Starlight Racing

Todd Pletcher

Kid Cruz

Vina Del Mar TBs
& Black Swan Stb.

Linda Rice

Ride On Curlin

Daniel J. Dougherty

Billy Gowan

Samraat

My Meadowview Farm

Richard Violette Jr.

Social Inclusion

Rontos Racing Stable

Manny Azpurua

Tonalist

Robert S. Evans

Christophe Clement

Wicked Strong

Centennial Farm

Jimmy Jerkens

The connections of Social Inclusion also were upbeat. Owner Ron Sanchez indicated they, too, intend to go on to the Belmont and jockey Luis Contreras made a bold prediction.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am with the horse,” he said of the horse 85-year-old trainer Manny Azpurua waited a lifetime for. “We will get them the next time.”

As for Sherman, he had openly worried about the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness, noting how unaccustomed he is to such a quick turnaround. Now, California Chrome is the 13th horse in the last 36 years to take the opening two legs of the Triple Crown. Sherman will have three weeks to prepare for this historic bid, and he will arrive with confidence.

“I think when we get to Belmont, this horse is going to run big,” he said.

For an Equibase chart, click here.

VICTOR ESPINOZA CELEBRATES HIS PREAKNESS STAKES WIN ON CALIFORNIA CHROME

Chrome Recap Inside

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