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Features - RACING

California Chrome prepares to enter the winner's circle after winning the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2014. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)

By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

Louisville, Ky. – When Art Sherman arrived at 5 a.m. at Barn 20 at Churchill Downs on Sunday and ducked his head into the stall of California Chrome, the 3-year-old seemed so peaceful that he allowed him to continue to sleep.

As much as he wanted to check the colt’s legs and feet, he decided racing’s newest sensation deserved the rest. He had strutted his stuff before 164,906 screaming fans, second-largest crowd in the 140-year history of the Kentucky Derby, and sprinted away from 18 challengers by 1 ¾ lengths in a spring classic that was not that close.

Actually, the more Sherman thought about how remarkable the day and night had been, leaving him to celebrate as the oldest trainer to saddle a Derby champion at age 77, the more he decided that he, too, would benefit from a rest. So he sacked out on a nearby coach, every bit as content as the California-bred who is capturing the imagination of fans everywhere.

When the pair awoke from their well-deserved slumber, the good news continued. California Chrome’s legs and feet were cool. When he received his morning bath, the newly-coronated Derby champion appeared to be posing for the cameras, his chestnut coat gleaming in the morning sun as if the opening leg of the Triple Crown had not been all that taxing.

“He’s a hickory type of horse,” Sherman said approvingly.

California Chrome, the first California-bred to bring home the roses since Decidedly in 1962, will need to rely on his innate toughness when he makes a challenging turnaround to the Preakness on May 17 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Sherman will do everything he can to help him take the next step toward the Triple Crown by giving him a light training touch.

“I’m just trying to keep him happy and keep him fresh,” Sherman said. “He won’t have to do much other than nice, open gallops. I’m not going to change anything.”

Since California Chrome quickly acclimated to his new surroundings and trained well at Churchill Downs, Sherman’s plan is to leave him here with his son, Alan, his assistant, while he returns to Los Alamitos in California to catch up with the other horses in their racing operation.

Sherman once rode four days in the same rail car as Swaps when Swaps journeyed from California to win the Derby in 1955. Chrome will have the benefit of a speedy flight to Baltimore after the first flight of his life brought him to Kentucky in good order.

Sherman pondered how monumental the Triple Crown challenge is, with the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes coming three weeks after the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, and said, “He’s got the right demeanor. He’s not a nervous type horse. He does everything right. He had never been on a plane before and he flew just perfect.”

It is too early to tell how many horses might line up against Chrome and Victor Espinoza. Since Espinoza joined the team five races ago, they have rattled off a five-race winning streak by a combined 26 lengths.

Untapable, the brilliant winner of the Kentucky Oaks for rising star Rosie Napravnik, is not expected to battle males in the Preakness or whenever she makes her next start. Trainer Steve Asmussen is determined to protect her for the long haul of the season.

The connections of Commanding Curve, the Derby runner-up, will take the next few days to assess whether they will advance to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown or take their shot with a freshened horse in the Belmont. “The horse will tell us what he wants to do,” said Dallas Stewart, the trainer who has the mixed blessing of also placing second in the Derby last year with Golden Soul.

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