SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - California Chrome is back in training on the West Coast, and trainer Art Sherman said he's considering the Sept. 20 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx for his comeback. Despite Chrome's Kentucky Derby and Preakness trophies, the race for the 3-year-old Eclipse Award isn't close to being decided.
Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and superstar filly Untapable also are in the picture, as is undefeated Shared Belief. Tonalist returns Saturday as the 8-5 favorite in the $600,000 Jim Dandy, a 11/8- mile race at Saratoga. Untapable, favored at 2-1, makes her debut against males in Sunday's $1-million, 11/8-mile Haskell at Monmouth Park.
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Trainer Christophe Clement is passing up the bigger purse to give Tonalist a race over the track before the Travers here Aug. 23. "The Haskell is very appealing, but we don't like to ship him elsewhere," Clement said. "It's a better plan to stay at home."
Tonalist hasn't run since his head victory June 7 in the 11/2-mile Belmont. Clement said he has gained weight and is training well, but it seems unlikely he'll be fully cranked. "We also want him to make the Travers," Clement said. "So we're just trying to leave a little room to work after the Jim Dandy."
Whenever a filly challenges colts in this country, it adds lots of juice. Elsewhere in the world, it's no big deal, and females often prevail. In 2009, Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra swept the Preakness and Haskell, and Zenyatta took the Breeders' Cup Classic. Clement said America's lucrative stakes program for 3-year-old fillies takes away the incentive to oppose males.
"But I think why not, if they're good enough," Clement said.
NBC analyst Jerry Bailey agrees.
"A lot of times, I don't think fillies have any inherent disadvantage against males," he said. "I think it's exciting and should be done more."
Rosie Napravnik rides Untapable after missing last month's Mother Goose with a shoulder injury. The light-framed filly is 6-for-8 for trainer Steve Asmussen and 4-for-4 this year by a total of 31 lengths. She likes to rate and accelerate, which should set her up well against speedsters Bayern, Social Inclusion and Wildcat Red. Asmussen isn't taking that for granted. Asked if the pace scenario will aid Untapable, he smiled and said, "We'll know when the race is over."
Dale Romans trains closer Medal Count, third in the Belmont. He'd love to see hot, contested fractions in the Haskell but isn't counting on it. "We've seen it time and again," Romans said. "On paper, it looks like there's a lot of speed and it never materializes."
Bailey is high on Untapable.
"Even if the race didn't set up for her, which it does, I would still like her chances," he said. "She's very good and very adaptable. In the spring she might have been the best 3-year-old in the country. Not to diminish anything California Chrome has done, but she was arguably in that conversation. So she is one of the top 3-year-olds in the country at the very least."