California Chrome looks 'great' as Belmont Stakes draws closer

California Chrome, ridden by William Delgado, gets ready

California Chrome, ridden by William Delgado, gets ready for the morning jog Monday, May 26, 2014, in preparation for this year's Belmont Stakes. (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

Twelve days before liftoff for the 146th Belmont Stakes, assistant trainer Alan Sherman said Monday it's "all systems go" for California Chrome.

The colt began his two-mile gallop for exercise rider Willie Delgado about 6 a.m. at Belmont Park. "The track was a little deeper today," Sherman said, "but he got over it fine."

On June 7, the California-bred will try to prevent the Triple Crown drought from reaching 36 years. Sherman has said his superstar appears to have taken to "Big Sandy." He didn't think he was very comfortable on Churchill Downs' quirky surface, and he dominated the Derby anyway. He's acclimated well since arriving from Pimlico.

"I think two or three days before the race, I'll start getting nervous," Sherman said. "Right now, as long as he's training fine, I'm feeling fine."

Sherman said he calls trainer Art Sherman, his 77-year-old father, every morning with brief updates. "I told him the horse was great," he said. Art returned to California May 18 to run his stable at Los Alamitos. He'll be here early next week.

"Chromie" has 11 possible challengers, including a new one, the Todd Pletcher-trained Matterhorn, fourth to Tonalist in the Peter Pan.

Tonalist may have the most upside. Social Inclusion could lead for a long way, although owner Ron Sanchez said he hasn't decided whether to go in the 11/2-mile Belmont or on the undercard in the Met Mile or the 7-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes. Deep closers Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin were second in the Derby and Preakness, respectively, without threatening. Derby alumni Wicked Strong (fourth) and Samraat (fifth) have won at Belmont, and the others appear overmatched.

Among the outsiders is 1-for-8 Matuszak, trained by Bill Mott, who won the 2010 Belmont with 13-1 shot Drosselmeyer. Always respect any horse in Mott's barn, but a Matuszak upset would be one of the Hall of Famer's greatest feats. He's lost seven straight, including a distant second last time behind Belmont hopeful Kid Cruz, subsequently eighth in the Preakness.

Alan Sherman said he's planning a fishing trip to Alaska after going back to California.

"It's a great ride, and I'm not looking for it to be over,'" he said. "But me and the horse could probably use a rest.'"

Notes & quotes: Intense Holiday, injured after a Sunday workout at Belmont, underwent surgery for a non-displaced condylar fracture in his right foreleg Monday at Fair Winds Farm in Cream Ridge, New Jersey. "The operation went very well," said Pletcher, who had pointed him for the Belmont. "Dr. [Patricia] Hogan said he was a very good patient and that the recovery was going smoothly." . . . Pletcher passed his mentor, the still-active D. Wayne Lukas, for the all-time lead in North American purse earnings -- more than $268.5 million -- by sweeping the Belmont card's three stakes. He won the 6-furlong, $100,000 Jersey Girl for 3-year-old fillies with Red Velvet ($7.90) and the 11/8-mile, $200,000 Pennine Ridge on turf with Gala Award ($7.40). Jack Milton ($7.70) put Pletcher over the top in the Grade III, $300,000 Poker, a mile turf event that replaced the Met Mile as the Memorial Day feature.

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