Exercise rider Willie Delgado held the shank as the rangy chestnut colt checked out a few hundred onlookers on the other side of the fence. Then California Chrome gave his paparazzi a photo opportunity, striking a regal pose for a profile shot. The "people's horse" knows how to play to the crowd.
"He's very inquisitive and he likes the attention," assistant trainer Alan Sherman said Tuesday morning after leading the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner off a van after a 4-hour, 34-minute ride from Pimlico to Belmont Park.
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"He traveled really well," Sherman said. "He ate the whole way. And he hasn't coughed [since Thursday]."
Accompanying them up the New Jersey Turnpike and across the George Washington Bridge, Cross Bronx Expressway and the Throgs Neck was Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin. Presumably, the much wealthier California Chrome ponied up for the tolls, and there was no word of any trash-talking between the two. Ride On Curlin exited the van at 10:50, two minutes after "Chromie" made his grand entrance.
California Chrome will spend most of the next three weeks inside stall 7 of Barn 26, awaiting his chance at immortality in the Belmont Stakes on June 7. He's the ninth horse in the past 18 years to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, racing's most elusive trophy, unclaimed since Affirmed's 1978 sweep.
Sherman was deputizing for his father, Art Sherman, who left Baltimore on Monday to supervise his stable at Los Alamitos in Southern California. Alan Sherman said their horse of a lifetime would jog this morning with Delgado before resuming daily gallops Thursday. There will be one timed workout, "an easy half-mile breeze," a week before the race.
Sherman, 45, like his 77-year-old father, expressed confidence that California Chrome can do what all-time greats Spectacular Bid, Alysheba and Sunday Silence could not: run the table at the huge oval called "Big Sandy."
"I just hope he handles the track," he said. "You never know until they run on it."
Asked about staying the exhausting 1 1/2 miles, Sherman said, "He's never done it, but none of the others have."
Like his colt, Alan Sherman is a first-timer in New York City, where his father was born in Brooklyn in 1937. "I'd like to take a tour of the whole city and take in the sights," he said.
The Shermans are downplaying the stress, wisely savoring a glorious experience no one could have anticipated last fall.
"It means the world to all of us," Alan Sherman said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it's been so much fun. I'm just so proud of my dad to be able to do this near the end of his career. He's very deserving."
The public has embraced the horse with the obscure pedigree who cost only $10,500 to breed. He was foaled at a backwater ranch within sniffing distance of California's largest stockpile of cow manure. Last month, co-owner Steve Coburn predicted he'd win the Triple Crown. The mainstream media can't resist this odd yet heartwarming saga.
"I think the industry could use a Triple Crown winner, especially with the story this horse has," Alan Sherman said. "It gives the little guy hope, and the chance something like this can happen is what makes racetrack people get up in the morning."