California Chrome's new Triple Crown challenger? An opossum

Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome and exercise rider Willie Delgado notice an opossum while galloping a mile-and-a-quarter around the mile-and-a-half track during their morning workout at Belmont Park in Elmont on May 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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Millions are jumping on California Chrome's bandwagon. On Friday, an opossum came aboard.

The remarkably ugly creature briefly joined the handsome chestnut colt during his 1 3/4-mile gallop on a cool morning at Belmont Park.

Assistant trainer Alan Sherman said the opossum's movement not far off the outside rail, parallel to the colt's right flank, didn't make California Chrome lose focus.

"Nothing," Sherman said. "It didn't faze him. We get coyotes in California all the time, so it was no big deal.

"The track was a little heavier than it was , but he seemed to handle it fine."

He meant the horse, not the opossum.

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A New York Racing Association spokeswoman said television stations across the country were requesting video of the opossum, who moved between horses and joined the workout on the far turn. Of all the horses training, he wanted to be with California Chrome. Could this be significant?

There's more. On Thursday morning, a feral cat named Mademoiselle checked out California Chrome as he was being bathed. The kitty has the same colors as the colt (orange and white). Mere coincidence, or something far more meaningful? As the horse was led back to Barn 26, she skittered across his path, perhaps signaling a desire for solidarity.

Cat people may consider that a good omen. (There are no known opossum people, but by noon Friday this opossum had a Twitter handle: @TheBelmontOposs, in case you want to follow.)

Superstition lives at the racetrack, so if the rest of the animal kingdom appears to be aligning with California Chrome's vibe, maybe it's a good sign. Any horse going for the elusive Triple Crown needs all the help he can get.

Grass-free Chrome

Horses love grass. California Chrome still doesn't know what it tastes like. Sherman said they never have let him graze, but that after the Belmont, they might. The concern is that introducing a variable into his diet now might affect his digestive system adversely.

He also doesn't like a common horse treat. Sherman said "Chromie" spits out peppermints, which is most unusual. He's not necessarily watching his weight, though, because he's been eating Mrs. Pastures' horse cookies since he was a foal. They are healthy snacks, however, made of oats, wheat bran, cane, molasses, rolled barley, apple and water.

Dozen challengers

As of Friday, there were 12 potential Belmont challengers for California Chrome, which would be a record with a Triple Crown on the line. Besides Commanding Curve and Ride On Curlin, second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, respectively, also possible are Tonalist, Candy Boy, Commissioner, Intense Holiday, Kid Cruz, Matuszak, Ring Weekend, Samraat, Social Inclusion and Wicked Strong.

"The field is still pretty fluid,'' NYRA linemaker Eric Donovan said.

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Workouts this weekend should firm up the commitments of some and eliminate others.

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