California Chrome couldn't wait to get rolling Tuesday, and on an unseasonably warm morning he was burning up the track.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was unusually wired, which strained exercise rider Willie Delgado's forearms but elevated his mood. "He was much stronger today," Delgado said two hours after their two-mile gallop around Belmont Park's main track. "He was pulling me, and I had to pull him back.
"This is the strongest he's felt, and he really is getting over this track well. Today was the first time he really hooked on early. I just hope he can keep going and win the Triple Crown. Then I can retire," the 46-year-old former jockey and trainer added with a laugh.
Delgado wore a black T-shirt with "Bring It Home Chrome" in silver and black on the back, beneath which were the letters "CA" inside a circle, a reminder that his constant companion was bred in California. No horse born in the Golden State is among the 11 Triple Crown winners. Assistant trainer Alan Sherman remains upbeat that his superstar can be the first.
"I just know I wouldn't want to trade places with anybody," he said.
Asked about the difficulty of sweeping the three 3-year-old classics in five weeks, Sherman said, "I don't know about intimidating, but it's hard to do. That's why it's been 36 years [since Affirmed]. It takes a special horse to do it. It would be nice to be No. 12, but we're not counting our chickens before they're hatched.
"I thought Funny Cide [third in 2003] and Real Quiet [second by a nose in 1998] probably should have gotten it done, but they didn't."
Sherman watched the gallop through binoculars at a track he calls "massive."
"I could see when he grabbed Willie and leaned forward, and then Willie leaned back," Sherman said. "He was galloping good today, and before he went out he was dragging Willie and me around the barn. He's on it."
Intense Holiday retired.
Starlight Racing announced the retirement of Intense Holiday, who underwent surgery Monday to repair a fractured right ankle. Dr. Patricia Hogan, who performed the surgery, said the injury was mended but advised against a return to racing, The colt broke down Sunday morning at Belmont after a 5-furlong workout while preparing for the Belmont Stakes. He was 2-for-9 with earnings of $551,900 for trainer Todd Pletcher. Plans for a stallion career have not been finalized.