Twenty-four hours after an opossum ran alongside California Chrome during his morning gallop, the little gray critter was -- you guessed it -- playing possum. Or was it "playing opossum"? The interloper was nowhere to be found Saturday.
As for the chestnut colt who will be going for the Triple Crown, it was business as usual. He loped along for exercise rider Willie Delgado on Belmont's sloppy main track before getting into it. "That's the way he gallops all the time," assistant trainer Alan Sherman said. "He kind of loafs the first mile and then he decides, 'OK, let's get serious,' and gets into the bridle and pulls Willie around there."
After going 1 3/4 miles, it was back to Barn 26 to cool out and get a bath. The schedule will be the same until Saturday, when the plan is for a half-mile workout under jockey Victor Espinoza, who will make a special trip from California.
Trainer Graham Motion withdrew Preakness also-ran Ring Weekend on Friday from the June 7 Belmont Stakes, leaving 11 potential rivals for California Chrome: Commanding Curve, Ride On Curlin, Tonalist, Wicked Strong, Samraat, Intense Holiday, Commissioner, Kid Cruz, Matuszak and possibly Social Inclusion and Candy Boy.
Sherman's 77-year-old father, trainer Art Sherman, plans to return from California on Monday or Tuesday of Belmont week. Alan Sherman said he and his dad are focusing only on their star, not the competition. "It's a horse race, and anything can happen," Alan Sherman said. "Once he gets out there, it's out of our hands. You just have to have some racing luck, hope all goes well, and that he'll run his race."
Espinoza acknowledged that California Chrome had to run hard in the Preakness, when he had to kick for home with a half-mile to go. Maybe that will take its toll late in the 1 1/2-mile "Test of the Champion."
The last eight Belmont winners skipped the Preakness, and this time only Ride On Curlin, Social Inclusion and Kid Cruz ran. The last 11 Kentucky Derby-Preakness winners fell short on Long Island.
"Three hard races in five weeks are tough on them," Alan Sherman said. "I'm not saying Chrome can do it easier than any other horses who didn't. . . If he's good enough, he'll get it done."
Notes & quotes: A New York Racing Association release said all reserved seats and premium dining options have been sold out for the Belmont, but that admission tickets for the clubhouse ($30) and grandstand ($10) are available. First post is 11:35 a.m., with the last of 13 races at 8:12 p.m. . . . Trainer Steve Asmussen announced that the country's leading 3-year-old filly, Untapable, will skip the Grade I Acorn Stakes on Belmont day to run June 28 in the Grade I Mother Goose . . . Front-running Riposte won the Grade II Sheepshead Bay Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths for jockey Joel Rosario and trainer Bill Mott. The 4-year-old filly paid $7.20 after covering 1 3/8 miles on yielding turf in 2:18.86.