Art Sherman got his first glimpse of California Chrome in action in two weeks, and the trainer liked what he saw.
Sherman arrived in New York on Monday afternoon and watched his Triple Crown contender gallop at Belmont Park on Tuesday morning. It was the first time Sherman had observed the chestnut colt since he captured the Preakness.
"I thought he looked better now than he did after the Preakness," Sherman said. "I couldn't believe how much weight he put on. Going on the Triple Crown trail, it's kind of rough. He's an amazing horse."
California Chrome will try for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978 on Saturday in the $1.5 million US Belmont Stakes.
The flashy 3-year-old with four white feet will be the heavy favourite in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, known as the "Test of the Champion" for its history of crushing Triple Crown dreams.
Only 11 horses have swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in the same year. There have been 11 Triple tries since Affirmed, the most recent being Big Brown in 2008. He won the first two legs, and then was eased by jockey Kent Desormeaux in the Belmont.
I'll Have Another won the first two legs in 2012, but was scratched on Belmont eve with a tendon injury that ended his career.
After the Preakness, Sherman, 77, returned to his stable in Southern California. He sent California Chrome to New York in the care of Alan Sherman, his son and assistant trainer. The Belmont will be the colt's third demanding race in a short five-week span.
"He's doing outstanding," Alan Sherman said. "I couldn't ask for anything more right now. I'm just enjoying the ride he's put us on."
The full California Chrome rooting section will be on hand Saturday. Perry Martin, co-owner and breeder of the colt with Steve Coburn, did not attend the Preakness. He was upset with treatment he received by Churchill Downs at the Derby.
Martin is not going to miss this chance to be part of history.
"Perry and his wife will get here late Wednesday night," Coburn said. "He'll probably lay real low until the day of the race. Him and his family are pretty reserved. That's why he gets out of town real quick so I can do all the talking."
Coburn and his wife, Carolyn, from northern Nevada are enjoying their first trip to New York.
"It was my first time in Kentucky, my first time in Maryland and now my first time in New York," Coburn said. "Carolyn would like to come back here and see all this when we got more time. We've kind of been rushed from here to there and back again."
For Art Sherman, it is a homecoming for the Brooklyn native.
"I haven't been back to Williamsburg in many years," Sherman said. "It's changed quite a bit. I probably can't afford Williamsburg now."
The Belmont draw takes place Wednesday morning. It's not fraught with as much drama as the Derby, where breaking from an extreme inside or outside post in a 19- or 20-horse field can quickly take a horse out of contention.
The Belmont, the longest of the Triple Crown races, is contested over a track with wide sweeping turns. It gives jockeys plenty of time to sort out early positions.
The Belmont lost a potential runner on Tuesday when trainer Linda Rice withdrew Kid Cruz from consideration. He ran eighth in the Preakness, 16 lengths behind California Chrome.
Kid Cruz might try an easier spot on the Belmont undercard, the $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes at 1 1-16 miles.
The likely challengers for California Chrome include Commanding Curve, Commissioner, General a Rod, Matterhorn, Matuszak, Medal Count, Ride On Curlin, Samraat, Social Inclusion, Tonalist and Wicked Strong.