Nothing’s changed. In five weeks, California Chrome has looked the same, acted the same, trained the same. The Derby and Preakness winner has kept his composure, his cool and his color from Churchill Downs to Pimlico to Belmont Park.
Trainer Art Sherman returned to Belmont Park and thought he had grown. He certainly hasn’t gotten smaller or skinnier. Still steady, just like the first day I had seen him at Churchill Down four days before the Derby, California Chrome has relished a couple of easy days here leading up to the Belmont Stakes. Yesterday in the clear, today in the rain – no problem. He won’t wow you in the morning, skimming along, low to the ground, more rhythmical the second and third time past. In the morning, he goes without bluster or luster, his afternoon speed on mute.
Mentally and physically, he has not changed, at least from what I can see while standing along the outside rail. It would be interesting to run your hands down his legs, pull his tub each morning, ride him every morning, just to see and feel any subtle changes, to measure the toll that this has exacted. No matter what you see, two hard races in two weeks costs. How much is the question. The Shermans seem relaxed, that’s good enough for me.
In years past, you could see the Triple Crown coming apart at the seams. Big Brown, the writing was on the wall. Smarty Jones was training aggressively and feeling the pinch of hard races. Funny Cide, he was mentally unraveling in front of your eyes, he needed two months off, out of the pressure cooker. I’ll Have Another, he had gone from galloping like a locomotive before the Preakness and Derby to galloping like an Army tank at Belmont Park. Three days before the race, you could see trouble brewing.
This year, from just two days of watching live and watching his breeze last weekend, I’d say California Chrome is the same horse, still handling things with poise and aplomb. Perhaps he ran too fast in the Preakness to turn around and do it again in three weeks, perhaps he won’t stay the 12 furlongs, perhaps a bad ride or bad luck will derail him, but as far as physical condition and mental prowess, he seems the same.
As for the others. Tonalist emerged from the tunnel early this morning, following in the back of a set of four for Christophe Clement. Under a water-proof quarter sheet, Tonalist stood to the right of the paddock gap, reaching around and biting at his girth while Clement bandied out instructions. Light moving, Tonalist galloped smoothly over the sealed racetrack. You can’t fault him.
No one wants the Belmont Stakes to come quicker than exercise rider Bryan Beccia who gallops Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin each morning. The bay colt has trained more aggressively here than any time during this Triple Crown. Beccia grips and grimaces through each day’s exercise. Tough horse.
Commanding Curve weathered the weather today, loping into his long, steady stride with ease. Cool horse.
As for Eagle Poise, he’s here. He galloped an easy mile or so today, splashing through the slop (he hasn’t done that for a while) and seems bright and happy as we look forward to the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational. Everybody says the turf course needed the rain, takes a lot of rain and will dry out before you know it. Maybe before I know it but definitely not before I fret over it. I’d rent helicopters to hover over the turf from now until 6:10 tomorrow.