BALTIMORE — If trainer Art Sherman coughed, no one would care. When his horse coughs, that’s news. Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome coughed after training Thursday, leaving open the possibility the horse wouldn’t be in top shape for Saturday’s Preakness.
Sherman’s veterinarian discovered that the colt had a small blister in his throat. Nothing a little mouthwash couldn’t fix. “California Chrome is fine. His throat is fine. He had a little tickle,” said assistant trainer Alan Sherman, Art’s son. “He is not scratching from the Preakness. He is fine. I don’t know why it was blown out of proportion.” California Chrome is being treated with a glycerin throat wash.
Now that you know that, here are five more things to ponder about the Preakness:
1. BAD TRIP: Whether it’s a crowded field or just bad luck, Ride On Curlin can’t seem to get a smooth trip around the track. Trainer Billy Gowan bemoaned the unfortunate situation and remained hopeful that a reversal of fortune would improve his seventh-place finish in the Derby. “We just have to get a good trip,” Gowan said. “I think he’s a good horse. I think that’s all we need. And if Chrome stubs his toe a little bit, well that would help.” This is the first Preakness for Gowan, whose horse will be attempting to get into the winner’s circle for the first time in five races since Jan. 14. “There’s only one chance to run in the Preakness,” Gowan said. “The Derby didn’t take much out of him. He’s given me all the signs he wants to run.”
2. ONE IS THE LONELIEST: Dynamic Impact won the Illinois Derby from the No. 1 post position, and that’s where he will be starting Saturday. Problem is, the rail has not been kind to horses in the Preakness. The last 3-year-old to win from the No. 1 post was Tabasco Cat in 1994. Before that, Bally Ache in 1960. Dynamic Impact trainer Mark Casse, another first-timer at the Preakness said, “Things have to go our way and he has to save ground and then move out at some point. We will be closely watching the earlier races, and there could be some last-minute changes in our strategy.” The post position that has produced the most wins, by the way, is No. 6.
3. NEW SHOOTERS: California Chrome, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod are the only three horses to go from the Derby to the Preakness this year. “I don’t know why everybody skipped this race and is pointing toward the Belmont,” said Ron Paolucci, co-owner of Ria Antonia. “There was a lot of bouncing around at the Derby. I think people believe California Chrome is more vulnerable going a mile-and-a-half than a mile-and-3/16ths on this type of track.” The last newcomer to win the Preakness was Rachel Alexandra in 2009, the only horse in Preakness history to win from the 13th post.
4. SPEED THRILLS: Social Inclusion, the second-favourite in field, has led to gate to wire in his two wins and burst to the lead in his other race, the Wood Memorial, before fading to third. The lightly raced colt is expected to set the pace in the Preakness, too. “We’ll be in good position in the early stages,” owner Ron Sanchez said. “I didn’t like being on the outside in the Wood, but the Pimlico front stretch is a little bit longer. My horse is more experienced now and he is multi-faceted. He has speed and strength.” Sanchez added: “He’s going to finish. In the Wood, the track didn’t help him. This time the track is going to help us.”
5. ODDS AND ENDS: Keep in mind that if California Chrome wins the Preakness, there is no guarantee he will become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Thirty-three horses have won the Derby and Preakness, but only 11 backed that up with a win in the Belmont. The largest margin of victory in the Preakness was 11 1/2 lengths, by Smarty Jones in 2004. He broke the record of 10 lengths, set by Survivor in 1873. If 30-1 long shot Ria Antonia wins Saturday, she could provide her backers the biggest payday in Preakness history. The record is held by Master Derby in 1975, a 23-1 shot that paid $48.80 to win.