Trainer Art Sherman eschewed his usual mezzanine-tier viewing spot in the grandstand for a ground-level one on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course as California Chrome went through a gallop on the grass Thursday morning just prior to 7 a.m.
The purpose of the drill for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, with exercise rider Willie Delgado up, was to reaffirm Sherman’s thoughts that his star was ready for his first grass race, Saturday’s $300,000 Grade I, 1 1/8 mile Hollywood Derby.
“They had a hard time pulling him up (on the backstretch), he was on the bit pretty good,” Sherman said as he turned to cross the track back to the grandstand. “Now I feel a lot better. I liked it. It was just what I wanted.”
California Chrome drew the No. 5 post position in a field of six. The Hollywood Derby goes as the eighth on a nine-race program, with a post time of around 4 p.m. First post is 12:30 p.m.
From the rail out the field is: Talco (Drayden Van Dyke), Lexie Lou (Corey Nakatani), Flamboyant (Mike Smith), Sawyer’s Hill (Rafael Bejarano), California Chrome (Victor Espinoza) and Cabral (Kent Desormeaux).
Asked about the post position, Sherman said: “Well, I won the Derby from the No. 5 hole, so that’s a lucky number for me.”
California Chrome is the only Hollywood Derby runner that has not raced on the grass. Special permission was granted for the Thursday morning exercise and only one other horse, Matriarch Stakes entrant La Tia, went over a turf course that was otherwise closed.
“I’m excited to see him run on the grass, it’s a different scenario for me,” Sherman said. “We should have a few Chromies (California Chrome fans) out here for it.”
Sherman’s early assessment of a likely race scenario: “It looks to me like there’s speed to the inside. I don’t think he’ll be far off the pace. If somebody wants the lead, they can have it. They can’t be going too slow, though; this time he’ll come away from there running.”
Seeking to strengthen his claim to Horse of the Year laurels, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome returns to the scene of his earliest success Saturday when he will face five rivals, including star filly Lexie Lou, in the Grade I $300,000 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.
Post time for the first of nine races will be 12:30 p.m. with the Hollywood Derby scheduled as the eighth event.
California Chrome, the handsome colt owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin and trained by Art Sherman, will be making his debut on grass in the Hollywood Derby at nine furlongs over Del Mar’s infield Jimmy Durante Turf Course. Regular rider Victor Espinoza again will be in the saddle on the son of Lucky Pulpit who will break from the no. 5 post position. As a two-year-old, California Chrome won the Graduation Stakes.
Opposing California Chrome Saturday will be Lexie Lou, with Corey Nakatani; Cabral, Kent Desormeaux; Flamboyant, Mike Smith; Sawyer’s Hill, Rafael Bejarano; and Talco, Drayden Van Dyke.
All starters will carry 122 pounds with the exception of the filly Lexie Lou who gets in at 119.
After sweeping the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome was on the threshold of greatness as he sought to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in l978. However, the chestnut colt could only manage to deadheat for fourth in the Belmont Stakes.
Subsequently, he was a disappointing sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby and third, beaten only a neck in a courageous effort, to Bayern and Toast of New York in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Lexie Lou looms as California Chrome’s most serious challenger on the basis of her victory versus males in the prestigious Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in early July. In her most recent outing, the stretch-running daughter of Sligo Bay won the Autumn Miss Stakes at Santa Anita.
On the next-to-last afternoon of racing of Del Mar’s inaugural fall Bing Crosby Season, two other stakes will be presented – the $150,000 Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes at one mile on the grass and the Grade III $200,000 Native Diver Handicap at a mile and one-eighth on the main track.
The 15-day meeting closes Sunday, featuring the Grade I $300,000 Matriarch Stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile on turf and the Grade III $150,000 Cecil B. DeMille Stakes for two-year-olds at a mile on the grass.
Source: Hank Wesch/Del Mar Communications