California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby winner, left Kentucky on Monday bound for Baltimore, where on Saturday he will attempt to keep his Triple Crown hopes alive in the 139th Preakness Stakes. It appears he will face nine rivals, exactly half of what he met in the Derby.
Of the 18 horses who chased California Chrome home in the Derby on May 3 at Churchill Downs, just two – General a Rod and Ride On Curlin – are expected to line up against him in the Preakness, to be run at Pimlico Race Course. The seven newcomers to the Triple Crown trail for the Preakness include the filly Ria Antonia, who was confirmed for the Preakness on Monday, and Bayern, who had his final work for the race on Monday at Churchill Downs.
If that field holds, this will be the fewest number of Derby runners to compete in the Preakness since 2008, when just two Derby runners – Big Brown, the winner, and Gayego – were among a field of 12. There have been three or fewer Derby runners in the Preakness just twice since 1980 – in 2006, the year Barbaro won the Derby, and 2008.
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Entries for the Preakness are due Wednesday morning, and post positions will be drawn that evening.
California Chrome was among the first horses to step onto a fast Churchill Downs surface early Monday before being guided through a routine 1 1/2-mile gallop by exercise rider Willie Delgado. California Chrome was sent out earlier than usual by assistant trainer Alan Sherman so as to be fully prepared when a horse van picked up the colt about 10 a.m. Eastern for the short ride to Lexington, Ky., from where he and 12 others – including General a Rod and Ride On Curlin – were flown to Baltimore via equine charter.
“He’s happy, ready to go,” Sherman said as California Chrome was still cooling out before 7 a.m. “He’ll probably just jog [Tuesday] at Pimlico, and then he’ll start back galloping the next day and on into the race.”
Sherman said California Chrome “lost a little weight out of the [Derby], like all horses do, but he’s gained it all back and a little bit more since then. We’re just trying to keep him fresh and happy. He’s such a nice horse, he’s made my job real easy.”
Art Sherman, Alan’s father and the trainer of California Chrome, was scheduled to fly from California to Baltimore on Tuesday.
Ria Antonia was confirmed early Monday for the Preakness by trainer Tom Amoss, who said Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel would be aboard.
“It’s time to roll the dice,” said Amoss, acknowledging the filly will be a long price. “California Chrome is absolutely the horse to beat, but beyond that, I think we’re in the mix.”
Rachel Alexandra was the last filly to win the Preakness, in 2009. She also was the last non-Derby runner to win the Preakness. Rachel Alexandra won that year’s Kentucky Oaks. Ria Antonia was sixth in this year’s Oaks, beaten 15 3/4 lengths.
Also early at Churchill, Bayern had his final prep for the Preakness when working five furlongs in 1:02.60 in the company of his older Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Drill. Rosie Napravnik, who has the Preakness mount, was aboard Bayern.
Baffert, who was at Santa Anita on Monday, said he spoke to both Napravnik and assistant trainer Jim Barnes after the work and that both were satisfied with the drill.
“He was just cruising around there,” Baffert said. “Rosie was happy with it. All systems are go.”
Bayern most recently was disqualified from first in the Derby Trial on April 26 at Churchill for a bumping incident in the stretch. He is booked on the second equine charter that will fly from Louisville to Baltimore on Wednesday.
Dynamic Impact, Pablo Del Monte, and Ria Antonia are also scheduled to fly on Wednesday.
The first Preakness horse to arrive at Pimlico was Social Inclusion, who turned in his final drill there on Monday, with a half-mile in 47 seconds. By Monday night, he was to be joined at Pimlico by Kid Cruz, who was being vanned there from New York, as well as California Chrome, General a Rod, and Ride On Curlin.
Rain and warm weather were in the forecast for early in the week in Baltimore, according to The Weather Channel, with a high of 88 degrees predicted for Tuesday. Midweek was to be cooler and drier, but Friday’s forecast is bleak – an 80 percent chance of rain, with the “potential for heavy rainfall,” thunderstorms, and a high of 67.
The forecast for Saturday is pleasant, with partly cloudy skies, a high of just 71 degrees, and only a 20 percent chance of rain.