By Jeremy Balan
With the slightest morning chill Southern California would allow in late September, Los Alamitos Race Course’s resident star logged his final timed workout for the upcoming Awesome Again Stakes (gr. I), his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I).
All alone during his private early-morning breeze session, California Chrome comfortably ran six furlongs in 1:13 Sept. 24, with a gallop out past the wire to seven furlongs in 1:26 2/5, as trainer Art Sherman watched from the grandstand.
Horse trainers are often on edge during training sessions for the superstars of the game, and rightfully so, given the fragile nature of Thoroughbreds. But no trainer his more outwardly at ease than Sherman, who gave a running commentary as the fractions ticked off his stopwatch.
“Oh, :13 and change. He always gets out slow,” Sherman said after the chestnut’s first furlong under exercise rider Dihigi Gladney. “Now he picked it up. Ah, 1:01. That’ll do.”
Sherman admits he does have thoughts of concern in the back of his mind as California Chrome attempts to maintain a perfect season, but the outward confidence comes from the 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit.
“We’ve got a fixed plan. As long as I have no hitches, I just keep calm and hope everything goes good,” Sherman said. “With racing, you never know from one day to the next, but I couldn’t be any happier the way he’s going into this race.”
The move was California Chrome’s fourth since his rout in the Aug. 20 Pacific Classic (gr. I), a victory Sherman feels was the most impressive of his 14-win career.
“I’m still amazed he did that,” Sherman said of the geared-down, five-length score over three-time champion and defending Pacific Classic winner Beholder. “Nobody expected him to do it like that.”
As for the breeze Saturday, Gladney had to do some coaxing with California Chrome in the stretch, not an unfamiliar sight during his morning drills all alone on the Orange County oval.
“Even though he works good, sometimes Chrome gets a little bored so early under the lights,” Gladney said. “When they had ‘Chrome Day’ (and he worked out later in the morning Sept. 10), he loved that. It was daytime and he saw the crowd. He stopped and wanted to make sure everybody knew he was out there.
“It’s normal for him for me to sit down on him and ask him just a little bit every once in a while. He flicks his ears and he knows what he’s doing, but you have to remind him sometimes to run on through there.”
California Chrome will ship north to Santa Anita Park Sept. 25 for his final preparations for the Oct. 1 Awesome Again, and Gladney, who is also aboard for all of the six-time grade I winner’s gallops, won’t be far behind. When asked about how California Chrome has been training toward the race in comparison to other races this year, the exercise rider played coy.
“See that smile on my face?” the rider said. “That means something.”