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Monday, June 2, 2014

California Chrome logs final breeze before Belmont; Wicked Strong turns in fast workout

California Chrome had his final breeze before Saturday's running of the Belmont Stakes (Photo from Belmont Communications/Chelsea Durand)

California Chrome had his final breeze before Saturday’s running of the Belmont Stakes (Photo from Belmont Communications/Chelsea Durand)

Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome walked the shed row Sunday after logging his final breeze before this Saturday’s Belmont Stakes in front of a crowd of adoring spectators at Belmont Park.
 

The son of Lucky Pulpit went four furlongs in 47.69 seconds under regular rider Victor Espinoza and galloped out monstrously. He was caught in 59.93 for five furlongs by NYRA clockers, 1:12.95 for six, and 1:26.28 for seven over a tightly packed Belmont oval.
 

“Chrome came out of the work in great shape,” said Alan Sherman, son of California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman. “He was pulling [exercise rider] Willie [Delgado] around the shed row this morning. Everything is cold and tight and we’re ready for Saturday.”
 

Should he become the first horse in 36 years to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, California Chrome would join Count Fleet (1943) and Citation (1948) as Triple Crown winners whose name begins with the letter “C.” However, the letter “C” is the most popular first initial for Belmont Stakes winners, having taken 20 editions, beginning with Calvin in 1875 and most recently Commendable in 2000.
 

Preakness runner-up Ride On Curlin put in his first timed breeze since arriving at Belmont Park on May 20, a seven-furlong work in 1:28.03 Sunday under regular exercise rider Bryan Beccia.
 

Trained by Billy Gowan for owner Daniel J. Dougherty, the Belmont Stakes contender also went seven-eighths in his final tune-up prior to the Kentucky Derby, where he finished seventh behind California Chrome following a rough trip.
 

“I thought he went super,” Gowan said. “He went just like I told him. I told him to go slow the first quarter, and he went in 27 [seconds]. He went the last quarter in 24. It was just what we wanted, mainly to just get some air into him. If I work him a half-mile, he may get too speed crazy. As long as he was going slow, that’s all we needed.”
 

Watching the work with Gowan was Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who will be aboard Ride On Curlin for the first time in the Belmont. Velazquez has ridden two Belmont winners: the filly Rags to Riches in 2007 and Union Rags in 2012.
 

“One good thing about the horse is that he’s easy to ride. He relaxes when he gets around horses, and he doesn’t get speed crazy or anything,” Gowan said. “He can pretty much ride him any way he wants to. I’ve told all his riders that. He’s probably the easiest horse you’ve ever ridden in your life. He showed that today. He was nice and relaxed. He doesn’t get too worked up about anything, but when you ask him he’s still full of run.”
 

Gowan said Ride On Curlin will walk the shed row on Monday and go back to the track on Tuesday. His sire, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, was second to Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont.
 

“We’ll just gallop him easy. He doesn’t need much,” Gowan said. “We’ll probably take him slow every day, and just keep him happy. I’m just happy with the way my horse is going. We come in every morning, and he’s hollering for his feed. He’s just a tough horse.”
 

With 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice in front of him, Wicked Strong breezed five furlongs in 59.10 seconds, the quickest of 12 workouts at the distance over the Belmont training track on Sunday.
 

Wicked Strong began his work several lengths behind Palace Malice and his workmate Celebrator and was eager to catch the Pletcher pair, but exercise rider Kelvin Pahal kept Wicked Strong in check.
 

“I thought he went real good,” said Jimmy Jerkens, who trains Wicked Strong for Centennial Farm. “It was a little fast, but [Pahal] saw me put my hand up to slow down, and he did. He didn’t pull him back, but he didn’t urge him any. It looked like he saw [Palace Malice and Celebrator] ahead of him and really got into gear around the turn and was approaching them fast, which is why I slowed him down. Sometimes they [catch horses ahead of them]. You don’t mind them doing it if [the other horses] are only a few lengths in front, but when they are six lengths in front it’s a different story. But it was good. I’m happy with it.”
 

Wicked Strong, who won the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial in May, finished fourth, 5 ¾ lengths behind California Chrome, in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 3. The son of Hard Spun had blowout workouts before the Wood and the Derby but will not have a blowout before the Belmont Stakes, according to Jerkens.
 

“He’ll probably just gallop into the race,” said Jerkens. “He gallops pretty steadily. I blew him out at Churchill because he wasn’t really getting into the bridle when he galloped. He was really distracted, which is why we gave him a little something.”
 

From Belmont Park Communications

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