Triple Crown contender California Chrome was unfazed Friday morning when he encountered an opossum who decided to cross the main track at Belmont Park towards the end of the chestnut colt's routine daily gallop in preparation for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
California Chrome, who on June 7 will attempt to add the Belmont to his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, didn't even flinch as he passed the cat-sized marsupial near the gap and completed his 1 ¾-mile gallop much to the satisfaction of exercise rider Willie Delgado and assistant trainer Alan Sherman.
"We have coyotes on the track at Los Alamitos, [so] it was no big deal," said Alan Sherman, assistant to his father, Art Sherman. "The track was a little heavier than it was yesterday, but he seemed to handle it fine."
Sherman said California Chrome likely would school in the paddock once or twice next week, and also school in the starting gate, as part of his preparations for the 1 ½-mile Belmont. The last horse to win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978.
"It's hard to remember that far back," said Alan Sherman, who has spent his whole life around the racetrack with his father, a former jockey who was the exercise rider for 1955 Derby winner Swaps. "I do remember Steve Cauthen riding Affirmed. That was an amazing rivalry with him and Alydar. Steve Cauthen - I guess I was ten years old - he was like an idol. I wanted to be a jockey long before that, [but] that was an inspiration. It's amazing how young he was when he accomplished that."
Sherman, 45, did fulfill his dream of becoming a jockey but quickly "ate myself out of that job" and became his father's assistant.
"I enjoy working with my father," he said. "I like the family camaraderie. It's a good fit."