As Triple Crown contender California Chrome went about his daily routine on Saturday in preparation for the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes, a sizeable field was shaping up to challenge the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in the 1 ½-mile "Test of the Champion."
As many as 11 could line up against California Chrome, who galloped 1 ¾ miles over a sloppy main track at 6 a.m., picking up the pace considerably as he went through the Belmont Park stretch a second time.
"That's the way he gallops all the time," said Alan Sherman, son of and assistant to California Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman. "He kind of loafs the first mile and then he decides, 'OK, let's get serious,' and grabs the bridle and pulls Willie [Delgado] around there."
Galloping on the track at the same time was Grade 2 Peter Pan winner Tonalist , who could be the second or third choice in the wagering on June 7.
Also under consideration for the Belmont are the Todd Pletcher trained duo of Peter Pan runner-up Commissioner and Intense Holiday, 12th in the Derby; TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, who was fourth in the Derby; Derby runner-up Commanding Curve; Ride On Curlin, who was second in the Preakness; Kid Cruz, eighth in the Preakness; Matuszak, second in the Frederico Tesio; Samraat, who was fifth in the Derby, and possibly Social Inclusion (third in the Preakness) and Candy Boy (13th in the Derby).
No horse has won the Triple Crown facing more than seven rivals, which Seattle Slew and Citation did in 1977 and 1948, respectively. Secretariat in 1973 and Affirmed, the most recent Triple Crown winner in 1978, both defeated four others.
Sherman said his only concern was California Chrome.
"It's a horse race and anything can happen," he said. "But as far as being worried or concerned about anything, once he gets out there it's out of our hands. You just have to have some racing luck and hope all goes well; he'll run his race.
"Three hard races in five weeks is tough on them. I'm not saying Chrome can do it any easier than any other horse who's done it, but the horse is going to try. If he's good enough, he'll get it done."