With a strong wind at his back as he came through the Belmont Park stretch, Triple Crown hopeful California Chrome breezed a half-mile in 47.69 seconds this morning in his final serious move before the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on June 7.
Under jockey Victor Espinoza, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner continued on strongly, caught in 59.93 for five furlongs, galloping out in 1:12.95 and credited with a double gallop-out in 1:26.28 over a fast track by NYRA clockers.
The handsome chestnut colt, who is bidding to become the first horse to sweep all three races since Affirmed in 1978, was given a rousing round of applause from dozens of "Breakfast at Belmont" guests who lined the rail to watch him work shortly after 6:30 a.m.
"I couldn't ask for anything more," said Alan Sherman, son of and assistant to trainer Art Sherman, who is scheduled to arrive in New York from California on Monday. "He galloped out great and [we got] exactly what we wanted today."
California Chrome, who worked without blinkers - "So he wouldn't go too fast," said Sherman - will walk tomorrow, jog on Monday, gallop from Tuesday through Friday and jog the morning of the 1 ½-mile Belmont.
Espinoza, who had not seen California Chrome since the Preakness on May 17, was equally delighted with the move.
"It was great," he said. "I started not too fast. We were going :12, :12, :12. We picked it up a little at the end. Across the wire I dropped the reins a little bit. That's what he always does."
Espinoza, who will remain in New York this week, is getting a second chance at a Triple Crown. In 2002, he was aboard the front-running War Emblem when he stumbled badly at the start of the Belmont, and lost all chance.
"I'm more confident this time than in 2002," said Espinoza, who is scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the New York Yankees game on Monday evening and also has a guest appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday night. "With War Emblem, he only had one way to go: in the front. It was not that easy for me to ride him; it was difficult [which is] typical when you have a front-running horse. You don't have many options. If something happens, that's it. Your chances are gone. With California Chrome, it's different. I have a lot of options with California Chrome. I believe I have a better chance than I did in 2002 because I have a different kind of horse."