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California Chrome looks 'great' at Pimlico

By Steve Ginsburg

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - California Chrome should be able to handle any roadblocks thrown at him during Saturday's Preakness States, whether it's a bad post position, poor weather or a rough trip, his handlers said on Tuesday.

With exercise rider Willie Delgado in the saddle, the Kentucky Derby champion and Preakness favorite tested the Pimlico Race Course track for the first time on Tuesday.

"He jogged and he was great," said assistant trainer Alan Sherman. "He stood out there for a while, just looked around and took it all in. He's a really curious horse.

"He likes to look around a lot and check out the surroundings. He was good. He was really good."

The colt's trainer, 77-year-old Art Sherman, Alan's father, has been tending to the rest of his stable in Southern California since the May 3 Derby. He was set to join Alan at Pimlico late Tuesday.

Alan Sherman said California Chrome should enjoy an easier ride in the 10-horse Preakness than he had in the Derby, which featured a field of 19.

He added, however, that jockey Victor Espinoza should be ready for anything during the 1 3/16-mile trip on Saturday.

"You're not going to get the traffic problems, hopefully, but then again you can get in traffic problems in a four-horse race," he said. "But it's not (like in the Derby), by any means.

"And he's got enough turn of foot. All Victor's got to do is squeeze on him a little and he can keep himself out of trouble."

The weather on Saturday is expected to be clear and about 70 Fahrenheit (21C) but showers are expected a day earlier. Sherman was confident his California-bred chestnut could handle anything.

"It won't affect us," he said. "We'll train in the water. We're not scared. He trained really good at Churchill on a sloppy track. He actually looked like he liked it a lot."

Sherman said he'd rather not have the one or the 10 post position but "it's not that big of an issue." The race should feature more speed than the Derby but California Chrome is so versatile, he will be able to adapt, he said.

"If they go slow in front, he'll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him," he said. "If they're going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace.

"That's the good thing about him. He doesn't have one style of running. He's pretty push-button. If you ask him, he'll do it."

If California Chrome wins the Preakness and the June 7 Belmont Stakes in New York, he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Sherman said he was avoiding the issue.

"I try not to get ahead of myself," he said. "Sure it would be great but we're just taking it one step at a time. But it's hard not to think about it.

"You don't want to get yourself all jacked up and then be let down. We're just taking it as it comes."

Sherman said whether or not California Chrome wins the Triple Crown, his father, who two weeks ago became the oldest trainer ever to win the Derby, is enjoying the ride.

"It's pretty awesome," he said. "Every year when you get the 2-year-olds in you're saying, 'Maybe this will be the one to get us to the Derby.' But we've been saying that for a lot of years now, and we finally made it.

"It's really special. My dad is deserving of it. He works hard, he goes to the sales, he buys horses himself, claims horses with his own money. He deserves it."

(Reporting By Steve Ginsburg; editing by Frank Pingue)

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