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 Saturday morning in his final serious move before the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Under jockey Victor Espinoza, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner continued on strongly, caught in 59.93 for 5 furlongs, galloping out in 1:12.95 and credited with a double gallop-out in 1:26.28 over a fast track by New York Racing Association clockers.
The 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 today, jog Monday, gallop Tuesday through Friday and jog the morning of the 11/2-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 night and 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."
Belmont Stakes contender Tonalist, trained by Christophe Clement for Robert Evans, put in his final work before the June 7 "Test of the Champion" on Saturday morning at Belmont Park. The son of Tapit was clocked in 1:00.11 for 5 furlongs, working in company with stablemate Life in Shambles.
"We are excited about the work and excited about the horse," Clement said. "I got him in a minute and am very happy about everything. He went in company with Life in Shambles and it was a good work."
Tonalist won the Grade 2 Peter Pan by four lengths on May 10 at Belmont Park over a sloppy, sealed main track. Before his Peter Pan score, the 3-year-old colt took a maiden race at Gulfstream Park during the winter, and finished second in an optional claimer, 31/4 lengths behind eventual Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Constitution.
•Away from the commotion at Belmont Park, where California Chrome and Tonalist logged their final works before the Belmont Stakes on Saturday morning, Samraat geared up for the final leg of the Triple Crown at Aqueduct Racetrack. The son of Noble Causeway went an easy mile in 1:47.55.
"It was very, very good," said Samraat's trainer, Rick Violette, who trains the colt for Len Riggio's My Meadowview Farm. "He went the last quarter in :24, which was just what we were looking for. He didn't break any stop watches, but it was pretty cool."
Samraat has not raced since the May 3 Kentucky Derby, in which he finished fifth after contesting the early pace. The 3-year-old colt started his career with five consecutive victories before finishing second behind Wicked Strong in the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
•Social Inclusion, third in the Preakness, sizzled in a Saturday workout at Belmont Park, with his owner, Ronald Sanchez, saying a final decision on whether he competes in the Belmont Stakes or Grade 2 Woody Stephens to be made this weekend.
NYRA clockers credited Social Inclusion with a three-furlong breeze in 33.55 seconds and caught him galloping out a half-mile in :45 2/5, five-eighths in :58, and six furlongs in 1:094/5.
"We weren't expecting him to go that fast," Sanchez said. "The horse was real good. The track was lightning-fast, and that was the best gallop out he's ever had. He showed them this morning how good he is feeling."
Social Inclusion, who is trained by Manuel Azpurua, easily won his first two races before finishing third in both the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial in April and in the Preakness.
•General a Rod, 11th in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness, has joined the list of contenders for the Belmont Stakes after breezing five furlongs in 1:001/5 on Saturday at Churchill Downs. He'll join California Chrome and Ride On Curlin in the group of horses who are set to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown.
"His workout was nothing out of character," said Mike Maker, who trains General a Rod for Skychai Racing and Starlight Racing. "He's always been a good work horse, and he had good energy this morning."
Former Maryland star Rosie Napravnik will ride General a Rod in the Belmont Stakes, Maker said.
General a Rod won the Gulfstream Park Derby in January before finishing second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth in February and third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in March. He was steadied on the first turn and in the stretch when beaten 91/4 lengths in the Derby and was shuffled back when beaten eight lengths in the Preakness.
"Sooner or later we'll have a good trip," Maker said.
General a Rod will fly to New York on Thursday, Maker said.
•Trainer Dale Romans sent out Belmont contender Medal Count for a second straight bullet work at Churchill Downs, where the bay son of Dynaformer covered 6 furlongs in a brisk 1:10 3/5, fastest of eight at the distance. Last week, Medal Count — who had an eventful trip when eighth in the Kentucky Derby in his most recent start — breezed five furlongs in 592/5.
"I thought he worked great and I was really happy with the way he galloped out," Romans said of the Spendthrift Farm color-bearer. "Belmont Park should suit him well and I don't think the mile-and-a-half will be an issue for him."
Medal Count, who counts the Grade 3 Transylvania among his three career victories, will arrive at Belmont Park on Thursday on a flight from Kentucky along with General a Rod.
Medal Count will be the fifth Belmont starter for Romans, who was third in 2005 with Nolan's Count, third in 2010 with First Dude, fifth in 2011 with Preakness winner Shackleford, and seventh in 2012 with favored Dullahan.
"Like I said two years ago [before I'll Have Another scratched], I'm not out to spoil a Triple Crown, I want to win the Belmont Stakes," Romans said. "I wouldn't be coming if I didn't think the horse could do it."
Compiled from NYRA news releases.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun