LOUISVILLE — Framed by sun-kissed morning light guiding his way to the track, Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome went for an easy jog over the Churchill Downs oval Wednesday morning, his first on-track exercise since capturing the opening leg of the Triple Crown last Saturday.
With regular exercise rider Willie Delgado up, California Chrome stood for a few moments before stretching his legs once around the one-mile track. In the aftermath, both Delgado and Alan Sherman, who is overseeing the care of the son of Lucky Pulpit for his father, trainer Art Sherman, had to dodge a few well-timed nips from the colt aimed in their direction.
"I'm real happy with him," Alan Sherman said. "He really likes to train. He wanted to get out there and do something. He's getting pretty mouthy, that guy."
"He didn't miss a beat. He came out of the race really good," added Delgado. "He's back to himself. He went out there, stands like he always does, he's back to normal."
Sherman added that the plan is still to ship to Baltimore on Monday for the Preakness Stakes, but that is he awaiting confirmation on whether the plane would be ready.
Though some have raised eyebrows at California Chrome's pedestrian final time of 2:03.66 for the 11/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby, the ease at which he registered his 13/4-length triumph hasn't inspired many of his challengers to wheel back in two weeks and face him.
As of Wednesday, seventh-place finisher Ride On Curlin remained the only other Derby runner confirmed to come back for the 13⁄16-mile Preakness. Like California Chrome, the son of Curlin himself returned to the track for the first time post-Derby Wednesday morning, galloping about 11⁄8 miles under Bryan Beccia.
"Believe me, I don't think (the Derby) knocked anything out of him," said Billy Gowan, trainer of Ride On Curlin. "He's been on a lip-chain the last three days just trying to keep him on the ground."
Gowan added that Ride On Curlin was also scheduled to ship to Pimlico Race Course on Monday and that he would likely work the colt an easy half-mile over that track next week. Gowan, who was openly critical of the ride Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel gave Ride On Curlin in the Kentucky Derby, taking the colt back to last in the 19-horse field, has since named Joel Rosario to ride in the Preakness.
The Preakness gained further intrigue Tuesday when it was announced that Ria Antonia, winner of the 2013 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies via disqualification last November, had been transferred from trainer Bob Baffert to the barn of Tom Amoss and is now under consideration for a start in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Ria Antonia is winless in three starts since being awarded her Breeders' Cup victory and was most recently a well-beaten sixth in the Kentucky Oaks behind dominant winner Untapable.
Amoss said he plans to work the leggy daughter of Rockport Harbor an easy half-mile at Churchill this coming Monday and that he and owner Ron Paolucci would confer afterward to make a decision on whether to face males in the classic.
"It's going to be a gradual process and a decision will be made on Tuesday as to whether or not we'll do that," Amoss said Wednesday morning. "That will involve how she trains, how she works and how she comes out of her work. If the decision is to run in the Preakness, it will be a decision I will also stand behind.
"I'm willing to take that responsibility because I would not run a horse unless I thought we had a chance to win. People that know me know my reputation and that's how I operate."
Amoss added that regardless if Ria Antonia runs in the Preakness, there is no sugar-coating the difficult task all entrants will have.
"I thought California Chrome was ultra-impressive and he has limited the field in terms of wanting to come back and face him a second time," Amoss said. "Whether Ria Antonia runs in the Preakness or not, I think the outcome of the Preakness is dependent upon whether California Chrome runs his race or not. If he runs his race, I don't see anybody beating him."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.