Dale Romans went from non-believer to champion of California Chrome in the aftermath of the colt's Kentucky Derby triumph. However, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer isn't going to let a potential Triple Crown coronation go down without having one last say in the matter.
Romans and owner Spendthrift Farm confirmed Tuesday that graded stakes winner Medal Count would join the list of horses looking to stymie California Chrome's Triple Crown attempt in the Belmont Stakes on June 7.
After Medal Count's eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, the plan had been to rest up for a return to the turf in the Belmont Derby on July 5. The stoutly built son of Dynaformer who has won on all three surfaces sparked a change of plans when he worked 5 furlongs in a bullet 59.40 at Churchill Downs last Saturday.
"He's training super, so we're giving him another chance at the Chrome," said Romans, who conceded after the Derby that California Chrome was a special horse. "I've always loved this horse (Medal Count) and I think he deserves to run with the best.
"If (California Chrome) is a super horse, he'll win a Triple Crown, but we owe it to the past Triple Crown horses to try and make him earn it. And history says that he won't do it, so we can't just duck one horse."
Robby Albarado, who has guided Medal Count in five of his eight career starts, will retain the mount for the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
How Medal Count's closing kick will handle Belmont Park's deep surface is a question mark, but the bay colt has thrived as his connections have thrown more work his way.
The Kentucky Derby was Medal Count's third race in five weeks, having won the Grade III Transylvania Stakes on the opening day of the Keeneland Spring Meet on April 4 and coming back eight days later to finish second in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Albarado settled Medal Count midfield off tepid fractions in the Kentucky Derby but was hindered when third-place finisher Danza appeared to veer sharply in front on him, cutting off his momentum in the stretch of the 11/4-mile test.
"He just seems to be a horse that thrives on the work," said Spendthrift Farm general manager Ned Toffey. "Rather than wilting under this, he seems to be thriving. It certainly looks like it's going to be a tough group (in the Belmont) but he's a horse who is bred to run the distance and is just doing so well, we felt like we had to take a shot.
"With any luck, we'll be very unpopular by the end of it."
Belmont day could be huge for Spendthrift Farm. It also has two-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder slated to start in the Grade I, $1 million Ogden Phipps Stakes on the undercard.
The Odgen Phipps could be pound-for-pound the best race on the day. Beholder is scheduled to face multiple Grade I winners Princess of Sylmar and Close Hatches in a battle for distaff divisional supremacy. All three faced each other in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Distaff with Beholder prevailing by 41/4 lengths over Close Hatches to cement a second championship.
"She's doing extremely well," Toffey said of Beholder, who won the Santa Lucia Stakes in her season debut on April 20. "She seems to be moving forward from last year and seems to be getting better.
"There is no question (this Ogden Phipps) is great for racing. Any one of those three could run a heck of a race and finish third."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.