Marshall: California Chrome, Untapable showdown on hold

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The dream match is off, at least for now.
The winners of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will not square off in the Preakness Stakes 12 days hence. However, if California Chrome and Untapable both hold form, the dream could become reality this August in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, noting that Untapable is not robustly built, has stated the belief that his filly needs more than 15 days between starts. So a major road block has now been removed from the path to the Triple Crown for California Chrome, charted by tradition and being followed by trainer Art Sherman.

But Sherman probably wouldn’t be fretting about it one way or the other.

The 77-year-old trainer – oldest to ever saddle a Derby winner - has a “take it as it comes attitude.” His laid back style was on display Sunday morning for anyone arriving on the Churchill Downs back side early enough to witness it. Checking in at 5 a.m., Sherman found his Derby champ asleep. So he ducked into a tack room and took a nap himself.

Today, Sherman will catch a flight back to the West Coast where he will return to his daily routine at Los Alamitos Race Course in Cypress, Calif. Sherman’s son, Alan, will remain at Churchill Downs with the big horse until the week-end. The Shermans will then reunite in Baltimore when California Chrome vans up to Pimlico.

The vast majority of the connections of the Derby champion’s rivals have seen enough.

Trainer Dallas Stewart, whose Commanding Curve finished a surprising second at 37-1, is on the fence concerning a rematch in the Preakness. None of the others have shown any interest in Round 2. However, if the usual happens again, several more will show up.

Newcomers might include Hoppertunity, scratched from the Derby with an injury to his left front foot, and Bayern, disqualified first place finisher in the Derby Trial, both from Bob Baffert’s barn. Among others listed as possible are the Wood Memorial third-place finisher, Social Inclusion, and Dynamic Impact and Ring Weekend, winners of the Illinois Derby and Tampa Bay Derby, respectively.

The Kentucky Derby notwithstanding, live viewers and those watching on television Saturday were privileged to see about as good a horse race as has ever been run, three-quarters of an hour before the playing of My Old Kentucky Home.

Wise Dan, Horse of the Year in 2012 and ’13 while specializing in one mile races on the grass, was slightly out of his element going an extra furlong in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. Having won the race last year, the distance was not beyond his scope.

However, the seven-year-old champion was looked in the eye by Seek Again, a four-year-old making only his ninth career start. Down the stretch they came nostril to nostril and, just as they passed the sixteenth pole, Seek Again was half a head in front. But Wise Dan simply refused to lose, prevailing by that same margin.

The old warrior may have lost a step or two, but he has heart enough to compensate. On Saturday at the Downs, California Chrome showed how to dominate; Wise Dan exhibited the essence of the thoroughbred race horse – the will to win.

It was quite a double feature.

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