Preakness Stakes favorite California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby, heads to the track for a morning workout. ASSOCIATED PRESS
BALTIMORE — It doesn’t take much to set the backside of a thoroughbred race track buzzing. And when the object of the report is a Kentucky Derby winner just days away from running in the Preakness Stakes, speculation can race to Triple Crown proportions.
So sit down. California Chrome has a cough. At least that was the word on the backside at Pimlico.
Chrome. Cough. Chrome. Cough. Did you hear about the cough? What do you think about the cough? Cough it up!
But not so fast, folks. Nothing is official anymore until it’s Twitter-official. And Sherman Racing, on its official Twitter feed (@ShermanRacing) tweeted Thursday afternoon, “Chrome is fine. Vet stop[ped] by to scope him & draw blood. Blood came back perfect. He has a small blister in his throat. Per the vet it itches.”
The account goes on to say the itching “is the only reason he has coughed a few times. This did not affect his training today, nor will it affect his status in the race. He is eating/acting normal and this is a nonissue. All reports to the contrary are false.”
The horse’s connections even released a statement on the horse’s own Twitter account saying, “He has coughed a few times a day since before his Derby win. Given his recent travel and changes in the weather the team wanted to be diligent.”
It wasn’t until well after the Alibi Breakfast in Pimlico’s clubhouse that Claire Novak of the Blood Horse was able to be the first to shed some light on the speculation. Alan Sherman, assistant to trainer Art Sherman, told her he’s not worried.
He said the colt has a small blister in his throat, but that bloodwork and a throat scope show that it’s not a serious condition.
“The horse is completely fine,” Sherman told Novak. “His bloodwork came back perfect. He coughed about four times today, and we got him checked out right away. The blister isn’t going to affect him at all.”
The Blood Horse reports that California Chrome is being treated with a glycerin throat wash.
California Chrome is a 3-5 favorite for Saturday’s second jewel of the Triple Crown. Trainer Art Sherman said his colt has gained 35 pounds since the Derby, usually seen as a good sign from a hard-training horse showing that he’s maturing physically.
Whether this little hiccup (or cough) will affect wagering remains to be seen. Everything affects wagering. ESPN’s Hang Goldberg says he won’t bet a 3-5 favorite to win on principle, but that California Chrome is clearly the best colt in the race.
“They say he’s got a cough. That scares me a little bit,” Goldberg said. “Assuming that he’s going to be OK, I think what bothers me is the possibility that he gets shuffled back early in the race, like Orb did a year ago. And the horse that’s next to him General a Rod has a similar running style, and if they get caught up against each other, that’s a possibility. Other than that, I think he’s the best horse.”
Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey has won the Preakness twice and now works as an analyst for NBC. He said the California Chrome cough reports are something “I guess we’ll have to sort through.”
“I do like his chances, you know,” Bailey said. “... From the gate to the wire, they experimented with him a little bit with rating behind the front-runners, and he’s going to have to do that to a little greater extent than he did at Churchill [Downs]. ... I think Victor Espinoza might have to use him a little bit more for longer periods to get to his position.”
California Chrome’s relatively slow Kentucky Derby continues to be a subject of debate, though not with Bailey, who said, “I subscribe to the philosophy that as long as you run faster than the horses chasing you, it’s good enough.”
Still, the Preakness figures to flash more legitimate early speed with second-choice Social Inclusion and the Bob Baffert-trained Bayern pressing the pace early.
“I don’t think it’s a good betting race because you’re not going to get a lot of value if [California Chrome] wins,” Goldberg said.
“But General a Rod at 15-1 would probably make a good exacta possibility. And outside of that, I think the second choice in there [Social Inclusion] is going to break, and I think he’s going to have a lead and how far he can go off three races is questionable. ... I’m counting on him not lasting.”
In the meantime, only post time will tell whether California Chrome’s blister and cough emerge into a major story or a Triple Crown side-note like Secretariat’s abscess.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and WDRB-TV, Louisville. Eric Crawford is a columnist for WDRB.com.