BALTIMORE - For a man who is about to do something he says worries him with a horse that is under the hottest of spotlights, trainer Art Sherman carried a peaceful air of confidence Friday morning.
The 77-year-old Sherman is not used to running a horse after only two weeks of rest. Experience tells him it takes longer for a horse to fully bounce out of a race.
However, when you condition the Kentucky Derby winner, bypassing the second leg of the Triple Crown 14 days later just isn't a popular option barring ailment or injury.
And since nothing California Chrome has done the past six months remotely resembles the actions of an ordinary horse, Sherman is taking a cue from his charge and outwardly handling the challenges of the moment with ease.
"I'm not worried [about the other contenders]," Sherman said during a rain-drenched morning at Pimlico Race Course on Friday. "I think they have to worry about me."
There are circumstances that could take down Kentucky Derby hero California Chrome in Saturday's 139th Preakness Stakes: a lousy break out of post position No. 3, a suicidal pace he hooks into, or a set of legs simply better than his.
Many of California Chrome's nine challengers in the 13/16-mile classic concur that if the horse who has won five straight races by a combined 26 lengths since December shows his normal self, even their horses' best day might only be good enough for second place.
"I'm confident in my horse. I think he's a really talented horse. I just think that California Chrome could be a special horse," said Norman Casse, assistant to his father, Mark Casse, who will saddle Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact. "I think there would have to be a pace scenario where he gets burned out early and we'd be sitting there to pick up the pieces. That's how you beat him
"We're not necessarily going to be scared off by Chrome, but we're realistic too that if he gets things his way, he's going to be tough to beat."
No horse has gotten to the wire in front of California Chrome since he kicked off his current win streak with a 6¼-length victory in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park last Dec. 22. While many horses have shown flashes of ability, Chrome has a smoothness and tractability to him that makes him a threat in almost any race scenario.
His chestnut frame has enough speed to set the pace on the front end, as he did during his gate-to-wire win in the Grade II San Felipe in March, but is kind enough to rate just behind leaders, effortlessly switch leads and then kick away without jockey Victor Espinoza having to do much urging.
"Victor, he said he's never went to the bottom of this horse. And when you say bottom, that means driving with the whip," Sherman said. "If you can rate a speed horse, you got a big, big advantage."
The connections of lightly raced Social Inclusion have been most vocal about their colt, citing that he has superior speed figures to California Chrome. Not many are falling for it.
"My horse, I think, will run his race, and if they outrun me, they outrun me," Sherman said. "But they better have their running shoes on."