Join Kat Waldvogel, official photographer for Sherman Racing, for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life with the connections of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome as he nears his return to competition in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday at Parx Racing. (All photos courtesy of Kat Waldvogel/forestbird photography)
An early start to the day, but not quite as early as I had expected. After turning in at a reasonable hour last night in anticipation of some light work and introducing California Chrome to the track, I was awake at 4:30 a.m., just reflexively.
Assistant trainer Alan Sherman said we would be leaving for the track around 6 a.m. When his father, California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman, says 6 a.m., he means 5:55 a.m., and whenever you arrive he’s pacing around or sitting in the car waiting to leave. With Alan, it’s more of a soft target — a note I will make to myself for tomorrow, since I can use the extra sleep.
As we stepped outside, we were greeted with crisp, clean air. The last time I had to wear a jacket back home was - wow, I don’t even remember!
It’s funny how folks here will apologize to us for the “bad” weather, when it’s exactly what we need. A short drive to the barn and we found exercise rider Willie Delgado and groom Raul Rodriguez already in action and Chrome ready to go.
Every time I’ve seen him since we arrived, his head has been up, his ears have been forward, and he’s been taking in everything around him with the curiosity of a 3-year-old but with no anxiety or apprehension.
Once Alan and Raul had him tacked up, Chrome stepped out into the shedrow for a few rounds of walking and warming up with Alan. Pausing for a few moments as they came to the gap at the end of the barn, where the throng of media was standing 20-30 feet away — behind barriers erected outside the barn — waiting for their opportunity to capture a photograph of this gorgeous guy. (Guys!)
With Chrome all warmed up, Alan gave Willie a leg up and they stepped outside into the cool, morning sunshine. Until now, I’ve never personally seen a horse who was so aware of the media and cameras. He knows exactly what they are, and he poses in a way that would make a supermodel proud, turning his head from side to side so that everyone gets a good shot.
There are times when it’s just me in the barn, and I swear he can hear the gears of my camera lens moving it into focus, and he turns and strikes a pose. (There are also those times when I get his “no paparazzi” move, where he turns his back to me and sticks his nose into the corner of his stall, but that’s rare and generally just as he is waking up.)
It’s evident to everyone present that California Chrome has “shown up” and is ready for the show. Alan led him to the gap in the track at around the half-mile pole and waited for the tractors to finish grooming the track, which ended up taking a while longer than had been expected, but it made no difference to this horse, who posed for pictures with his trainer and exercise rider like it was just any other day.
Once the tractors finished their work, Willie guided Chrome out onto the track where they embarked on a gentle, clockwise jog to get acquainted with their surroundings. They shared the track with other entries in Saturday’s stakes races — Bayern, trained by Bob Baffert, and the pretty filly, Little Alexis, trained by Carlo Vaccarezza, who will run in the Cotillion Stakes. (The filly creates a stir with the boys every time she takes a lap around the shedrow, incidentally. It’s like a cute girl walking past a construction site.)
With a gentle jog under their belt, Willie and Chrome left the track under Alan’s escort and headed calmly to the barn, where his tack was removed and cleaned and the horse was cooled down, walking several rounds before stepping into the wash stall. If this horse is a ham out in public, he’s really a character when it comes to bath time. My assessment is that he really enjoys it. What’s not to like about a bath?
Raul is efficient and thorough, moving with swift purpose. Willie keeps Chrome calm and steady, half-playing and half-schooling him with his stud chain.
After a bath and more rounds of the shedrow, Willie walked Chrome into his stall where Raul was waiting to hoist his hay bale and serve him lunch. With that, we piled into a couple of cars and drove up to the paddock for Alan’s 10 a.m. press conference, where he answered questions about Chrome’s condition, readiness, acceptance of shipping and opinions about post position one. (No one in racing likes it, but it’s what we drew and we’ll deal with it.)
I asked Alan this afternoon if there was anything about the day, the work or the press conference that stood out for him, and he smiled his genial smile, chuckled and said, “No. I like uneventful.”
A quick breakfast for the team at the Club House Diner and it was back to the hotel for naps.
We went back to the barn around 3:30 p.m. to find Chrome doing the same, lying on the floor of his stall is a dreamy stupor. After checking in with him for about an hour, we left Raul and Chrome to head back to the hotel.
I’ll admit that I am tired and, needing to write this and get it out to Chrome’s fans, I decided to pass on dinner. Breakfast was substantial, and I’m saving myself for tomorrow.:)
Mark is picking the big boss up from the airport in the morning, and while I always thoroughly enjoy hanging out with Alan (he’ s the best!), I love Art. He gives me crap and has great stories. … I’m blessed to have been taken into their family, and I know it.
Back to work at 8:30 a.m., press conference at 10 a.m., and who knows what time Art arrives. Later in the day — good to know.