Normally, when you go to the track in the morning to watch horses train, it’s a quiet time filled only with the soft sounds of horses’ hooves thudding in the dirt and the regular cadence of their breathing. Of course, when it’s Triple Crown season and you’re in Baltimore to see if Kentucky Derby hero California Chrome can capture the next jewel of the Triple Crown, things aren’t quite as mellow.
I arrived at Pimlico bright and early on Thursday morning to watch racing’s biggest star California Chrome put in a gallop before the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course. Although the morning was warm, it was incredibly foggy, which set an otherworldly backdrop for the morning’s activities.
And it was definitely an active morning. I was super excited to see California Chrome in person for the first time since he left the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, and when I arrived at his barn I was one of a legion of press there to see him in action.
While I was waiting for Chrome to come out, I was lucky enough to see the Preakness’s only filly contender Ria Antonia returning from her gallop. I know she has a ton of doubters coming into this race (and perhaps justifiably so, as she was pretty soundly beaten in the Kentucky Oaks) but I will say this: she is a lovely filly, and seemed to be in fine fettle as she walked back to her barn.
Suddenly, California Chrome emerged out of his barn and into the foggy dawn light. As he made his way toward the track, he seemed to revel in the attention from the horde of fans and press who surrounded him to take his photo or just try to get a glimpse of the reigning Kentucky Derby champ.
Once Chrome got to the entrance of the racetrack, rider Willie Delgado and Assistant Trainer Alan Sherman let him pause to take in his surroundings. They also just gave him a lot of love – it’s obvious that they have a deep connection to their horse – Delgado in particular.
And California Chrome? He seemed to love the attention.
After he went on track, we had to wait for a bit to see California Chrome gallop by since he was heading to the starting gate for a little extra training. Once again, I marveled at the amount of people poised to get his photo.
Finally, we were treated to what we came to see. As California Chrome galloped by us the first time, he was relaxed and happy:
And when he came around the track for his second lap, I was much more impressed with him: while he was still relaxed, there was a determination in his stride and he looked like a horse who could run for another five miles.
Once his gallop was over, California Chrome came off the track and began his walk back to the barn. I loved seeing his fans cluster around the walkway, exclaiming to each other over him. Although I wasn’t able to get a photo of it, Willie Delgado was waving and giving thumbs-up to people as he passed them. This is a team that truly enjoys their fans, and that feeling is definitely reciprocated by the people that have fallen in love with California Chrome.
Then it was time for California Chrome to go home and have a bath. As he made his way back to the barn, I was taken by the beauty of the Pimlico grounds. The fog was punctuated by the lush greenery of the trees speckling the facility, and Chrome seemed right at home as he meandered back to his stable.
During his bath, California Chrome was up to the hijinks that I had come to expect from him Derby week – basically, he loves to play – especially when there are cameras around!
After bath time for Chrome was over, trainer Art Sherman gave a press conference to take media questions. He said that his horse was doing well and that he was thrilled by how much the colt had matured this year. He seems like he’s having a blast on the Triple Crown trail, and why not? It must be a thrill.
My next big event was what is known as the “Alibi Breakfast,” an annual affair that celebrates Preakness contenders, the media around them, and the spectacle that is the second jewel of the Triple Crown. According to the Preakness website:
“It started with a cup of coffee. In the late 1930’s on the porch of the historic Pimlico Clubhouse, a group of trainers, owners and greater and lesser dignitaries would gather in the mornings to tout the merits of their horses. Today’s Alibi Breakfast is a descendant of the original gathering at the Old Clubhouse, featuring media, owners, trainers, jockeys and horsemen celebrating Preakness.”
All I know is that it’s just a hell of a lot of fun! There’s a huge breakfast buffet, complete with the best food on Earth: chicken and waffles. I mean, check this out:
There are also plenty of Black-Eyed Susans on hand; they’re the official drink of the Preakness Stakes, and they are tasty!
If you want to get a few recipes for them, by the way, we have a blog for that.
There are also fabulous sights to be seen at the Alibi Breakfast – the Woodlawn Vase, which I talked about in yesterday’s blog, is truly wonderful to behold. Sadly, security still wouldn’t let me keep it. Party poopers.
And they also had these very cool commemorative plates for each of the contenders. I thought it was such a good idea – what an amazing keepsake to take home for the owners of the horses!
As people gathered together for some good food, some strong drinks and some seriously good company, I reflected that we were so lucky to have the opportunity to celebrate the second jewel of the Triple Crown as we wait and hope to see what history has in store for us for the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes.
Thank you so much again for joining me, and I’ll be back tomorrow with all of the action out of Black-Eyed Susan day at Pimlico!