"Settle down. Settle down. Settle down. Settle down. Settle down.''
Exercise rider William Delgado was talking to California Chrome and stroking his neck as the Kentucky Derby winner was walking toward the gap on his way off the track Tuesday morning at Pimlico.
California Chrome had just completed a clockwise jog of a mile on his first visit to the track where he'll race Saturday in the Preakness.
"Usually the first day on a new track, he tends to get a little hyped up,'' Delgado said. "And I just talk to him. I just keep (talking) the whole way around. ... 'Just settle down, son. Settle down.' It gets him so he can focus on what he's doing out there instead of just looking at everything else and ducking and doing all that stuff. He listens, which is good.''
To the people behind California Chrome, a repeat of his run on the first Saturday in May would be ideal. They're doing all they can to get him to the Preakness as fit and ready as he was for the Derby.
But they can't do anything to ensure a repeat of his Derby trip. California Chrome was able to relax not far off a moderate early pace contested by Uncle Sigh and Chitu. On the final turn, California Chrome surged to the lead, and he kicked clear in the stretch. The trip was about as comfortable as a winning Derby trip could be.
For the people behind Derby horses taking another shot at California Chrome in the Preakness, and for the people behind the new shooters, the hope is that this race won't unfold as favorably for California Chrome as the Derby did. They're looking for scenarios to stop him.
The Preakness, a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby, often has a much different pace scenario. In the Derby, rough trips for potential speed elements Vicar's in Trouble and Wildcat Red contributed to slow the pace. With Social Inclusion, Bayern and Pablo Del Monte – all possible front-runners – joining the Triple Crown series in the Preakness, and with California Chrome capable of pushing a fast pace, it wouldn't be surprising to see much faster fractions in this race.
"It's going to set up different,'' Delgado said. "The main concern was him liking the track, and I just smile. He loves it. So, you know, without getting ahead of myself, I think he's going to do well. All the other horses, they better have their running shoes on, because this horse is no joke.''
The most recent example of a Preakness shaping up much differently from the Derby was last year. In the Derby, Orb rallied from far off a sizzling pace to win. The half-mile was run in 45.33 seconds, and six furlongs in 1:09.80. Oxbow pressed the pace and finished sixth.
But in the Preakness, Oxbow, under a sharp ride from Gary Stevens, got away with setting a slow pace – a half-mile in 48.60 and six furlongs in 1:13.26. He won decisively. Orb wound up fourth.
Sometimes, Derby form repeats even when the pace changes greatly. In the Derby in 2012, I'll Have Another ran down Bodemeister after he set a very fast pace (45.49, 1:09.80). I'll Have Another also caught Bodemeister in the Preakness, even though he got away with a moderate pace (47.68, 1:11.72).
In 2011, Shackleford set a slow pace in the Derby, running six furlongs in 1:13.40. but faded to fourth as Animal Kingdom rallied to win. In the Preakness, Shackleford stalked long shot Flashpoint through six furlongs in 1:12.01, took the lead and held off a late bid from Animal Kingdom to earn the victory. Shackleford's trip seemed more favorable in the Derby, but maybe, it just wasn't his day to win.
Breaking from the No. 1 hole in the Derby in 2010, Lookin At Lucky was banged around early before finishing sixth. With an untroubled trip in the Preakness, he won.
Swale won the Derby decisively in 1984 after stalking a moderate pace. In the Preakness, he faded to finish seventh after stalking a fast pace as Gate Dancer rallied to win.
In 1988, Risen Star encountered traffic trouble after breaking from the No. 1 hole in the Derby and wound up third. The filly Winning Colors controlled the pace from the start and held off Forty Niner for the victory. But in the Preakness, those two dueled for the early lead, wearing each other down. Risen Star, showing a new stalking style, settled behind them before taking charge on the final turn en route to victory.
In the Derby in 1996, Louis Quatorze had a rough trip and finished 16th, far behind winner Grindstone. But in the Preakness, Pat Day put him on the lead out of the gate, and Louis Quatorze never looked back in a 3 1/4-length romp.
Trainer Mike Maker wouldn't mind seeing a Louis Quatorze-like turnaround from General a Rod in this Preakness. In the Derby, General a Rod encountered rough traffic – he as steadied a few times – before finishing 11th. "He didn't have much chance to run,'' Maker said.
After making sure that General a Rod was fine physically, Maker decided to give him a shot at the Preakness.
"He had good energy, good appetite, carried good flesh, wasn't stressed at all,'' Maker said. "Going back to the track, he kind of confirmed my opinion, and I figured, Why not? It looked like this race might be, not that it's an easy race, but coming up lighter than the Belmont would have.''
General a Rod galloped a strong mile and an eighth Tuesday in his first visit to the Pimlico track. "Well, it looks like he likes it,'' Maker said as the colt zipped down the stretch.
Maybe, California Chrome will be so superior to his rivals that he'll win the Preakness no matter how it shapes up.
In the Derby in 1971, Canonero II rallied from far back and circled the field to win going away. In the Preakness, he pressed a fast pace, took the lead in mid-stretch and pulled away.
Two years later, Secretariat won the Derby with a rally from far back, pulling away from Sham in the final furlong. In the Preakness, Secretariat was last heading the first turn and first coming out of it, then kept Sham at bay in the stretch in an amazing performance.
Soon, California Chrome will have his chance to add the second jewel to his Triple Crown bid. Alan Sherman, assistant to trainer Art Sherman, said versatility will help California Chrome deal with whatever scenario unfolds.
"If they go too slow in front, he'll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him,'' Alan Sherman said. If they are going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace. That's the good thing about him – that he doesn't have one style of running. He's pretty push-button. If you ask him, he'll do it.''