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Delgado: Chrome's 'a rock star and I am just a groupie'

California Chrome and exercise rider Willie Delgado have a great rapport (Bob Newell/Horsephotos.com)
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome continued his preparation for a scheduled start in Saturday's 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico by galloping 1 3/4 miles over a "good" racetrack early Sunday morning at Churchill Downs.

Appearing at the five-furlong gap with regular morning partner Willie Delgado aboard, the flashy chestnut backtracked to the eighth-pole and then set out on his usual journey.

"He loves it out there," Delgado said. "Whatever he does, I just let him do. He is a rock star and I am just a groupie. He is the Kentucky Derby winner; he can do whatever he wants."

What California Chrome wanted to do in the first part of the activity was pick up the pace when a trio of horses galloped past.

"That's just him," said Delgado, who rode and trained in Maryland before venturing to the West Coast last fall. "He is so competitive that he wants to go."

Delgado, who began getting on California Chrome last fall, is eager to see what California Chrome will do in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

"I think he'll love Pimlico," Delgado said. "It is a lot like Los Alamitos with sharp turns and a long stretch."

As far as any letdown from the Derby victory is concerned, Delgado doesn't see it.

"I am amazed at how quick he bounced back from the race," Delgado said. "I have never been around one that bounced back that quickly. He goes out and does a mile and three-quarters like it's nothing."

Alan Sherman, assistant to his father Art Sherman, said California Chrome would go to the track at 6 a.m. (EDT) Monday morning to jog or gallop before shipping out from Churchill Downs' Barn 20. He'll load onto a van at 10 a.m. for the airport in Lexington, Kentucky, with groom Raul Rodriguez and Delgado. The flight is scheduled to leave Lexington at 12:30 p.m. and arrive in Maryland at 2 p.m.

Both Alan Sherman and Delgado commented on the Kentucky hospitality.

"Kentucky's been great," Sherman said. "We've met a lot of really nice people and they've greeted us with open arms. It's just been great. I think if I ever leave California, I'm coming to Kentucky.

"There have been a few crazy fans. One lady comes out here every day and takes pictures and gives the horse carrots. But it's good to be in that kind of position and we appreciate all the support."

"I can't say it enough," Delgado said. "Everybody that gets into this business dreams of coming here, especially for Derby Day. And not only did we come here, we won it. I've been on Cloud Nine since.

"In terms of the people and the way we've been treated in Kentucky, it's been awesome. A lot of people have bent over backward just to please us, which is really nice. I wish I could come back here every year, that'd be nice too...but just knowing that in my first time here, we took the big prize home, that's icing on the cake.

"Now being able to go back to Maryland, where I'm originally from, I get to go home and see a lot of people, lots of friends and my daughter (six-year-old Savannah). So the experience is something I can't even explain, it's a feeling you can't put into words."

California Chrome is one of five Preakness candidates scheduled to arrive at Pimlico Monday. The Derby winner is set to share the plane from Lexington with Pablo Del Monte, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod, while Kid Cruz is scheduled to arrive from Belmont Park.

In other California Chrome news:

Private clocker Gary Young commented from Santa Anita on California Chrome's Preakness chances.

Facing perhaps half as many horses as he did in the Run for the Roses but twice as much pace, unlike his last five races, all daylight victories, could the second leg of the Triple Crown present a challenge for streaking California Chrome?

"Some think with (new shooters) Social Inclusion and Bayern in the race, it might hinder California Chrome, but I don't think that at all," Young said. "He doesn't need the lead. As long as he's able to run back in two weeks I think he's going to be awful tough to beat.

"People always say the Preakness is a speed horse's race, but they've still got to run a mile and three-sixteenths, and that's a lot further than a lot of horses want to run. It's yet to be proven, but Bayern and Social Inclusion might be in that group.

"They're both very talented horses but they've got to prove they can run that far."

Jockey Victor Espinoza, unbeaten on California Chrome since he began riding him five races back including the Kentucky Derby, will be presented an Anaheim Ducks' jersey bearing the number five (his post position in the Run for the Roses) at Game 5 of the Ducks-Los Angeles Kings NHL playoff game Monday night at the Honda Center.

On Tuesday, according to his agent, Brian Beach, Espinoza will visit cancer patients at the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte, ride at Santa Anita Thursday, leave that night for Baltimore, and ride Friday and Saturday at Pimlico.

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