Preakness favorite has a cough

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BALTIMORE — It doesn’t take much to set the backside of a thoroughbred race track buzzing. And when the object of the rumor is a Kentucky Derby winner just a few days from running in the Preakness Stakes, speculation can race to Triple Crown proportions.

California Chrome has a cough. At least, that was the word Thursday morning on the backside at Pimlico.

Sherman Racing, on its official Twitter feed, tweeted Thursday afternoon, “Chrome is fine. Vet stop[ped] by to scope him & draw blood. Blood came back perfect. He has a small blister in his throat. Per the vet it itches.”

The account goes on to say the itching “is the only reason he has coughed a few times. This did not affect his training today, nor will it affect his status in the race. He is eating/acting normal and this is a nonissue. All reports to the contrary are false.”

California Chrome is a 3-5 favorite for Saturday’s second jewel of the Triple Crown. Trainer Art Sherman said his colt has gained 35 pounds since the Derby, usually seen as a good sign from a hard-training horse showing that he’s maturing physically.

Whether this will affect wagering remains to be seen. ESPN’s Hank Goldberg said he won’t bet a 3-5 favorite to win on principle, but that California Chrome is clearly the best colt in the race.

“They say he’s got a cough. That scares me a little bit,” Goldberg said. “Assuming that he’s going to be OK, I think what bothers me is the possibility that he gets shuffled back early in the race, like Orb did a year ago. And the horse that’s next to him, General a Rod, has a similar running style, and if they get caught up against each other that’s a possibility. Other than that, I think he’s the best horse.”

Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey has won the Preakness twice and now works as an analyst for NBC. He said the California Chrome cough reports are something “I guess we’ll have to sort through.”

“I do like his chances, you know,” Bailey said. “ … From the gate to the wire, they experimented with him a little bit with rating behind the front-runners, and he’s going to have to do that to a little greater extent than he did at Churchill [Downs]. … I think [jockey] Victor Espinoza might have to use him a little bit more for longer periods to get to his position.”

California Chrome’s relatively slow Kentucky Derby continues to be a subject of debate, though not with Bailey, who said, “I subscribe to the philosophy that as long as you run faster than the horses chasing you, it’s good enough.”

Still, the Preakness figures to flash more legitimate early speed with second-choice Social Inclusion and the Bob Baffert-trained Bayern pressing the pace early.

In the meantime, only post time will tell whether California Chrome’s cough emerges into a major story, or a Triple Crown side-note.

The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, and television station WDRB in Louisville, Ky. Eric Crawford writes for WDRB.

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