The sprawling confines of Belmont Park required some adjustment for Alan Sherman, California Chrome's assistant trainer, before Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
"The horse acclimated better than I did," Sherman said Thursday. "It was a little intimidating at first, but I'm getting used to it now."
Sherman's blue hat and jacket were soaked from the sheets of rain that buffeted the mile-and-a-half course. Infield flags whipped around under gray skies. Hooves made dull, wet thuds as they traversed the sandy track.
The final leg of the Triple Crown is also the longest, besting the Kentucky Derby's 1 1/4 miles and the 1 3/16 miles at the Preakness Stakes. Since Affirmed captured the Triple Crown 36 years ago, 11 horses have started the Belmont Stakes after winning the first two legs. None could overcome the final hurdle, from Spectacular Bid in 1979 to Big Brown in 2008.
"Just the sheer size of it," Sherman said. "To walk out there for the first time and see this massive racetrack and think, 'Wow.' This is the biggest track in the country. The horse looks like an ant."
California Chrome, running his third race since May 3, is the latest to face Belmont's size -- and potential history.
Inside the clubhouse -- and away from the storm -- Sherman stood near dozens of crates of rented dishes and extra tables being stockpiled for Saturday. His voice carried an edge of disbelief, as if he still can't quite believe he ended up in this position.
"They're all tough [races]," said Sherman, whose father, Art, is the horse's trainer, "but this is going to be the toughest of them all, I think."