Trainer Art Sherman savors the moment after California Chrome's win in the Santa Anita Derby on April 5. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
Art Sherman, 77, who was last part of the Kentucky Derby scene when he rode in a rail car with Swaps from the West Coast to Louisville to win the 1955 Derby, has agreed to take followers of America’s Best Racing along for the ride as he prepares potential superstar California Chrome for the Run for the Roses. The California-bred dominated his last four starts by a combined margin of 24 ¼ lengths.
Below is the third installment of his diary, written with Tom Pedulla:
Well, I feel as though we cleared another hurdle when we were assigned post five in the draw at Churchill Downs on Wednesday. Our jockey, Victor Espinoza, was very happy with it. He has one Derby victory, and that came when War Emblem broke sharply from the fifth position, took command early, and never looked back for the entire mile and a quarter in 2002.
I am not saying it will play out that way again. There are so many horses in this field capable of setting a hot pace. But that post will only add to Victor’s confidence, and it gives him plenty of options as long as we enjoy a clean break.
California Chrome has a ton of gas. He will allow you to do pretty much anything you want with him. If Victor must tap into that early speed to secure good position entering the first turn, then that will be fine.
Fans here are really getting a kick out of my horse. I always say he is a “rock star” in California. I think we can add the Bluegrass State to that, and it may not be long before the rest of the nation falls into line. He has a wonderful curiosity and we are indulging that to make sure he acclimates well to Churchill Downs. Whenever he wants to stop on his way to the track to check out his surroundings, Willy Delgado, his exercise rider, allows him the time he needs.
CALIFORNIA CHROME SLIDESHOW
Churchill Downs sets aside time at 8:30 a.m. each day to allow Oaks and Derby horses to train on a relatively uncrowded track. We have been getting our work done a couple of hours before that only because Chrome is accustomed to early-morning exercise. Horses are creatures of habit. I am trying to stick as close as possible to what worked so well at home.
Because I spent a good number of years as a jockey and now as a trainer, fans ask me which job carries more pressure when dealing with a high-caliber horse. I think trainers are under far more pressure than jockeys.
When I was riding, I did everything I could to prepare for each race. I gave it everything I had, mentally and physically, from the time the starting gate snapped open until we flashed across the finish line. If we lost, I would give the trainer my thoughts on why we fell short. If there was an issue I could identify, I made sure to do that. After that, I moved on to the next mount while the trainer may be left with a significant problem or problems to solve.
I joked with Victor that I might take out my riding license again because Chrome has been making it so easy for him, sweeping their four races together by a combined 24 ¼ lengths. I have never had a horse win that many races so convincingly.
When I was 18, I felt Swaps was my once-in-a-lifetime horse. With California Chrome, I feel that I caught lightning in a bottle twice.