05/15/2014 1:59PM

Hovdey: California Chrome has close family circle

Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome trains May 14 at Pimlico in advance of Saturday's Preakness Stakes.

California Chrome chose neither his parents nor his destiny. As a Thoroughbred racehorse, you pretty much work with what you’re handed at birth, and what he has done is remarkable, rising from the protection of restricted stakes competition to sit atop the sport on a five-race winning streak crowned by the Kentucky Derby.

As for the two-legged members of his tribe, they all had a choice. Nowhere was it written that the Shermans, the Delgados or the Rodriguez family had to sink their lives so deeply into the Thoroughbred world. But they did, and the results of their labors will be on display again Saturday when California Chrome tries to add the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico to his growing reputation.

Alberto Delgado and his younger brother, Willie, are familiar names on the Maryland scene. For their own reasons, they ventured out West, hoping to tap into one of California’s famous reinventions. Last year, Alberto ended up winning a maiden race and a small Del Mar stakes event aboard a promising Cal-bred for trainer Art Sherman. A Cal-bred named California Chrome. Willie, a jockey turned exercise rider, followed his brother’s lead and got a job in the Sherman barn last fall.

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After two troubled losses aboard California Chrome, Alberto Delgado was replaced by Victor Espinoza. He eventually returned to Maryland. Willie, in the meantime, remained glued to the chestnut colt every morning, at Hollywood Park, Los Alamitos, Churchill Downs, and now, in a homecoming, at Pimlico.

“He came to the barn yesterday morning,” Willie said of his brother Thursday. “He’s sad not to be riding the horse anymore, sure. You can’t help that, what this colt has done. But he said to me, ‘Little brother, you’ve done a good job with this colt. A good job.’ ”

Back at the Sherman barn at Los Alamitos, you can’t turn around without bumping into a Rodriguez. Raul Rodriguez has been California Chrome’s groom since the charismatic colt entered the barn 15 months ago. His wife, his brother, and one of his three sons also work there. But it is Raul who has become the superstar as the most photographed stablehand in North America.

“He’s the rock,” said Alan Sherman, Art’s son. “If Raul’s happy, we’re happy.”

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If Rodriguez is the rock, then Alan Sherman is the paper, the scissors, and whatever else it takes to keep the California Chrome road show on its wheels and rolling through the Triple Crown ordeal. “I can’t even begin to imagine doing this without him,” Art Sherman said.

At 45, Alan Sherman is applying everything he’s ever learned at the side of his father, including a switch in careers from riding to training.

“I think both of us weren’t there as jockeys to just ride the horse and jump off,” Alan Sherman said. “We were paying attention to all the different aspects of how people go about training horses.”

Art Sherman rode for 23 years, while his son’s jockey career lasted only a fraction of that. “I knew my career wouldn’t last long,” Alan Sherman said. “I had a size 9 shoe.”

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Alan’s older brother, Steve Sherman, has his own public stable in San Francisco. Alan was asked if the father they know is the same even-keeled, avuncular Art Sherman being revealed through the media onslaught over the past few weeks.

“Oh yeah,” Alan said. “He’s a genuine kind of guy. The only time he’d ever get mad at me or my brother was when we mouthed off at our mom. He wouldn’t stand for that. Also, he’d get a little hot when we wrecked his cars.”

Boys will be boys. According to Alan, a teenage Steve took out a lamp post and two parked cars with the family truck, while Alan admits to mauling his dad’s Honda.

“I was passing on the right,” he said.

Which is perfectly okay at Santa Anita.

For all the logistical challenges of the Triple Crown, the living out of a suitcase and the constant media demands, Alan Sherman is having the time of his life. And why not? About every other day he shows up with a new cap or a new jacket sporting the logo of an equine product anxious to brush close to the California Chrome mystique. “Yes, there’s a lot of swag to deal with,” Alan said with a grin.

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And a few silly hassles, like the archaic licensing process that owners, trainers, and their personnel must go through each time they take a horse to a different jurisdiction. Delgado, Rodriguez, and both Shermans had to present themselves before officials of the Maryland Racing Commission to be allowed to run California Chrome in the Preakness. Fees for the groom and the exercise rider were five bucks each, $25 for the assistant trainer, and $150 for the trainer.

“See him?” said Alan, pointing to his father. “He’s got all the money.”

Then it was time to head for the traditional Alibi Breakfast, at which the trainers of the Preakness horses would be given a chance to rehearse their excuses. Art Sherman scratched his head. “I guess I can always blame Alan,” he said.

It’s worked so far.

Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Lovely article, Jay...always enjoy your take on every aspect of the sport. To the doubters, sure feel sorry for them. Cannot wait for Andy Beyer to say something about the Preakness time. Same time as Big Brown, best since Curlin's! Yep, those Beyer numbers sure did tell us something. Not! As a "tool", they can be one consideration, but your own eyes sometimes are the best judge, and to disregard the Derby effort by Chrome as being sub-par is just pure nonsense. Today's Preakness is all the proof anyone should need. He still has to answer the call, but does anyone seriously think that Victor and CC don't have the tools to get the job done in the Belmont? The horse can rate, he's push button, he listens to Victor, he doesn't run off or get rank. Heck, he jogs 1 1/2 and 2 miles a day......it will be a walk in the park!
Eric Johnson More than 1 year ago
Props to the Sherman family and DAP partners, I've been watching Mr. Sherman train at my hometown track (GGF) for many years. Eric J.
Kell More than 1 year ago
i can't wait till KID CRUZ defeats chrome tomorrow,,how fitting will it be to see a former claimer defeat chrome and the cherry on top will be the new york connection!
Eric Johnson More than 1 year ago
Kell, I don't know you but it's clear you don't know what you are saying. Believe what you see, not what you think or hope will happen. I spotted this horse exactly one year ago breaking his maiden at Del Mar...he won that day the same way he has won his last five....pay close attention (5/2 in the derby) to what you see Saturday, because it might be another 30 plus years until you see another BIG RED...DAP Racings' office SECRETARY must be pretty busy these day's......GET IT (SECRETARIAT.) LOL, Eric J.
Mary Dukes More than 1 year ago
How'd that work out for you Kell?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks, Jay, for this entertaining and heart warming article on the PEOPLE surrounding California Chrome. No wonder, he seems like such a happy horse. He is a happy horse! Good folks surround him. I cannot say enough for my admiration of the Sherman's. Art and Allen remind me of my Montana cowboy family clan. Honest, hard-working, humble with a sense of humor. Easy going. Salt of the earth. Taking it in stride - but no doubt, sensing the pressure - but loving every minute. And thanks for mentioning their extended families. The Delgados and the Rodriguez's. So much a very important aspect of the overall operation.
Bob Rose More than 1 year ago
Guy's like the Sherman's made 7 day work weeks enjoyable. We backstretch ole timers became close as family. I cannot even begin to describe the joy I'm experiencing ever since I realized something real special was about to occur. It's a surreal feelin', stronger than I knew even existed, beyond my own accomplishments. The Racin' Gods got it right this go round!
Lafe Bassett More than 1 year ago
On the first Saturday in May, I prayed for the outcome of a race for the first time in my life! Art Sherman has received what was due him, respect for a multi-faceted, colorful career. A real sweet guy, with a great sense of humor and a talented horseman.
Bob Rose More than 1 year ago
Can honestly say that you brightened up the backstretch as well Lafe! I felt the same joy seeing you as I did lookin' down at my stopwatch and seeing 12/12/12/12/12/12/12/12:3...a mile in 1:36.3, on a horse I was gonna run for $16k clm. One of the perks of trainin' horses ;) Hope your well and happy. Miss seein' ya, Ole Timer.