04/01/2016 1:06PM

Hovdey: Sherman basking in the glow


Two young horses were strutting their stuff for prospective buyers last Wednesday at Del Mar, where Barretts was holding its sale of 2-year-olds, and there was David Lanzman, watching one of them walk. Lanzman knows what it’s like to buy a champion at Barretts, like he did with Squirtle Squirt in 2000. Having seen enough, he turned to the gathered group and pointed to the guy who was eyeballing the other horse.

“I’ll do whatever he says to do,” Lanzman said.

Everybody laughed because “he” was Art Sherman, making his first domestic appearance since winning the $10 million World Cup the previous Saturday in Dubai, and right now, everybody in horse racing wants to have whatever Art is having.

At that particular moment, it was a jet-lagged high of delirious satisfaction over winning the world’s richest race, complemented by a steady gauntlet of backslaps, handshakes, and kisses bestowed upon the 79-year-old trainer by his Southern California constituency. Too bad he wasn’t running for something.

Casually dapper in his California Chrome cap and TOC jacket, Sherman had to be on his toes. Denise and Perry Martin, California Chrome’s principal owners, were on the scene, as was George Krikorian, the California racing commissioner who is one of Sherman’s primary patrons. Sherman went barn to barn, looking at sons and daughters of Flatter, Candy Ride, and Good Journey, among others, but none of them really measured up to a very high Sherman bar, which can be narrowly described as a chestnut with four stockings, a wide blaze, and the ability to run both fast and far, preferably to the Middle East and back.

“I would have picked Chrome out as a March 2-year-old, absolutely,” Sherman said, answering a silly question. “He was very correct and looked like a runner.”

Then again, Sherman didn’t really have a choice in the matter. California Chrome came to him in the spring of 2013 courtesy of the Martins and their partners at the time, Steve and Carolyn Coburn, with the hope that he could be at least a California-bred stakes winner and dreams of a whole lot more.

What Sherman has done, with the considerable assistance of Alan Sherman, his son and alter ego, has been nothing less than a modern miracle of Thoroughbred training: 2014 Horse of the Year and 3-year-old male champion, 12 wins from 21 starts in five states and two hemispheres at eight different racetracks, a World Cup, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness, and a North American record $12.5 million in earnings. Art Sherman, who was on his way to semi-retirement when California Chrome hit his barn, was asked if maybe now was the time to go out on top.

“No way,” Sherman replied, accepting another handshake. “I’m just getting jazzed up again, recharged. I’m just having so much fun, I don’t want to stop.”

Good thing, too, because there’s more work to do before California Chrome calls it a career at the end of the year. The champ is heading for Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky now for a month’s rest before resuming his work at Los Alamitos with the Sherman string. If the way he behaved the morning after the World Cup is any indication, Sherman figures to have a load of horse on his hands.

“He was playful,” Sherman said. “I went in there with nothing on him, and he ran me around the stall. I think he was looking for a mare.”

As long as he brought it up, Sherman was asked if California Chrome did his pre-race studdish thing in Dubai, as he has so often before his American races.

“No, he was good saddling,” the trainer said. “Although he did it a lot in training. And he dropped it in the tunnel leading to the receiving barn, so he hasn’t given it up. He’ll still let you know he’s a stallion.”

After sending his horse and jockey Victor Espinoza into the Dubai night, Sherman watched the race on the huge video board from the walking ring in front of the mammoth Meydan stands. Nearing the end, he saw what he thought was California Chrome’s saddle slipping backward, but he could not tell how far.

“He was sweating underneath,” Sherman said. “He broke okay, and then he just catapulted away from there. I think that’s when the saddle started to slip. I had it happen to me when I rode, and it’s no fun.

“But he’s such a big, strong son of a bitch now that all you really have to do is sit there,” Sherman added. “You’re better off not moving. When Victor hit him left-handed, he catapulted again, and it really slipped – that’s when my throat slipped. When I saw him pull up and the saddle was still on him, that’s when I knew we were all right.”

They were more than all right, except for Faye Sherman, Art’s wife of going on 54 years. In the post-race swarm, she became separated from her husband, who was being carried to the winner’s stand on a tide of World Cup handlers and well-wishers.

“I got in a little trouble for that,” Sherman said. “But I really couldn’t do anything about it. It was crazy. I couldn’t see anything.”

Once safely on the stand, Sherman found himself on top of a world he never dreamed he would visit. The list of American-based trainers who have brought home the jewel-encrusted Golden Whip symbolic of a World Cup victory includes only Bill Mott, Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, Dale Romans, Kiaran McLaughlin, Steve Asmussen, Eoin Harty, and Graham Motion.

And now Art Sherman. A photograph making the rounds showed Sherman alongside his son, arm raised high and holding the Golden Whip aloft, as if in thanks to the heavens above. Art was asked what prompted the gesture.

“It was the anthem,” he said. “The ‘Star-Spangled Banner.’ I guess I wasn’t expecting it, but all of a sudden, there it was from the band, and I’ve got to tell you, it got to me. They were playing our song.”