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Hovdey: Sherman having time of his life with California Chrome
The Thoroughbred brand known as California Chrome clambered down the ramp of the Hubbard transport van and lifted his head to the scent of the surrounding horses in their stalls. Raul Rodriguez, his wiry groom, kept a firm hold as the horse let his legs unwind from the two-hour freeway slog from Los Alamitos, 75 miles to the north. It was Wednesday, Barn CC on the Del Mar backstretch, and Art Sherman was ready to rumble.
“Look at that – barn double C,” the trainer said, trailing his chestnut star. “We’ve got everything covered.”
California Chrome had not been at Del Mar since Thanksgiving weekend of 2014, when he won the Hollywood Derby over Canadian Horse of the Year Lexie Lou. Since that distant November, the 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit has been back and forth to Dubai twice, trained on the gallops of Newmarket Heath, and enjoyed two separate sessions of recovery and relaxation at Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, where he was on cheerful, public display.
Along the way, California Chrome’s principal owners, Perry and Denise Martin, acquired a partnership of like-minded breeders, Sherman was inducted into a Jewish sports hall of fame, and a cottage industry of California Chrome apparel and assorted doodads has sprung up to keep his fans occupied while they await his next start. He also became the leading money-winning Thoroughbred in North American history, but if you ask Chrome, he’d prefer to be paid in Mrs. Pastures horse cookies.
Once California Chrome’s workout Saturday morning at Del Mar is in the books, the countdown will begin to his first start since defeating Frosted, among others, in the Dubai World Cup on March 26. The stage will be the $200,000 San Diego Handicap next Saturday at 1 1/16 miles on the main track, after which he will return to his Los Alamitos digs to prepare for a dream race against defending champ Beholder in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 20.
But first things first. Something caught California Chrome’s eye while he was walking to his stall, and he propped, bellowed, and started to rear. Rodriguez let out just enough slack to keep things cool, while Sherman looked around for the culprit.
“It’s the white pony,” Sherman said, nodding toward a gray horse getting shod in a nearby shed row. “That set him off.”
A couple of crow hops later, California Chrome settled down, but the bell had been rung. A ripple of whinnies erupted from the stalls along the row, answering Chrome’s alarm. Of course, Chrome had to answer back, and it went on like that for a while until the red horse was led safely into the first stall by the Sherman tack room office.
“If they didn’t know he was here before, they do now,” Sherman said. “It’s just like him to announce himself.”
For all California Chrome has accomplished, as a Horse of the Year and Kentucky Derby winner, he has work left to do before he enters stud next year at Taylor Made. Beyond the Pacific Classic, there likely will be a start in the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita in late September to keep sharp for the Breeders’ Cup Classic there on Nov. 5. After that, the proposed $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream looms in January as a valedictory to California Chrome’s singular career.
As if that’s not enough, Sherman hopes to be able to do it all without the use of Lasix. The trainer’s decision is pragmatic, not political. It has been more than six months since California Chrome was given a dose of the legal diuretic before winning the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita. After that, he trained and won twice in Dubai without Lasix – a minor prep race and the World Cup – and each time, Sherman was encouraged by Chrome’s recovery.
“Especially after the World Cup,” Sherman said. “The next day, he was pushing me around the stall like anything but a tired horse. And you know he gave everything the night before. I know we use Lasix on our horses all the time, and he was getting a minimum dose when he ran here. But there’s something about Lasix that horses don’t come back from that quick.”
Sherman said California Chrome has never bled. He said he would do a precautionary endoscopic exam after the Saturday exercise, Chrome’s first serious Del Mar work in nearly three years.
“Sometimes a horse will spot a little at a lower elevation like Del Mar,” Sherman said. “But I worked him that pretty good mile the other day at Los Alamitos, and he scoped clean as a whistle.”
For the record, Del Mar racetrack is located at about sea level, while Los Alamitos rises to 23 feet.
No matter what happens next, Sherman’s journey with California Chrome should be framed and hung on a gallery wall. He’s 79 and having the time of his life. Working hand-in-hand with his son, Alan, the trainer has combined the instincts of his old-school philosophy with a nimble recognition of modern racing demands. He took his horse to the brink of winning a Triple Crown. He beat everything but the house horse in his first trip to Dubai, and then, learning from the experience, knocked ‘em dead in the desert the second time around to top $12 million in earnings.
“As wide as he was, and his saddle slipping and all, he even surprised me that night,” Sherman said. “I was in awe.”
And yet you won’t catch the trainer ever touting his horse before a race, so don’t look for it this week. For anyone from his generation, it is both poor form and bad luck.
“Look at him, acting like a $50,000 maiden claimer,” Sherman said with a barking laugh. “He misses his double-wide stall back home.”
California Chrome answered by banging the back wall, then thrusting his head over the webbing to give Sherman the stink eye.
“I love the buildup,” Sherman said. “Racing needs this kind of excitement. But she might kick my ass, Beholder. What do you think?”
Thanks DRF for a few "freebie" articles like this. Chrome is such a fan favorite, a horse hard not to like, as is his trainer. Almost hate to see Chrome and Beholder meet up head to head as I would hate to see either of them lose to the other, but I bet it will be a "race for the ages", as they say. If Beholder should happen to get to the wire first, and since they are thinking of running her next year, I wonder if she might not be considered for the Dubai World Cup. Worth some speculation at least. Again, my heart is with Chrome, and would like him to "run the table" through the Pegasus to become the world's leading money winner, especially now that a percentage of his earnings are going to charity.
Lots of great racing coming up the rest of the year, and while there are many things that need fixing in the sport, all in all we are having a pretty good run from the Triple Crown last year and horses like Songbird, Beholder, Tepin, Chrome, and even Frosted this year.
A fantastic horse and Sherman is a very likable guy . I'm happy for the whole team . They have taken their shots tried different things but at the end of the day they have always done the right thing by the horse. Even if he did not make it to the English races it was still an experience that served the horse well . And he is a gorgeous animal.
That's classic Chrome announcing himself to his barn mates. Chrome is such an intelligent and gorgeous horse! I wish him the best in the San Diego Handicap one week from today and throughout the remainder of his illustrious career. My hope is that he will be retired after the inaugural Pegasus World Cup. Go, Chrome!!!
Went to Taylor Made in April and finally saw this great horse...what a great tour and he loves his cookies!! The Taylor's are a great fit for Chrome and can't wait to see his next race...great job to trainers Art and Alan!! GO CHROME..!!!
California Chrome reminds me of glorious days when many horses stayed in training and Handicap Racing ruled.
I'm wishing with ALL MY HEART that Art gets to see Chromes First born. If it's a girl and it looks like Chrome......they should name it GoodGollyMissMolly. I'm not too far behind Art in age and I HOPE to see Chromes first born myself. Sigh.
Old Art and California Chrome ARE a legend together. I love the way he talks. "if they didn't know he was here before, they do now". LOL Chrome always loved to give a good shout out. I think to see WHO answers him, and usually many do. LOL He's playing......Marco...........to see how many say.......POLO. And when Art says "look at him in that tiny stall.......and Chrome knows what he's talking about, and answered him by banging the back wall and then thrusting his head over the webbing to give him that pin eared stink eye look. LOL I can picture all of this happening. I hope CC doesn't get Cast in that 2 by 4. Poor Dortmund did and it screwed up his plans for a few months healing. Anyway, It's been a BLAST following Chrome all these years and still is. It's so much fun around shed row.....it takes many minds OFF the race. HEY, even if Chrome just skips along and stops to pose for pictures in his next four races, that's good enough for me. LOL He's made enough and done it all. I love watching him be a ham. Team Sherman are fun. Chromes owners are a blast too. I mean it doesn't get any better than this. They ALL sure love that horse and are having fun with him. Good thing to do. GO TEAM CHROME. :) I'll really miss all the action and fun hauling him off from race to race. BUT he's deserved his retirement and lets face it.....its fun watching him turn up his huge paddock at Taylor Made. It's fun to see him get his buddy Greydar running. ;)
cant wait to see him the 23rd,great horse,great trainer. alice s rph
I want California Chromes' bashers to say again that his injured hoof did nothing to hurt his chances in the Belmont Stakes. When a horse snatches his foot back, he's telling you something. Thanks to the Old Man and his Horse.
Love that horse and that old man......