12/19/2014 1:32PM

Hovdey: Sherman the year's breakout star at 77

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Tom Keyser
California Chrome's Kentucky Derby and Preakness victories made trainer Art Sherman a household name.

John Houseman was an overnight sensation at the age of 71 when he stepped out from behind his role as producer of award-winning films and mentor of acting talent to accept an Oscar for his supporting role in the 1973 movie “The Paper Chase.”

Bertrand Russell finally was recognized with the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950 at age 78, already having filled the first half of the 20th century with his benchmark writings on philosophy, mathematics, history, and social criticism.

Yuichio Miura waited until he was 70 before scaling the summit of Mount Everest for the first time in 2003. He made it, then he climbed it again when he was 75 and 80.

Then, there is Art Sherman, who spent six decades as anything but a horse racing household name before winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with the unlikely California Chrome to become the sport’s breakthrough star of 2014 at the age of 77. Without even trying, he’s still milking it for all he’s worth.

“I haven’t been at Santa Anita lately, where I usually get my haircut, so I went down to this place in Rancho Bernardo the other day,” Sherman said this week from his California home. “I’d never been there before, but it seemed like a nice barber shop, and sure enough, the first guy I run into says, ‘You’re Art Sherman!’ That got everybody in there pumped up.

“It was kind of cool. It was all women cutting hair, too. Nothing like my dad’s shop. You know, a shampoo, a little shoulder massage – I like to be pampered.”

He’s earned the right. Horse racing does not manufacture its best-known ambassadors. It goes with the personalities that drop in its lap. In the case of Art Sherman, the sport lucked into a fully formed racetrack character with a story right out of Damon Runyon, a barber’s son who ran off to join the circus as it was presented under big tents like Santa Anita, Hialeah, and Belmont Park. He also was a media-friendly people person who seemed to say the right thing without really trying.

It was only a year ago, though – a drop in the bucket of Sherman’s life in the sport – that Sherman was still just another face in the West Coast training crowd as he stood in the winner’s circle at Hollywood Park beside the leggy, white-stockinged chestnut colt who had just won the King Glorious Stakes for 2-year-olds bred in California. The accomplishment was noted and promptly shoved aside as the melancholy events of Dec. 22, 2013, overwhelmed anything happening out on the track.

“That was a very emotional thing for me,” Sherman said. “I rode my first race at Hollywood Park. Standing there, knowing we’d never be back was really a sad deal, even if we were standing in the winner’s circle at the time.”

Too much can be made of the symbolic timeline that followed, but the coincidence that a colt named California Chrome could emerge from the closure of one of California’s greatest racing institutions requires at least a moment’s pause. Upon his eviction from Hollywood Park, Sherman and his horses took up residence at Los Alamitos and its spanking-new racing surface, guinea pigs in an experiment cobbled together from the remaining players on the Southern California scene.

Sherman’s appreciation for the accomplishments of California Chrome comes not from archives and yellowed newsprint but from a personal history of firsthand experience. While the modern generation of classic-winning trainers pays respectful lip service to those who came before, Sherman was there, way back when, riding boot to boot at one time or another with Eddie Arcaro, Bill Shoemaker, John Longden, Milo Valenzuela, and Bill Hartack. Sherman got an early, heady whiff of glory from being around trainers like Mesh Tenney, Bill Molter, Horatio Luro, and Frank Childs.

Like them, Sherman learned what it meant to do your work in the fishbowl of public scrutiny.

“To go through what we’ve been through and have fun at the same time, that’s really something,” he said.

Sherman also had to absorb the idea that he was one of those overnight sensations who suddenly knew how to train a good horse like Houseman figured out how to act.

“All that never really bothered me,” Sherman said. “Anyway, I’ve always had a good time. Of course, winning the Derby changes your life. It puts you in a privileged group. You’re just so happy to be among those great trainers and their great horses. I mean, when you win the Kentucky Derby, you’re in the history books, when you don’t really ever have a chance for that just winning stakes races.

“But now you can go to Churchill Downs and look up at the names above the paddock there and see your horse,” Sherman added. “You could be long gone, and the kids will be able to say, ‘That’s father’s horse up there.’ ”

Charlie Whittingham said it more than once, and if they were smart, they listened: “If nobody told you when you were born, you’d never know how old you were.”

He got that right, along with a peerless training career that served as the model for those of Sherman’s generation. Whittingham was 73 when he won the Kentucky Derby for the first time and 76 when he won it the second, an actuarial fact that pleases Art Sherman almost as much as having won the race itself.

“Imagine topping Charlie at anything,” Sherman said.

Imagine topping Sherman.

Cheryl Kleist More than 1 year ago
I suggest that you take the time to read Ellen Parker's Pedlines article and analysis of California Chrome. She is considered one of the best, if not the best, pedigree analysts in the country. She didn't think Chrome was unlikely to be an accomplished winner. Art Sherman is a very deserving trainer, too. I hope that the put downs of Chrome will stop, and he won't become another Sunday Silence and I'll Have Another, more appreciated in another country than in the US. Our loss will be another country's gain.
Joel Firsching More than 1 year ago
His bute overages and milkshakes matchup well with when he started winning grade 1 races, most money made in a year, and win percentage. Violations mean your good trainer in most cases. Even had bute overage on a workout. The chrb let him off with just a warning in 2012, because of his exemplary clean record since 2005. The chrb didnt notice he had three violations in 2006 and 2008,
Gunner More than 1 year ago
I'll take a CC on the rocks - and toast to Art Sherman!
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
We soon forget Sunday Silence & Ferdinand, that owner Howard Keck didn't have a a $2 bet on at $38 w/Shoe ? Don't know if Charlie & Art hit the wickets much,. Watch 2015 if good decision to run CA Chrome, with most of the 3yr olds coming back. Bet the insurance is about a $2 million premium ! Affirmed ran at 4, lost money !
Ann Maree More than 1 year ago
Three cheers for Art! He is a Class Act and I hope he gets the award. Not many can be in the same league money-wise with a Pletcher or a Baffert. But not many are in the same Class as an Art Sherman. A vote for Art is a vote for all the good things we love about the sport. Nice article, Jay.
jmando1 More than 1 year ago
40 k
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
In what way is Art Sherman a breakout star? Maybe for folks who don't go to the horse races. Seriously, he's been around for years. So, I guess we are to assume that any trainer who's been around for years can become a breakout star just because they win the Kentucky Derby? That's just silly. I've been a fan of Mr. Sherman for years.
ghost2_ More than 1 year ago
Your comments are just silly. Even among racing fans, few had heard of Sherman before this year.
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
If you hadn't heard of Sherman before this year, you are no horse racing fan.
Chuck Berger More than 1 year ago
The man has paid his dues....................no question about it. Exercise boy, journeyman jockey, and a long time trainer of claiming horses. An "over night sensation." Hopefully 2015 will be another great year for both Art and C.C.
Denise M More than 1 year ago
I like Sherman a lot. And I'm happy for him. Met him at the Hollywood Derby. BUT the REAL break out star is California Chrome. Without him Sherman would not have gotten well known like he did. It was all because of CHROME. So the headline here is not really correct... Chrome would have won and did what he did for just about any trainer, let's face it. He is amazing horse! Horse of the Year!
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Art Sherman, Trainer of 2014 Kentucky Derby Winner, California Chrome... Timeless.