05/08/2014 1:12PM

Hovdey: Tagg, Servis have Triple Crown road map


Art Sherman was confused. He thought he had won the 140th Kentucky Derby with California Chrome, but apparently that wasn’t good enough.

“He goes from winning one of the fastest Santa Anita Derbies in history to winning one of the slowest Kentucky Derbies since 1974,” Sherman said. “I don’t get it. Maybe it’s the training. But I’m not giving the money back.”

This was said with what has become the familiar Art Sherman twinkle in those eyes usually hidden behind his little round shades. The message is clear: Parse the Derby any which way you want, pull the clocking inside out, strip the various trips down to the bone. For Sherman, it all comes out scoreboard, and the scoreboard is gorgeous.

Now comes the next part, the Preakness Stakes. Sherman could be found at home this week, tending to his Los Alamitos stable, basking in the congratulations of his peers, and fielding all manner of media requests. Every so often, though, he’d go quiet, and stare off into the distance.

“You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?” a visitor asked.

Sherman snapped out of it.

“You bet I am,” he said. “It’s hard not being there, seeing him, feeling his legs. But I’ve got owners and horses here who need my attention. And anyway, he won’t do much back there before he ships.”

The media line-up for Sherman during the week included Bloomberg, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the CBS Evening News.

“The Wall Street Journal, can you imagine that?” Sherman grinned. “Maybe they want me to give stock tips.”

The tout on California Chrome should have been enough. Sherman, though, is fresh meat to a media world, both social and traditional, bereft of preconceived Art Sherman notions. Barclay Tagg and John Servis, who were likewise thrust into the spotlight after a lifetime in the game, know just how he feels.

“My advice? Enjoy every freaking second,” said Servis, who guided the Smarty Jones ride of 2004. “Don’t let one second go by you’re not having a good time. But listening to the way Art was talking after the race, how he’d like to go home for a little break, I know he wasn’t expecting the onslaught, the avalanche to come.”

Tagg, who won the Derby and the Preakness with Funny Cide in 2003, counts himself among the Sherman fans when it comes to how California Chrome has been handled. Like Sherman, Tagg decided to spend as little time in Kentucky as possible before shipping from New York.

“There’s no sense going any earlier because they’ll just scrape the track down anyway, so you won’t be running on the same track you trained on,” Tagg said. “Why go to the trouble of irritating your horse for a week? Sherman trained the horse right there at that little track in California, didn’t work him anywhere else, and got the job done.

“I’ll bet it was a relief to get back to his own barn for a change,” Tagg added. “But it’s also hard not to be with your horse. I remember Frank Whiteley saying to me, ‘When you’ve got a good horse, stay with him.’ He took a horse to Chicago – I think it was Damascus – and he was so worried about the gangsters getting to him he slept on an Army cot right in front of the stall.”

Both Smarty Jones and Funny Cide lost the Belmont Stakes after winning the first two jewels of the Triple Crown. Funny Cide’s hard ridden, nearly 10-length win in the Preakness was considered a contributing factor, as was Smarty Jones perhaps being asked for too much too early in the 12-furlong Belmont.

“I thought what I did with my horse after the Derby was perfect for him,” Servis said. “He’d just run a mile and a quarter. He didn’t need a whole lot. What happened with my horse was that he was starting to show some wear and tear. That road was starting to get to him.

“But I don’t think you can go into the Preakness thinking, ‘How do I save him for the Belmont?’ ” Servis added. “Then, once you win that, you’ve got to make sure that both you and your jock realize you’ve got a big bull’s-eye on your back. Everybody will be thinking, ‘If I want to win, I’ve got to beat him.’ That’s just human nature.”

Like California Chrome, both Funny Cide and Smarty Jones were quick, athletic chestnuts with a fan base already growing by the time they got to the Triple Crown. In the end, they couldn’t close the deal.

“Believe me, I got plenty of help after Funny Cide won the Derby, but there’s nothing I can tell Art Sherman,” Tagg said.

Servis is also enjoying the view provided so far by California Chrome.

“This horse seems to have the perfect attitude,” Servis said. “When the jock called on him he was right there, and when he asked him to settled he relaxed as nice as could be, just waiting for the next time the rider would press on the gas. That’s the kind of horse you need.”

And that’s what Sherman’s got.