04/02/2015 3:01PM

Hovdey: This year, Sherman watches from sidelines

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Bolo, third in the San Felipe, goes in the Santa Anita Derby for a partnership that includes Stronach Group executive Keith Brackpool.

At the time, it wasn’t the saddest thing in the world. A horse on the road. An empty stall.

“You going to put one in there while he’s gone?” a visitor asked, not even halfway serious.

“No way,” Art Sherman replied. “I’m superstitious, and that would be nothing but bad luck.”

It was the day before Sherman left for Dubai. California Chrome already was there, training for the World Cup. The colt finished second, as everyone knows, to a local horse who basically dropped from the sky, and the whole California Chrome crew – including groom Raul Rodriguez, exercise rider Willie Delgado, and assistant trainer Alan Sherman – could return home with their heads held high after a tough mission almost accomplished.

The problem is, they left a man behind.

Once he cooled out in Dubai, California Chrome made a beeline for Newmarket, England, where he will be trained for a possible appearance at the Royal Ascot meet in June. Art Sherman was outspoken in his opposition to the move but was outvoted by Perry Martin, the colt’s majority owner.

“I might have come on a little strong,” Sherman said. “But it’s just how I felt and what I thought the horse needed right now after such a tough trip and hard race in Dubai. I’ll miss him bad, but I’m sure he’ll be well taken care of over there.”

The empty stall plucked at especially poignant strings this week as Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby approached. At this time last year, California Chrome was the talk of the West Coast, fresh from a bracing score in the San Felipe Stakes and creeping up the lists of Kentucky Derby contenders. His 5 1/4-length win in the Santa Anita Derby put Sherman, Martin, and co-owner Steve Coburn on the national map as the horse to beat in Louisville. Nobody did.

“I really thought I was running the best horse in the Santa Anita Derby,” Sherman said. “Of course, you never know for sure until they do, but he showed up big that day and kept right on going.”

Sherman will be at work Saturday saddling the maiden California-bred Cat From Iraq in the first race of the 11-race program, beginning at noon Pacific. After that, he’ll be able to kick back and enjoy the rest of the day, which also includes the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks and simulcasts of the Blue Grass Stakes from Keeneland and the Wood Memorial from Aqueduct. Asked whom he likes among the local Derby hopefuls, Sherman gave an appreciative nod to the unbeaten Dortmund, the heavy favorite, although he likes the chances of Prospect Park, who finished second to Dortmund in the San Felipe.

“He looks like a horse just coming around to his best,” Sherman said. “And I don’t think he’ll have any trouble getting more distance.”

Then there is Bolo, the San Felipe third who previously won the Eddie Logan Stakes for a partnership that includes Keith Brackpool, The Stronach Group’s director of West Coast operations, fellow Stronach Group executives Tim Ritvo and Alun Ossip, as well Frank Stronach himself. Veteran owner Earle I. Mack also owns a piece, while the Stronach execs race as Golden Pegasus Racing. Carla Gaines is their trainer, and Mike Smith rides.

“Every time you see a young horse win on the grass, you hear the same question: ‘Will he be able to do that on dirt?’ ” Brackpool said. “Your trainer will tell you he trains great on the dirt, but the reality of the race is different. You never know until they are asked.”

After making his first three starts on turf, Bolo seemed to answer the question in the San Felipe, in which he pushed Dortmund’s pace from the outside and was head-and-head with the leader as the field rounded into the stretch. Dortmund gradually pulled away from Bolo, who was caught for second in the final strides by Prospect Park.

“Not to make excuses, but the colt did miss some training between the Eddie Logan and the San Felipe,” Brackpool said. “This will be the real test on Saturday.”

Brackpool is understandably prejudiced, but as the man putting on the show, he can play favorites only up to a point.

“Of course, I’ll be rooting for everybody,” he said. “But I do think owners appreciate the fact we are going through what they go through – the pressure, the expense, the excitement.”

Among Brackpool’s guests Saturday will be Sherman, who has the good sense not to root for another horse besides Bolo in the Santa Anita Derby. Or at least not out loud.

“No, I like that horse,” Sherman said. “He ran big the other day and just did get beat for second.” That’s how you win elections.

“But I’ll tell you who gets my money in the Kentucky Derby,” Sherman added. “That horse I watched win in Dubai.”

To his credit, he did not try to pronounce Mubtaahij, the romping winner of the UAE Derby.

“He’s a real runner and all racehorse,” Sherman said. “I was very impressed.”

In the meantime, Sherman is still faced with an empty stall impossible to fill.

“I’ve got to put one in there,” he said. “It’s depressing. I think I’ll give it to that Chrome look-alike we’ve got, a colt by Macho Uno I bought last year. He’s a beautiful chestnut with a white blaze, just like Chrome. Only difference is, he’s got three white stockings instead of four, which is okay. There’ll never be another one like Chrome.”