04/09/2014 3:00PM

Jay Hovdey: The butterfly effect on California Chrome

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome has "no wasted motion," according to his trainer, Art Sherman.

Greg Gilchrist won’t be taking any credit for any part of the California Chrome fairy tale. The colt, now perched at the threshold of Kentucky Derby favoritism, has cleanly divorced himself from all traditional moorings to be what anthropologists might call sui generis, which is racetrack Latin for “what a freak.”

And yet if Gilchrist, acting on behalf of Scott Sherwood’s Blinkers On Racing Stable partnership, had not gone to $30,000 to buy a filly by Not for Love at the second session of the Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training in May of 2008  . . .

She would not have ended up in Northern California. She would not have won an $8,000 maiden claiming race for Blinkers On. She would not have been sold to Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, who met through Blinkers On. She would not have been bred to the $2,500 California stallion Lucky Pulpit. And she never would have dropped that white-trimmed chestnut who ended up in the care of Art Sherman and destroyed the Santa Anita Derby field to be perched at the threshold of Kentucky Derby favoritism.

No one is more surprised, or pleased, than Gilchrist.

“Everybody deserves one of them once in a while,” Gilchrist said. “I couldn’t be happier for Art.”
Gilchrist had his, and then some. He trained Eclipse Award champion sprinter Lost in the Fog, a colt who won his first 10 races and 11 out of 14 starts before succumbing to the ravages of cancerous tumors attached to his spine and spleen. He was euthanized in September of 2006.

Gilchrist, who retired from training in 2010, has kept his hand in the game as a bloodstock consultant. He never counted on the Not for Love filly – eventually named Love the Chase – ranking high on his résumé.

“She wasn’t very big, and she did not continue to grow at all,” Gilchrist said. “When I put the saddle on and can look the valet straight in the eye, that’s not a good sign.
“I ran her twice, and I told Mr. Sherwood the filly just didn’t have any talent,” Gilchrist went on. “She’ll try all day long, but she just can’t run. When she won it had to be the slowest maiden race in California that year. If anybody but Perry Martin would have bought her, she probably would have ended up in a 4-H club somewhere.”

So, some little kid’s loss is racing’s gain. For his part, Art Sherman has stopped wondering why California Chrome has come into his life and is more concerned with keeping the show on the road. It is Sherman’s job to maximize the colt’s considerable attributes while minimizing the impact of any natural-born defects.

“He’s got no wasted motion,” Sherman said this week, after California Chrome emerged from his Santa Anita Derby romp in the pink. “He’s got a good shoulder on him, and he’s real strong in the front. I always say I’d like to see a little more ass on him, but what are you going to do . . . pick him apart? I’m just so happy he’s running the way he is.

“He is a little offset in the knee, and his right foot turns out a little,” the trainer added. “I’m always checking his knees and his ankles. Everything has been ice-cold, knock wood. When I was riding I broke my right ankle in three places, so me and the colt toe out about the same.”

Sherman and Gilchrist, long-time colleagues on California’s second circuit, have more in common with the horse trainers of Parx or Calder, all working in the shadow of the major tracks in New York, Miami, and L.A. If that isn’t tough enough, early in his career Sherman, a jockey for 23 years, found himself battling an age-old prejudice.

“I used to hear all that b.s. about how ex-jockeys never make good trainers,” he said. “I thought, that can’t be true. People saying that, they’ve never had a horse between their legs, and feel the pounding, how there’s nothing like riding a race and being part of the horse. People don’t understand what a thrill that is.

“That’s why I missed it so much when I quit,” Sherman added. “It’s a way of life, and it took me a while to get acclimated. But a lot of jocks don’t make it as trainers because it is so different. As trainer you’re focusing on so many other things, like trying to convince owners you can do the job just as good as the guy who’s been on top for a long time.”

Two days after the Santa Anita Derby, Sherman had an NBC film crew at his home in Rancho Bernardo, just northeast of Del Mar. At 77, he is getting one of those rare opportunities to tell his personal story and share his love of the racing game with an unimaginably large audience. Of course, with such heights comes the potential of a terrible fall.

“I know,” Sherman said. “I’ll have to be tough. But sometimes you can’t even win for losing. I once won a stakes race and they booed me, when I beat Lost in the Fog up north with that little gray horse, Carthage. They were even giving away Lost in the Fog bobbleheads at the track that day.

“I felt bad,” Sherman added. “I really did.”

Judith Van Doren More than 1 year ago
California Chrome is liked and rooted by a lot of people because they (us Chromies) see the potential, the personality, the love to race in this horse, and we see the good training and care given by CC's team. With all the negative comments made by apparent egotistical people who think more of their opinions then the horse racing sport, I am sorry you are unable to respect and enjoy a good horse when it comes into the picture. CC is not the only horse out there to appreciate, but so many of you will miss more because of your narrow minded attitude.
Earl Rhodes More than 1 year ago

Ok  , Judith Van Doren let me guess you're from the east coast ? you have too give credit when its due , hes the richest race horse ever in north America , he's never ducked any of them , he defies his breeding , with that being said I would like too see him and Frosted hook up again , and this weekend Chrome meets Dortmund and Beholder , if you knew the journey of all those to get Chrome in there life you would understand all the fan fare , hoopla and love for him , think about how lucky we are , to still get to see a Kentucky Derby winner still competing

Al Kerkian More than 1 year ago
Shared Belief will crush the Chrome...believe it!
Stephanie Abbott More than 1 year ago
How about saying "outrun" rather than crush?
Earl Rhodes More than 1 year ago
yeah when they hooked up Shared Belief beat him , they only met once , but that's moot cause Shared Belief is in horsey heaven and Chrome is still here and wining at a high level don't be a hater lets give credit when its due
Joe Trezza More than 1 year ago
GO California Chrome GO
Railbird Brad More than 1 year ago
Chrome is the new Gold!
Allen Payne More than 1 year ago
What a great feeling ... at 77 to have most normal people ,respect and admire your body of work ...and have a 3 YO that is a probable favorite in the K. Derby ..That type of karma only comes once in a lifetime ..My Take : Well Deserved ....good luck , Art .........
Robert Danna More than 1 year ago
California Chrome and Art Sherman, who would of thought of that. It has all the Fairy Tale aspects plus the Zenyatta, Flare and excitement. Triple Crown Winner, that is yet to come but there is NO Doubt, in the minds of those who know Horse racing, he will be there and he will do well, very well. I for one don't relish the East vs West theme, just want to see another TC winner to boost Horse Racing up again, to make the first Saturday in May, a day to remember but, most of all, to put GOOD GUYS like Art Sherman in the forefront.. "GO CALIFORNIA CHROME!"
Tony Fortunelli More than 1 year ago
... as I was rudely interrupted... another horse the nation can rally around. Wasn't it Secretariart who had an abnormally large heart physicaaly & wore it on his sleeve wiith so much determination that he showed great heart in spirit & soul. Let's be positive & wish him the best this year & forever as long as he graces the racing world with his talent. I, personally, am excited about the possibilities of watching a real Star Is Born again. Go C.C.!!
Tony Fortunelli More than 1 year ago
I am so happy for Sherman. He had a dream & now not only is hid dream being fulfilled by being a trainer, he gets the extra juice of having an extremely talented colt. It's like going from single lens black & white to 3-D technicolor Cinemascope! Congrats! I hope the dream continues with the good health of California Chrome so he can show that he is not a fluke & maybe ... dare I sat it ... a great thoroughbred, &.maybe
B More than 1 year ago
As time goes by, he certainly looks much the best, though he is not remotely in the category of Secretariat as one the posts below me states. As I do every year, I hope a great one comes along to win the TC, but I have to wonder if we will ever see another. I saw the last three. Every one of Secretariat's three TC races were awesome in one way or another. The time of the Derby, the first turn of the Preakness, the time & winning margin of the Belmont. Simply staggering. I thought Seattle Slew, who eventually proved himself to be a great one, was a lucky TC winner as his competition was weak and he became a stronger horse at 4 and I still cannot believe that Affirmed won the TC running against a horse of the quality of Alydar. He deserved it, but they were near equal in talent in horse racing's greatest rivalry. So I am now in Chrome's corner & will root for him much like I did for Orb after his terrific run in the Derby last year. Hope Chrome isn't as big a letdown, but the odds are not in his favor.
Tony Fortunelli More than 1 year ago
Yes, you & I were fortunate to here for those 3 TC, and what you've said about them I agree ... & what I also like about your post is your continuing & apparently unwavering support of this Sport of Kings, where so many wonderful things have happened magnificently & miraculously & then so sad & disheartening ... real life drama. I love it, and have for over 5 decades!
raypal45 More than 1 year ago
This horse reminds me very much of the Great Secretariat who turned me on to racing in the seventies. He has the same rhythmic style of running and grace and seems to be able to just keep running. As a former owner and breeder I realize that a lot of money is placed on breeding but there are intangibles involved. I have two relatives who would be kindly regarded as functioning at a low normal IQ but then they turn around and have a child with a genius IQ. How do you explain that. The key is that his mother was a tryer and his dad had very good blood lines. I will be going all the way with him in the Derby.