01/29/2014 2:14PM

Jay Hovdey: Sherman polishing California Chrome with Derby in mind

Shigeki Kikkawa
California Chrome won the California Cup Derby on Jan. 25 at Santa Anita Park.

Art Sherman woke up last Saturday morning hoping his horse would get a decent piece of a $250,000 pot offered for Cal-breds to be run later that day at Santa Anita.

He went to bed that night wondering about hotel rates in Louisville.

It’s a long jump from the last Saturday in January to the first Saturday in May, which means there is nothing that says California Chrome necessarily will make it to the Kentucky Derby. History indicates he’s got a steep climb, and not even his authoritative, 5 1/2-length romp in the California Cup Derby gets him any closer to the starting gate, let alone the winner’s circle, at Churchill Downs.

The stats alone are brutal on horses reared out West. The last California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby was Decidedly, a son of Derby winner Determine, who was bred and raised at George Pope’s El Peco Ranch near the town of Madera in the state’s vast Central Valley. That was in 1962.

In the 51 years since then, there have been four Derby winners from Florida, three from Virginia, two each from Pennsylvania and Canada, and one each from Maryland, Illinois, and New York. New York, for pete’s sake! The other 37 were from Kentucky, including the past nine consecutive.

At least Cal-breds like Best Pal, Cavonnier, and Free House hit the board in the 1990s. More recently just showing up has been a heavy lift. Of the 195 runners to contest the last 10 Derbies, exactly three have been Cal-breds, or 1.5 percent. This compares unfavorably to California’s 8.2 percent share of the national Thoroughbred foal crop for 2011, the year California Chrome hit the ground for his owners and breeders, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn.

“The Cal-breds haven’t really shined for a long time,” Sherman said. “But boy, it sure would be nice.”

Sherman, a native of Brooklyn, was still savoring the Cal Cup Derby earlier this week while taking care of some personal business near his home in Rancho Bernardo, just inland from Del Mar.

“I had to take a written test for my driver’s license,” Sherman said. “That happens when you reach a certain age. I passed, believe it or not. It’s a good thing I didn’t have to take a road test.”

Sherman turns 77 on Feb. 17, but you wouldn’t know it unless someone pointed out this was the same Art Sherman who worked for the Rex Ellsworth outfit as a teenager in the 1950s and traveled to Louisville to win the 1955 Kentucky Derby with Swaps. Sherman was asked if he’s been to the Derby since.

“Yes, once – with Terrang,” he replied, referring to the 1956 Santa Anita Derby winner.

If Sherman ends up on the Derby trail, the whole clan will be involved. Art spends his time in Southern California with his son Alan at his side, while his son Steve Sherman runs a successful operation in Northern California. Horses and Shermans shuttle up and down the state as opportunities arise.

“I don’t have to do any of the hard work anymore,” Art said with a laugh. “I take care of the clients and oversee a lot. I’ve got two boys who are real good trainers, which makes life a lot simpler – as long as they let the old man have the credit.”

In terms of service, Sherman has been a trainer (35 years) a lot long longer than he was a jockey (21 years), so he is allowed to ignore the daunting historical evidence arrayed against his colt and enjoy the view from the stall of California Chrome anytime he wants. The view is choice.

This is a classic caramel chestnut with plenty of white trim – hence his flashy name – who is just now figuring out what a beast he could become. The 1 1/16-mile Cal Cup Derby was his eighth start and fourth win, dating back to last April at Hollywood Park.

“It kind of spooked me the way he opened up as quick as he did turning for home the other day,” Sherman said. “It looked like he went from second to five in front. That picked my head up a whole lot. It just took him a while for the light bulb to come on. Now he’s really a lot more focused, with a great attitude – just a cool horse to be around.”

In order to make the Kentucky Derby field, California Chrome will need to run lights out in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 8. If he wins he’s in, with 50 of those precious Derby qualifying points. If he does not win, his trainer will need to know why before looking at another race to score the necessary Derby points.

“We’ll find out if he belongs,” Sherman said. “But that’s the good thing about a statebred program for a 3-year-old like him. You can bring them along on their own time. You don’t have to hook Baffert’s killers in open races right off.

“I’ve been around a lot of nice young ones in my lifetime, so I kind of know what to look for,” Sherman added. “It is scary, knowing what you’ll be up against going into open company. But fingers crossed, I think we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Forego137 More than 1 year ago
I wish you and your boys good luck w/California Chrome and you never know he just might continue to improve w/open company and just maybe he'll be in the starting gate come the first Sat in may. Continued success w/this one and you are going to have a lot of fun w/him as long as he stays healthy, we all know that these horses today tend sour real easy.
michael More than 1 year ago
Best of luck Art Sherman.
Ricky Williams More than 1 year ago
Really nice colt and love that Victor is driving him. This one should point to the Arkansas derby.then on to Kentucky. Good luck with this one.
Mark D More than 1 year ago
I love this horse!$!$! But he is only beating up on Cal Breds. Anyone know the Beyer Figure for his last race??
jackdsplns More than 1 year ago
I love the horse too because he was my single in my winning pick 4 on the last Hollywood card. Hoping the Beyer figure was low because it is the most over rated handicapping tool there is but the Beyer boys tend to give over inflated numbers to horses that win by daylight like Chrome did.
Tim Carey More than 1 year ago
88 beyer
Greg Hopper More than 1 year ago
Ran 4- on the Sheets the previous race. Not sure about last week's race. I'd be surprised if many (any??) other 3yos have run that number this year...
mark oleary More than 1 year ago
You forgot Cal bred Golden Act who placed in all tree Triple Crown Races, after winning the Louisina and Arkansas Derbies, then won the Secretariat Stakes and the Canadian International Championship in 1979.
Ann More than 1 year ago
And Cal-bred Rumbo and Jaklin Klugman, who filled out the tri behind winner Genuine Risk in 1980.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I'm a big fan of California Chrome, and see him matching up with any of the other top prospects out West, save maybe Shared Belief. Although Cali Chrome has beaten only other Cal breds his last 2, left in his wake this past Saturday was Tamarando, a grade 1 winner who was beaten a similar margin by Shared Belief in the CashCall. So, I really think CC will match up just fine with open company, at least up to 9 furlongs. Beyond that, his breeding suggests classic distances will be a stretch. But he wouldn't be the first horse to outrun his pedigree. On the subject of Cal breds, I found the lack of stars on Sunshine Millions Cal Cup day disconcerting. Cali Chrome was the only Cal bred participant on the day, excluding Teddy's Promise in the open Santa Monica, that looked anything like a star. As someone that grew up in Cali in the late 80s and early 90s, I wonder where is the next Snow Chief, Best Pal, Bertrando, Free House, General Challenge, Budroyale, or Tiznow? Recently, Acclamation and Amazombie won Eclipse awards as Cal breds, but the former was a turf horse and the latter a sprinter. In terms of Cal breds that had success on the main track at classic distances after 2001,Lava Man and Brother Derek from the mid-2000s are the only ones that come quickly to mind. And only the latter was a factor on the Derby trail and through the Triple Crown.
jackdsplns More than 1 year ago
Well the Cal breds were pretty much slaughtered when they ran against the Fla. breds in the Sunshine Millions a couple years ago. The concept of Sunshine Millions was to have the Cal breds run against the Fla breds in a one day competition at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. After the Cal breds proved to be inferior the format changed to Fla. breds having a day at Gulfstream and Cal breds at Santa Anita. Hopefully California Chrome proves to be a quality Cal bred like the horses you mentioned.
Tom Fritzsche More than 1 year ago
Ann More than 1 year ago
Very few Cal-breds race in Florida, so the Florida race had to have horses ship in to a new surface and configuration plus the Florida humidity, giving the more numerous Fla-breds a built-in advantage in the GP races. On the other hand, many Fla-breds race at Santa Anita, so had no adaptation or shipping problems to deal with. Overall advantage to Fla-breds. The Sunshine Millions was a terrible idea, not because of the concept of Cal- and Fla-breds running aginst each other, but because of the purses put up for them. Those purses give horses capable of competing in open graded stakes races, like Lava Man and Mucho Macho Man, a place to pick up a big paycheck without much effort, while diluting the graded stakes with similar conditions for weeks on either side of the event. Tamarando and California Chrome are both capable of running with open company, but they earned a bunch of money beating up on no-hopers instead of joining the 4-horse Sham S (G3) field to make that more of competitive race. These state-bred race-days work best when the top horses are busy elsewhere, like in late fall when the MMMs of the world are in the Breeders' Cup, or close to the Kentucky Derby/Oaks/etc. weekend.