11/02/2016 5:06PM

Sherman grateful he's gotten to train superstar California Chrome

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Tom Keyser
Art Sherman, 79, says it's every trainer's dream to come up with a horse like California Chrome.

ARCADIA, Calif. – When Art Sherman went to the Kentucky Derby as the exercise rider for Swaps in 1955, he rode in a railroad boxcar. Now, six decades later, he has jetted to places like Dubai and London as the celebrated trainer of a celebrated horse, California Chrome. But as that run nears its end, Sherman reflected on what California Chrome has meant to him, marveling at the good fortune that came his way so late in his training career.

“You get to a certain point in your life where it seems like you’ve done as much as you can, and then this horse has taken me to a new level,” Sherman said. “You think, ‘How come me?’ You think of all the time I’ve trained and so many other good trainers who’ve never had a horse like this, and you feel so fortunate. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”

California Chrome will seek to nail down the title as 2016 Horse of the Year when he runs in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita. He got the 2014 title because of an audible Sherman called following that year’s Classic, in which California Chrome finished third. The initial plan was to not race again that year, but Sherman took a chance that a win in the Hollywood Derby on turf at Del Mar could be the November surprise in the Eclipse Award balloting for Horse of the Year. It worked.

That was an example of a horseman who trusted his instincts, but Sherman had to have the goods to pull it off.

“It’s every trainer’s dream to come up with a horse like this,” Sherman said.

“All the stakes he’s won – the Kentucky Derby, the world’s richest race,” he said, referring to the Dubai World Cup. “Wow, what a run this has been.”

:: BREEDERS’ CUP 2016: Pre-entries, odds, comments, and more

The potential starts are winding down. The current plan is to run in the Classic and then point for the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in January, with a possible race in between.

“I’d like for him to go out undefeated. I know he could get outrun, but I hope he doesn’t,” Sherman said. “Just a couple more to go. He’d have the world record for purses if he wins out.”

But once California Chrome leaves the racetrack, “When I look at that stall and see it empty, I’ll be a sad trainer,” Sherman said.

When California Chrome goes to stud, it will be three years after his first season in the breeding shed at Taylor Made Farm that his first 2-year-olds would race.

“I just hope I’m around. I’d like to stick around and train his babies,” said Sherman, 79. “That would be something else for me.”

So too, Sherman said, would be seeing California Chrome elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I’m sure he’ll make it,” Sherman said. “I’d like to be there for that.”

Although his sons, Alan – his assistant – and Steve, are moving to the fore of the Sherman operation, Sherman isn’t the retiring type.

“I’m not a stepping-back kind of guy,” he said. “I’ve been on the track since I was 16. I don’t golf. This keeps my mind occupied. I can’t see per se retiring.”

Besides, there are plenty of perks that come with the job. Even after California Chrome is retired, Sherman will be able to play his favorite game with strangers.

“When people find out you’re a horse trainer, the first thing they ask is, ‘Have you ever won the Derby?’ ” he said. “I can say yes. It’s quite a thrill.”