Wearing a black and red plaid shirt and blue jeans, Art Sherman ambled onto the Pimlico Race Course backstretch at 3:51 p.m. to get a look at his stable star, California Chrome.
It was the first time the 77-year-old trainer had a glimpse of his Kentucky Derby winner since returning to the West Coast on May 5, two days after his horse’s historic victory at Churchill Downs.
“He looks great,” a smiling Sherman said. “He looks like he’s held his weight, and that’s a good thing.”
The oldest trainer to win the Derby, Sherman went back to his California base to tend to the rest of his string at Los Alamitos Race Course near Los Angeles. In the meantime, his son and assistant, Alan, has stayed with California Chrome.
When he first arrived at his home track, known more for its quarterhorses than thoroughbreds, Sherman knew he had done something special.
“On the marquee at Los Alamitos it says, “California Chrome. Home of the Kentucky Derby winner.’ It was really cool. Big lights all over it and everything. I had a stack of letters when I got back home, just people congratulating me. People I don’t even know. They sent cards and letters. Unbelievable. It’s very exciting to have a Derby horse.”
Now, Sherman is hoping he has a Preakness horse. Maybe one for the Triple Crown, too. If he wins on Saturday, he’d go to New York for the June 7 Belmont Stakes for a shot at immortality.
“You’re thinking maybe you have a shot at the Triple Crown, but you don’t know,” Sherman said. “I’m the kind of guy who goes race by race, but I wouldn’t want to be in anybody else’s shoes, I can tell you that right now.”
California Chrome has taken up residence in stall 40 at the Pimlico stakes barn, traditionally reserved for the Derby winner. Two stalls away is Ride On Curlin, who was seventh in the Derby and one of only two horses from that race to take another shot at the winner in Baltimore.
Sherman patted California Chrome on the neck and gave him a looking over before walking down the shedrow to shake hands with Billy Gowan, the trainer of Ride On Curlin.
“Here we go again, huh?” Gowan said.
After talking for a few minutes, Sherman went back to get another look at the horse that put them both in the national spotlight.
“I’m just looking at him again, and he’s holding his weight good,” he said. “That’s one of my biggest factors. Coming back in two weeks, the weight factor is a big thing to me. But, he’s eating up and he seems to thrive on racing so let’s hope he can perform.”
Sherman got only a brief look at Pimlico’s main track on the drive to the backstretch. He’ll spend his first morning watching California Chrome get over it on Wednesday.
“Driving in, the turns look a little sharper. That shouldn’t stop him any,” he said. “He’s been training where the turns are a little sharper (at Los Alamitos), so there we are.”
The last California-bred to win the Preakness was Snow Chief in 1986. California Chrome was the first from his home state to win the Derby since Decidedly in 1962. Affirmed in 1978 was the last horse to win the Triple Crown.
“For our state, they never had anybody from California even on the Triple Crown trail that was a Cal-bred,” Sherman said. “It means a lot for the whole industry and for racing. We need some stars right now. I think we’ve got a chance.”