One day after saddling California Chrome to win the 140th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), trainer Art Sherman was still absorbing the magnitude of the achievement.
"This made career, really," Sherman told a large group of media gathered to watch the 3-year-old Lucky Pulpit colt graze and get his legs bathed on the backside at Churchill Downs early May 4. "You look at all the years you put in and all the races you won, but when you get a champion like this..."
Sent off as the 5-2 favorite in the 19-horse field, California Chrome took the lead with a quarter-mile remaining in the 1 1/4-mile classic and opened up a five-length advantage mid-stretch. He was encouraged by a hand ride from Victor Espinoza to hold sway over longshot Commanding Curve and the well-regarded Danza.
HAMMONDS: California Chrome Shines in Kentucky Derby
The victory was worth $1,417,800 to owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. California Chrome has now earned $2,552,650 with seven wins in 11 starts. The victory cemented a five-race stakes win streak for the California-bred colt, who won the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) by 5 1/4 lengths previous to the Derby. He aced all five by a combined 26 lengths.
Sherman, who at age 77 became the oldest trainer to saddle a Derby winner, surpassing legendary Charlie Whittingham, said California Chrome did not show any indications that the rigors of racing 1 1/4 miles in such a large field had any negative effect on the colt.
"He's amazing," said Sherman, who was the exercise rider for 1955 Derby winner Swaps, another Cal-bred. "Today, he acted like he didn't even run. He was pushing me around. He didn't eat everything, he left a few oats, but his appetite is good."
Sherman said he will return to his California base Monday, May 5, but that California Chrome would remain at Churchill Downs for four or five days with his son and assistant, Alan. Another son, Steve, is also a trainer based at Golden Gate Fields.
Although he prefers to seven to eight weeks between races for his horses, Sherman said the lure of going on to the May 17 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and possibly winning the Triple Crown of three races in a five-week span is attractive.
"I am just satisfied this race is over," he said. "I just like to go one race at a time. It would be nice to say I would like to have a Triple Crown winner. I just hope I'm doing the right thing for the horse...I won't have to do much with him. He is a double tough horse."
NOVAK: Feel Good Horse, Feel Good Story in Derby 140
As the fourth California-bred to win the Derby and the first from that state since Decidedly in 1962, California Chrome rose from an obscure background to achieve classic success. His dam, the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, was bought for $8,000 and sire Lucky Pulpit stood for a $2,500 fee at Harris Farms the year in which California Chrome was conceived.
Sherman said he hopes the Derby victory answers critics who questioned the colt's abilities.
"They were saying he's from California and he hasn't beaten anybody," Sherman said of handicappers and turf writers.
"But that is not true. He beat some good horses. I think he is going to get a little more respect out of this race."
Sherman said he is also pleased that California Chrome's successes are helping reignite the California breeding and racing industries.
"They went crazy at Los Alamitos," Sherman said of Derby Day at the small California track where he is now based following the closure of Hollywood Park. "They went bananas at Santa Anita. You can't believe the response in California to this horse."
Now, the trainer will see if his Derby winner can keep that enthusiasm alive in Preakness.
Art Sherman reflects on his Kentucky Derby win the day after: