Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) hopeful California Chrome
made his first trip to the track at Pimlico Race Course
the morning of May 13, a day after arriving at the Baltimore track.
Exercise rider Willie Delgado took the big chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit
out for a tour of the one-mile track at 6:45 a.m. EDT, approximately 16 hours after he arrived at the Preakness Stakes Barn on a trip from Louisville, Ky.
"He jogged and he was great," said assistant trainer Alan Sherman, who has managed the horse since the Derby while his father, Art, has tended to the rest of his stable in Southern California. "He stood out there for a while, just looked around and took it all in. He's a really curious horse. He likes to look around a lot and check out the surroundings. He was good. He was really good."
Alan Sherman said the California-bred colt has settled in nicely in Stall 40, traditionally the Pimlico home of the Kentucky Derby winner. The next step, Sherman said, was to let the horse check out the track while stretching his legs and getting a feel for the surface.
"Yeah, just let him look around," Alan Sherman said. "When he gallops, I want him to be focused on what he's doing and not be looking around and stub his toe or anything."
Art Sherman, 77, arrived from California Tuesday afternoon and will be at Pimlico when California Chrome returns to the track at 6:45 Wednesday morning.
"He looks great," said the elder Sherman said after greeting the colt in the Preakness Stakes Barn. "He's holding his weight, which is one of the big factors."
"He is enjoying the ride immensely," Alan Sherman said of his father, "but he's not a young guy and was getting a little tired toward the end of all that. He's fresh now."
Art Sherman enjoyed a hero's welcome when he returned to Los Alamitos, where California Chrome is based.
"When I went back to Los Alamitos, where his home base is, on the marquee, it said, 'California Chrome, Home of the Kentucky Derby Winner," he said. "It was really cool. It's very exciting to have a Derby horse. You think you maybe have a shot for the Triple Crown. You don't know. I'm the kind of guy who goes race by race, but I wouldn't want to be in anyone else's shoes."
California Chrome's emergence from promising young horse to the leader of his division with his resounding Derby victory has put the Shermans in the spotlight. Art Sherman has spent 60 years in the business as a stable hand, exercise rider, jockey, and trainer. Alan Sherman works for his father. Alan's brother, Steve, is a trainer in Northern California. The Sherman family is enjoying its ride with California Chrome.
"It's pretty awesome," Alan Sherman said. "Every year when you get the 2-year-olds in you're saying, 'Maybe this will be the one that will get us to the Derby,' but we've been saying that for a lot of years now and we finally made it. It's really special."
California Chrome, bred and owned by Steven Coburn and Perry Martin, brings a five-race winning streak into the Preakness, but he wasn't an overnight sensation. He won two of his first six starts, most of them races against other California-bred horses before he stepped forward.
"In the King Glorious, the last stakes at Hollywood Park (Dec. 22), that opened my eyes up. Then he just kept getting better," Alan Sherman said. "Then he won the California Breeders' Derby and that was another impressive race. But the San Felipe (gr. II) was probably when I went, 'Wow.' It was the first time against open company and he just broke two in front and won so easy that day. I was pretty excited about that one."
After the San Felipe, California Chrome won the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) by 5 1/4 lengths, a performance that made him the Derby favorite. His victory at Churchill Downs on May 3 made Art Sherman the oldest trainer to win the Derby and punctuated a solid career.
"My dad is so deserving of it," Alan Sherman said. "He works hard. He goes to the sales and buys horses himself and claims horses with his own money. He puts up his own money. He deserves it."
Having prevailed from the 19-horse Derby, in which several participants ran into traffic, California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza move to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, a slightly shorter test at 1 3/16 miles with 10 likely starters.
"You're not going to get the traffic problems, hopefully," Alan Sherman said. "You can get in traffic problems in a four-horse race, but it's not 20, by any means. And he's got enough turn of foot. All Victor has to do is squeeze on him a little bit and he can keep himself out of trouble."
When someone asked him what the worst possible scenario might be, Alan Sherman grinned and said, "Losing." Sherman understood that the question was about race dynamics and quickly said the colt's versatility would enable Espinoza to ride the race as it develops.
"If they go too slow in front, he'll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him. If they are going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace," he said. "That's the good thing about him; that he doesn't have one style of running. He's pretty push-button. If you ask him he'll do it."
California Chrome, who became the first California-bred horse to win the Run for the Roses in 52 years, would be the fifth horse bred in the Golden State to win the Preakness, joining Snow Chief (1986), Candy Spots (1963), Kalitan (1917), and Old England (1902).
"It means a lot to the whole industry and to racing, which we needed," said Art Sherman, who rode at Bowie Race Course in 1959 but was making his first visit to Pimlico Wednesday. "We need stars right now and I think we've got a chance."