California Chrome after winning the San Felipe Stakes.

California Chrome after winning the San Felipe Stakes.

Benoit Photography

Pressure Off Sherman After 'Chrome's Dazzler

San Felipe winning trainer hasn't decided on next step for unlikely Derby-bound colt.

Following a dazzling win from California Chrome  in the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) March 8 at Santa Anita Park, trainer Art Sherman says he can concentrate on the best way to get to this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

"I’m not making any plans (for his next race), you know what I mean?" said the 77-year-old Sherman, whose long years of toil are being rewarded by the unlikely California-bred colt. "I’m in the Derby now; I’ve got enough points. That took a lot of pressure off me. I’m just going to play it by ear. There is a chance we might go to the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I)."

Speaking by phone to the Santa Anita publicity department March 9, Sherman added, "The horse has to let me know. He came out of the race good, he ate up last night. I was happy. He’s a cool horse. I just don’t want to do too much with him.

"We’re on the Derby trail and I know it’s tough. I’ve been there before as a kid with other people’s horses, but I know how grueling it is getting up to that point."

Sherman returned California Chrome to his headquarters at Los Alamitos Race Course following his front-running 7 1/2-length romp in the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe. The chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit, owned and bred by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, has been training at Los Al since departing Betfair Hollywood Park at the end of January.

Sherman said he arrived at the barn very early Sunday to check on his prized colt. "You get a little nervous thinking about it," he commented.

California Chrome's winning time of 1:40.59 was the second-quickest in the 77-year-history of the San Felipe.

With the victory, California Chrome earned 50 qualifying points, assuring him a spot in the starting gate for the 140th renewal of the Kentucky Derby May 3. California Chrome would be attempting to be the first Cal-bred winner of America's most famous race since Decidedly in 1962.

As a teenage “kid,” Sherman went to work for Rex Ellsworth and accompanied the mighty California-bred Swaps to the Derby in 1955 and later to Chicago for his match race against the vaunted Nashua.

“He’s Derby-bound,” the Brooklyn-born Sherman confirmed of California Chrome. “He looked like Swaps turning down the lane. I was amazed. You think a horse might win by a length or two. I’m not used to seeing him draw off by five or six.

“He’s peaking at the right time. The horse has been super, he’s putting on weight, he looked excellent in the paddock. I said, ‘My, he looks like a race horse today.’”

Sherman, a former jockey who enjoyed his best year as a trainer in 2007 when he won 207 races and $4,023,669 in purse money, isn’t about to be counting his roses before they bloom.

“I still have to go to Kentucky and try the big boys,” he said. “So far, all this has been great, not only for me and the horse, but for (owners/breeders) Steve and Perry. We’re just a mom and pop operation.”

Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome in his past three races, all stakes wins, noted, “Yesterday was his most impressive race since I’ve been riding him, but I believe he still has more left. I just took it easy with him yesterday. I think he’ll be even better at a mile and a quarter. We’ll find out how good he is as we go along, but he’s an amazing horse right now.”

Out of the winning Not For Love mare Love the Chase, California Chrome has won five of nine starts while earnings to $534,850.