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Sherman enjoying his new place in the history books with California Chrome
Steven Coburn and Perry Martin's homebred California Chrome carved his name in the history books Saturday afternoon at Churchill Downs, earning himself the right to sleep in until 6 a.m. (EDT) Sunday morning in Barn 20 at Churchill Downs.
"He's fine," Art Sherman, the newest oldest trainer at age 77 to win a Kentucky Derby, reported to an early-bird gathering of media types Sunday at the barn.
"He left just a handful of grain in his tub last night, but that's all. His appetite was good. He got a little tired, but not too bad. (Jockey) Victor (Espinoza) told me yesterday that he did get a bit tired on him at the end; that he eased him a bit that last 70 yards. He said he didn't ask him for too much thinking about saving something for the next one, for the Preakness."
Espinoza began to draw clear from his 18 rivals inside the quarter-pole, but mostly kept busy aboard his mount through the lane. He popped California Chrome three times on the flank, but mostly just waved his whip alongside his head to give him encouragement. His final winning margin was 1 3/4 lengths.
Sherman was asked if he was concerned at any point during California Chrome's winning Derby run.
"Not really," he said. "When Victor broke clear and got a good position, I knew we were good. (Espinoza) told me after he had some thoughts about sending him away from there to avoid any trouble, but that he liked his position. He didn't want to get forced down on the rail and he was looking around from side to side to see what the other riders were doing, but he held his position. I saw that the fractions weren't that fast -- :47 (1/5) for the half isn't fast for this horse -- and I saw Victor had a good spot and hadn't let him run at all yet, so I was happy."
Sherman was asked if he had other concerns about the son of Lucky Pulpit and a possible run toward the Triple Crown.
"I try to take these races one at a time," he said. "But I'm always concerned about my horses. You know how fragile they are, so you've got to be concerned. It's just how they are.
"But I'm really happy for this horse and what he did yesterday. I know there was talk here that he wasn't really a good horse, that he was only a 'California' horse. I knew he was a really good horse, but now everyone else does, too. He beat good horses in good style and there's no denying that now.
"He's peaking now. He's full of himself. And the nice thing about him is that you can do anything you want with him. Victor said that when he won the Derby with War Emblem (in 2002) he knew he was only a one-dimensional horse -- he had to go to the front. This horse gives you options. He has the speed to be in front, but he doesn't have to be. He's just a really cool horse.
"He's a double-tough little horse and I want to keep him around. I think he'll be a terrific four-year-old."
The conditioner said he and his entourage had had a late dinner at his hotel (The Brown) by way of celebration and that it was about 12:45 a.m. when he toddled off to bed. He said he got about four hours sleep before he headed back to the racetrack to check on his charge.
Sherman, who trains about 20 horses at his Los Alamitos headquarters in Orange County, California, indicated he'd be headed back to Southern California Monday morning. His son and assistant trainer, Alan Sherman, would stay on with California Chrome.
"I heard it erupted at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos when he won yesterday," Sherman said. "I was told they went bananas. I'm glad for everyone in California. He's a rock star."
Sherman said the 139th running of the Preakness on May 17 at Pimlico was the next goal for California Chrome.
Sherman confirmed his plans to run the gleaming chestnut in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown during a Sunday morning phone call with Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas and two other Preakness officials. Pimlico officials traditionally call the winner of the Kentucky Derby to extend a formal invitation to come to Baltimore.
"He came out of the race and looks really good," Sherman said. "I'm thinking we might keep him here four or five days, then van him up there. We could fly him, but we'll have to see."
Although he likes to give his horses plenty of time between races, Sherman said he expects that California Chrome will be ready for the Preakness.
"Two weeks, I've never run him back that quick," Sherman said. "I'm not that kind of guy. I thought even a month after the Santa Anita Derby to the Kentucky Derby was kind of quick, but he seems to respond and come back."
Sherman has a connection with another California-bred Derby winner in Swaps as that one's exercise rider. That Hall of Famer actually shipped back to the Golden State after the 1955 Run for the Roses, skipping the rest of the Triple Crown.
Times have changed, though, and a Derby winner is very unlikely to miss the second leg of the Triple Crown for anything other than injury or illness these days.
"To be honest, I'm not real comfortable with running him back in two weeks, but I know that's what we're bound to do," Sherman reiterated. "I don't normally run any kind of horse back in two weeks, not even lowly claimers. I'm more the kind of guy who likes to wait seven or eight weeks between races. These horses run hard and they need time to recover."
Sherman plans to keep California Chrome at Churchill Downs and isn't sure when and how his charge will head up to Baltimore, though Preakness officials are working with the horseman to get the colt to Pimlico on May 12.
"Five days at Pimlico would be perfect for me," Sherman said. "That way I wouldn't have to do much with him. Just school him, stand him in the gate and let him get familiarized with the surroundings."
Sherman, who is based in California, said he has not been to Maryland since he rode at the old Bowie Race Course in 1959. Sherman indicated he rode a few races at Laurel during his 23-year career as a jockey, but has never been to Pimlico.
Though he set a record as the oldest Derby-winning trainer, Sherman, 77, is not in contention to claim that record in the Preakness. "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons was 82 when Bold Ruler won in 1957.
Surrounded by the throng of media Sunday, Sherman grinned as he reflected on California Chrome's Derby victory, the first by a California-bred horse since Decidedly in 1962.
"It's pretty cool, I can tell you," he said. "You wake up in the morning and say, 'Hey, wait a minute, I just won the Kentucky Derby.' It's a dream come true for me. I've been in the game for so long. It's one of those things that is very rare; I never had the big stable or the money people behind me, just mom and pop operations and people that were always good friends.
"I have a lot of partnerships in horses with different people, so it's a different ballgame for me. Beating all the big boys and maybe they had their doubts that this horse wasn't a runner -- you hear, 'Oh, he didn't look good on the track' -- but when you run against him you find out. He's the real McCoy, this one."
While Sherman will be returning to Maryland for the first time in 55 years, California Chrome has a much more recent connection.
Alberto Delgado, who guided Forest Justice to victory in the Sunday opener at Pimlico and finished second in the 1995 Preakness aboard Oliver's Twist, rode the chestnut colt to two victories last year at Hollywood Park. The 49-year-old's brother, Willie, is also the exercise rider for the Derby winner.
"I haven't talked to my brother yet," Delgado said. "It is bittersweet. We knew he was a good horse all along. When I broke his maiden (on May 17, 2013), I told them he would win the Derby. That how nice he was. I am happy for the connections. They are really good people. I hope they win the Preakness and the Belmont and think they will."