It's been nearly 60 years since Art Sherman had a horseman's interest in the Kentucky Derby. He was 18 in 1955 when he accompanied the great Swaps and his trainer Mesh Tenney to Churchill Downs to prepare the colt for his victory in the Run for the Roses 59 years ago.
If the fates allow, Sherman, now 77, will make it back to Louisville, Kentucky, for the 140th classic, this year with California Chrome, like Swaps a California-bred chestnut.
Sherman is advised to enjoy the ride, from no less an authority than Doug O'Neill, who fulfilled every trainer's dream two years ago by winning the Derby with 15-1 longshot I'll Have Another. After winning the Preakness, the upstart three-year-old came within hailing distance of going for the Triple Crown but was sidelined with an 11th-hour injury a day before the Belmont Stakes.
But first things first, and for streaking California Chrome, that would be Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, a race O'Neill won the last two years, with Goldencents in 2013 and I'll Have Another in 2012.
O'Neill's bubble burst when he returned to the Kentucky Derby last year with Goldencents, who faded to 17th after prompting the pace in the 1 1/4-mile race. Lesson learned: the Derby is not a race to take for granted. Enjoy the ride.
O'Neill offered these words for Sherman: "Bring a good horse, which he has in California Chrome. The couple times we've been blessed to experience the Derby, it was about having a horse you have a lot of confidence in, and I know Art's got a lot of confidence in California Chrome."
As for hitting the Derby trail? "He's going to have the time of his life."
Sherman explained California Chrome's regimen at Los Alamitos, from whence horses are running with noticeable success at Santa Anita, including Sherman's first-time starter Big Break, who won Saturday's 1ST race by nearly eight lengths:
"We jog California Chrome clean past the five-eighths pole, turn him around and gallop once completely around and then again, so he gets about two miles a day, galloping," Sherman said. "The farther he goes, the better he likes it."
The Santa Anita Derby will mark the first time in his training career Sherman will enter a horse in a $1 million race.
"He walked today following his workout yesterday and I'll bring him to Santa Anita no later than Wednesday," Sherman said of California Chrome.
While the field for next Saturday's Santa Anita Derby is not yet set, Santa Anita's oddsmaker, Jon White, has already determined which three-year-old he will install as the morning-line favorite for the Grade 1 event.
"I will be making California Chrome the morning-line favorite," said White, who also provides pre-race television commentary for the track's simulcast network. "Right now, I don't know what price I will be making him since we don't yet know exactly who is going to be entered. The size of the field and whether or not Bayern is entered will impact the morning-line prices for California Chrome, Candy Boy and everybody else.
"One of the many things I will be taking into consideration when deciding the morning-line prices for California Chrome and Candy Boy is there was not a great deal of difference in their final odds in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool that closed yesterday before the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby were run.
"California Chrome and Cairo Prince each closed at 9-1, with a little more money bet on California Chrome. A total of $18,433 was bet on California Chrome, while $17,793 was wagered on Cairo Prince. That made California Chrome the actual betting favorite among the 23 individual horses.
"But, like I said, there wasn't a big difference between California Chrome and Candy Boy. Candy Boy closed at 13-1. Candy Boy was a lower price than Bayern and Hoppertunity, who both closed at 15-1.
"California Chrome was a 7-5 favorite in the San Felipe. He won by 7 1/4 lengths and recorded a 107 Beyer Speed Figure in what I would say was the most impressive performance by a three-year-old in California this year. California Chrome now has run three big races in a row. He also has become quite a popular horse.
"So, all things considered, I will be surprised if California Chrome is not the favorite when they leave the starting gate in the Santa Anita Derby."
Post positions for the Santa Anita Derby will be drawn on Wednesday. First post time next Saturday will be noon (PDT).
Possible at this point for the West Coast's major steppingstone to the May 3 Kentucky Derby are California Chrome, Bayern, Hoppertunity, Candy Boy, Dublin Up, Big Tire, Friendswith K Mill, Rprettyboyfloyd, The Admiral and Schoolofhardrocks.
In other Santa Anita Derby Day news:
Rebel winner Hoppertunity worked in company Saturday morning for trainer Bob Baffert, going five furlongs under Martin Garcia in 1:01 1/5 on Santa Anita's fast track.
Eoin Harty is looking forward to two things for Arethusa in Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks: added distance and a track that's not speed favoring.
"She will certainly appreciate the extra distance," said Harty, who trains the daughter of A.P. Indy for owner/breeder Darley America.
Arethusa rallied from seventh and last to finish third by 1 1/4 lengths to front-running winner Fashion Plate in the February 1 Las Virgenes going one mile.
As to her chances of winning, Harty didn't dance around diplomatically.
"It all depends on how the track is," he said, "because if it's the same way it was for the Big 'Cap and the San Felipe, she'll be running for minor placings."
Agent Brian Beach reports that Victor Espinoza will ride Artemis for Jerry Hollendorfer in the Santa Anita Oaks. The likely field currently stands at Arethusa, Rafael Bejarano; Artemis, Espinoza; Fashion Plate, Gary Stevens; Honey Ride, Tyler Baze; and Ria Antonia, Mike Smith.