Another Sherman makes news

May, 18, 2014

This has been a pretty good year for people named Sherman.

At the start of the year, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman used his rant on a 49ers receiver and a lopsided Super Bowl win over the Denver Broncos to become a Twitter titan and emerge as one of the league's best and most famous players.

Now, in the spring of his 77th year, a trainer named Art Sherman has introduced himself to America in a confident yet much more genteel manner.

Instead of borrowing words from the Seahawks' controversial DB, Art Sherman lets a once-in-a-lifetime horse named California Chrome do the bulk of the talking for him.

On Saturday in front of a record crowd of 123,469 at Pimlico -- larger than the one at the Super Bowl -- California Chrome delivered his equine brand of smack by registering a length-and-a-half victory over Ride On Curlin in the $1.5 million Preakness, putting him in line to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

The win was the sixth in a row for California Chrome, and if he can stretch that streak to seven, that lucky number will give racing what it has so desperately sought since that 1978 afternoon when Affirmed fended off Alydar to become the 11th Triple Crown champion.

Twelve horses in the last 36 years have failed to complete the sweep after winning the first two legs of the series, but after Saturday, things are certainly looking up on that front.

"After watching him run today I think he can really go a mile and a half," Sherman said. "He's a horse that will rate, and when you have a speed horse that will rate, they are always dangerous."

One of the central figures in this feelgood story is a trainer who has become somewhat of a poster boy for the AARP set, by arising from obscurity in his 70s and becoming a national sensation without the slightest bit of help from a microphone. A stranger to million-dollar races at the start of the year, he now sits atop the racing world with a horse that on June 7 can become an immortal if he can withstand the pressure and demands of a grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes.

It took more than 60 years in racing, but fame and fortune has finally found Art Sherman.

"Well, I'm kind of getting used to it," he said about his newfound popularity. "After I won the Kentucky Derby, I said, 'Wow, all of a sudden I feel like Willie Nelson, the old rock star, coming through the airport.' So I'm getting kind of used to it.

"Sometimes I need to take my little siesta for about an hour. I call it just charging my battery a little bit, and then I'm OK."


After watching him run today I think he can really go a mile and a half.

" -- Art Sherman, trainer for California Chrome
Sherman worked in a short snooze before the Preakness and then reveled in a moment that brought tears to his eyes.

"Oh, you've got to have a tear," Sherman said. "I've got my whole family here. We worked hard all year and [jockey] Victor [Espinoza] rode him perfect. It's a dream for any trainer to do this.

"I was always kind of a claiming type of trainer. Now I'm up there with all the big boys, and I'm saying, 'Wow.'"

Wow indeed.

The words will become more profuse and plentiful if Sherman and the obscurely bred California Chrome can script a finish in New York to match the one he penned in Kentucky and Maryland.

Saturday's Preakness was probably California Chrome's shining moment, more so than even the Derby. Some say he capitalized on a slow pace and final time to capture the Run for the Roses. But there was nothing tainted about the Preakness.

A 1-2 favorite in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, California Chrome was expected to win at Pimlico. But on the third Saturday in May he won in a tremendous display of heart, talent and class.

Perfectly positioned on the backstretch stalking Pablo Del Monte and the filly Ria Antonia, he was joined from the outside by Social Inclusion, the 5-1 second choice in the wagering. At that moment, it became crystal clear that California Chrome would have to earn this victory as he was running alongside his biggest threat. It was a lively battle ... for a short while. Then, turning for home, California Chrome put Social Inclusion away and spurted clear to a three-length lead at the eighth pole.

Ride On Curlin posed the final threat, and for a brief second, it appeared as if he might extend the Triple Crown drought into a 37th year. But at the moment that separates champions from pretenders, California Chrome kept on running and held Ride On Curlin at a safe distance to set the stage for the first Triple Crown bid in the Belmont since 2008 (excluding 2012, when I'll Have Another won the Derby and Preakness, but was injured and scratched from the Belmont Stakes).

Now it's off to Belmont Park, where one of the sport's greatest rags-to-riches stories will get Hollywood treatment in the Big Apple. It's bound to be a Broadway smash. The obscurely bred colt. The self-proclaimed "dumbass" owners, who are still two average Joes who work 9-5 jobs. A jockey, in Espinoza, looking to make amends for a failed Triple Crown bid aboard War Emblem in the 2002 Belmont.

And then, there's Sherman. The former jockey and exercise rider who was a mystery man outside of California, but who is a skilled enough trainer that he took an unknown California-bred with only two wins in his first five starts and turned him into a runner who just might be good enough to be elevated to the status of Affirmed, Seattle Slew and Secretariat.

On June 7 we'll know whether he belongs in that elite company. And if California Chrome provides a third loud, ear-ringing answer to that question about his abilities, a man named Sherman will have something to say. Even if he doesn't have 900,000 followers on Twitter.

And this time, no one will cringe. America will just smile.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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