California Chrome a breed apart

Posted: May 16, 2014

IT WAS the Tuesday morning before the Kentucky Derby, maybe 2 minutes after I met Art Sherman. He was telling me stories, punctuating them by hitting me lightly on the arm to emphasize his points, laughing, having a great time. I felt like I had known him forever.

When we started talking about the horse he trains, I explained I had jumped on the California Chrome bandwagon 2 months before and was riding it to the finish line, telling everybody I knew the horse could not lose.

When I got a one-on-one audience in the Derby Museum 2 hours after the Derby, Sherman told me: "You put yourself on the line. Now, you'll be a hero."

I explained that I was just a guy with an opinion. He was the hero who did all the work.

One of the colt's owners said he knew CC was going to win the Derby the day after he was born. The trainer was a bit more realistic. He grew very confident after talking to jockey Victor Espinoza following the colt's runaway win in the Santa Anita Derby.

"When I talked to Victor after the race, he told me, 'Art, he win easy.' That made me get pumped up," Sherman said.

The trainer, 77, is still pumped up. He went home to his 55-and-over community in Rancho Bernardo, Calif. His horse stayed in Kentucky before flying to Baltimore Monday to get ready for Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico. Sherman rejoined his horse on Tuesday.

Art and his wife Faye loved their time in Kentucky, but were really looking forward to their trip home.

"I will be big there," Faye said. "I bet everybody asks me to play bridge there now. Now, everybody will be wanting me to play."

Of course they will.

"When I walk my dog in the morning, they'll all come out," Faye said.

Faye worked at the Bay Meadows gift shop for 30 years. Theirs was a no-frill existence. Art won races, but never the big races.

Bay Meadows no longer exists. Hollywood Park, where California Chrome announced Dec. 22 that he had Derby potential, has closed down.

Art and Faye Sherman are in Baltimore with the Derby winner.

"I never had a good horse to train like this horse," Sherman said.

Now, the jockey turned trainer does have that good horse and he has made no mistakes.

"As the years went by and [observing] the people I rode for, I was always the kind of kid that watched the good trainers and learned how they prepared horses," Sherman said. "It gave me a kind of a pattern."

The trainer's life came full circle in Kentucky where he watched the horse he accompanied on a train East win the 1955 Derby. That was California bred Swaps. Now that he is in Maryland, California Chrome's life has come full circle.

A few days after Big Brown overwhelmed the field in the 2008 Preakness, trainer Greg Gilchrist purchased a 2-year-old filly at Timonium, exactly 9 miles north of Pimlico.

Love the Chase cost $30,000. Gilchrist brought her back to his Northern California base where she would run for her owners, Blinkers On Racing.

"Her confirmation was good," Gilchrist said. "She was by that Maryland sire [Not For Love] that's done very well. She just wasn't very big."

Gilchrist told the owner she was definitely worth the money that they just "have to hope she grows."

"She didn't grow," Gilchrist remembered.

They sprinted her three times. She finished fourth, sixth and sixth. Gilchrist suggested they try her in a little longer race for the cheapest price at Golden Gate Fields.

"Just see if we can catch a bad bunch and maybe we can get lucky," Gilchrist said.

They caught a bad bunch. Love the Chase won, but ran very slowly.

"It was probably the slowest maiden race in the state of California that year," Gilchrist said.

That would have been Feb, 7, 2009.

The trainer suggested if the owners could find a buyer, they should sell because, "I don't think she'll win another race in this state."

One of the owners in the group was Perry Martin. He liked the filly and bought her for $8,000 from the group, teaming up with Steve Coburn.

They gave Love the Chase to another trainer. She ran last twice and was retired. Really, that should have been the end of the story. Instead, the partners decided to breed her to Lucky Pulpit, a $2,500 stallion, a horse that won two of his first three races and then lost 18 of his last 19.

"And I'm sitting home watching on TV and they're winning the Kentucky Derby so there you go," Gilchrist said.

The owners are impossible not to like. They don't know what they don't know. They actually think this is supposed to happen. And it is happening with the first horse they ever bred. They were certain they were going to win the Derby. They are certain they are going to win the Triple Crown.

There is just one answer: It's horse racing.

"If anybody else but those guys had purchased the filly, we'd have never known who Love the Chase was," Gilchrist said. "She tried. There was nothing wrong with her. She just had no talent and she was very small."

Now, she is the mother of the 2014 Derby winner.

Gilchrist won 1,529 races in a decorated career. He trained the brilliant sprinter Lost in the Fog. He knows a good horse. He saddled his last horse May 5, 2010. Now, he just buys and sells them. And he will be at Timonium this week, looking for a horse that can run a lot faster than Love the Chase.

"I guess that's why people stay in the game," Gilchrist said. "I don't know what's longer odds, hitting the lottery or what they've done. I can just tell you she's a helluva lot better broodmare than she ever was a race horse. That part is for sure."

The owners, Gilchrist said, "have never wavered in their faith."

Two weeks before the Derby, Gilcrhist got a call from a "very prominent farm owner and breeder in the state of Kentucky."

Gilchrist was instructed to call and offer Martin $750,000 for that mare, Love the Chase, the one the guys that call themselves "Dumb Ass Partners" bought for $8,000. And they would get an additional $250,000 for every leg of the Triple Crown CC might win. Naturally, they turned it down, kept rolling the dice and stayed at the table, now with the Derby winner, the mare that foaled him and the many millions both are now worth.

"Well, about 3 weeks prior to the colt's birth, I had a dream," Coburn said. "I woke up and I told my wife I had a dream. She said, 'About what?' I said 'The baby.' I said, 'I believe it's going to be a big chestnut colt' . . . We drove over, saw him the day after he was born. She walked up to that birthing stall, said, 'Come here, there is your dream.' That dream became the dream that we have today. We held onto that dream. I've said it a hundred times or a thousand times, you got a dream, if you're willing to ride the dream out, they will come true for you. We're living proof of it."

Everything about California Chrome has been very bad business and proof that good business can be overrated. The Preakness awaits.


Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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