26 March 2015, Dubai,UAE ~ For 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman and the connections of California Chrome (USA), the dream that they still live in began on April 26, 2013, when a raw, chestnut racehorse with a big white blaze and marginal pedigree made his first career start at the now defunct Hollywood Park.
“As a two-year-old he was awful green and all over the racetrack,” Sherman recalls.
The exercise rider for 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps and a winner of more than 2,000 races as both a jockey and trainer, Sherman knows a good horse when he sees one, but he admits that California Chrome’s progress and eventual stardom took him by complete surprise.
“He started growing and developing and all of a sudden he kept getting better after each race,” said Sherman. “He won six races in a row and in San Felipe he won by eight just being eased and it gave me goose pimples. I was like ‘wow, I hope he runs this good in the Santa Anita Derby’.” That he did. “He beat a field of top horses (in the Santa Anita Derby) and won easily,” Sherman said. “Then I felt I had a real chance in the (Kentucky) Derby and he didn’t prove me wrong.”
A win in the Preakness followed the Kentucky Derby triumph, but an attempt to become the first American Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, failed. He finished fourth. Less than two lengths separated California Chrome from racing immortality.
Despite the deflating defeat, in the eyes of his adoring ‘Chromies’, California Chrome lost no lustre and the likeable great grandfather Sherman remained racing’s darling.
“I call him the California rock star,” Sherman said of his prized racehorse. “He’s got such a following all over the world. I thought nobody would know me in Dubai but from the moment I stepped off the plane, people said ‘there’s California Chrome’s trainer’.”
“Everybody wants you,” Sherman continued. “Royal Ascot and Hong Kong want me there. He’s kind of like a drawing magnet for racing right now.”
First things first. As the international favourite, California Chrome will enter the starting gate on Saturday attempting to become the third Kentucky Derby winner to succeed in the Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates, joining Silver Charm (1998) and Animal Kingdom (2013).
“He’s kind of push button,” Sherman said of California Chrome. “He’s not a one-dimensional horse and that’s important. Just keep him in the clear and have a place to go. That’s all I ask.”
Another chapter to California Chrome’s unlikely story will be written on Saturday, but win, lose or draw, Sherman is well aware of the impact his horse has already made on a variety of levels.
“By a $2,500 stud out of a maiden $8,000 claiming mare, to come by and win all these races, it gives an incentive to the little guy,” Sherman said.
“This is a game where you can buy your way into a lot of things, but we are proof that a dream can happen. You don’t have to be a millionaire or a billionaire to win these kinds of races. In the end, I’d like to leave some sort of legacy with him that says ‘wow, I remember California Chrome, he was a great horse and we had a lot of fun watching him run’.”