Wilson: Trainer Art Sherman reflects on California Chrome, horse racing career

There were some people in life that were destined to be joined at the hip, like Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy. They fit together perfectly, like milk and cookies, steak and eggs and peanut butter and jelly.

But trainer Art Sherman and California Chrome’s rookie owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who hit the lottery with their very first horse and never quite figured out their tremendous fortune?

Not so much.

Sherman, who announced his retirement this week at age 84 effective at the end of the year, is the gold standard for class in horse racing. Coburn and Martin? Not so much. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven, as Sherman revealed during a telephone interview this week.

“It was kind of difficult for me,” Sherman said. “When Taylor Made (Farm) and the other people got involved, it made my life a lot easier. They (Coburn and Martin) didn’t like each other, always fighting and arguing, and it wasn’t a good scene for me. I’m not into that type of atmosphere.

“They got so lucky to get a horse like that and never did appreciate him that great. He was just one of those freaky type of horses that made it big and they got lucky. They hit the lotto, is what I told ’em.”

Sherman will always be joined at the hip with California Chrome, one of the most popular horses in the sport’s history. He became only the fourth Cal-bred to win the Kentucky Derby in 2014, joining Morvich (1922), Swaps (1955) and Decidedly (1962), and was a two-time Horse of the Year.

The modestly-bred son of Lucky Pulpit, a $1,500 stallion, brought Sherman on a journey he never dreamed possible. He went places and met people he never would have if not for a remarkable chestnut horse who overcame a couple of owners who called themselves Dumb Ass Partners.

“I’ll never be able to duplicate anything like that,” Sherman said. “It was a ride I’ll never forget. He was such a nice horse to be with. It was great to have a once-in-a-lifetime type of horse. He made just under $15 million, and it’s hard for a horse to make that kind of money.

“I still have people calling me about Chrome, and he’s always on Facebook. Even though he’s in Japan now (standing stud), everybody (still talks about him).”

Chrome won 16 of 27 races for earnings of $14,752,650. He won the Dubai World Cup in 2016 after a second-place finish the year before and, along with his Derby and Preakness victories, turned in one of the best Pacific Classic performances ever when he beat Beholder in 2016.

Sherman believes it was Chrome’s strongest race.

“I think winning the Pacific Classic (2016) was the all-time go-getter for me,” he said. “I always thought the Pacific Classic was such a nice race and he beat Beholder, and she was a great filly. I thought she would be in trouble in that spot, though. My horse was coming into the race so sharp. When they let him go on the lead like they did, I said, ‘This is what he likes. Just pricking his ears.’ It was a highlight for me.”

At 77 the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, Sherman’s stable had shrunk to four horses and he knew it was time to bow out.

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