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John Clay: Derby-winning trainer prepares for another first

LOUISVILLE — Art Sherman hasn't been to Maryland in 55 years.

"I rode at Bowie in '59," he said Sunday. "That was the last time."

He's never been to nearby Pimlico Race Course.

"Never been to Pimlico," Sherman said the day after California Chrome, the horse he trained, won the Kentucky Derby. "I just happened to be at Bowie at the time. I was riding for an outfit called the Triple M Farm, and we had a good filly I was riding called Tinkalero, and she won three stakes in a row. I always liked Maryland. I got to meet (Richard) Nixon."

That was fun since Sherman and the then-vice president were from Whittier, Calif., and attended the same high school.

"It's a very interesting game," Sherman said of racing. "You always meet so many different people."

Saturday evening, about the time California Chrome hit the finish line first, life got a lot more interesting for the 77-year-old who became the oldest trainer to win the Derby.

Early Sunday — by early, we mean 5 a.m. — Sherman was at Barn 20 to check on Chrome, who was sleeping. Having not made it to bed until 1:30 a.m., he took a short nap on a couch in fellow trainer Tom Proctor's office.

Sherman awoke to gawkers and media. The latter wanted to know about the next step, about the Preakness, which will be May 17 at Pimlico.

Nixon "followed me back with J. Edgar Hoover to the jock's room," remembered Sherman of the trip to Bowie Race Course in 1959. "I like Richard Nixon because he liked horse racing. They said on the headlines the next morning, 'Old Neighbors Meet' because we went to Whittier High School, too. That was pretty cool."

The whole thing is pretty cool. In the era of super trainers and superbarns, the Kentucky Derby was won by a regular trainer in Sherman, a former jockey, and for a pair of regular owners in Steve Coburn and Perry Martin.

"I had never had the big stables or the money people behind me," Sherman said Sunday. "Just the mom-and-pop operations and people that were always good friends. I have a lot of partnerships in horses with different people, so it's a different ballgame beating all the big boys."

Now, he could do a very big thing. California Chrome has been an unstoppable force, winning five straight races and looking much the best in each.

It has been 36 years since a horse won the Triple Crown, but California Chrome might have the best shot at snapping the streak of any Kentucky Derby winner in quite some time.

He has to stay healthy, of course. He has to handle the attention that will mushroom in Maryland. And Sherman admitted Sunday that he is not wild about running horses back in two weeks.

"I'm not going to be no fancy works, no fancy this, just keep him fresh," said the trainer. "He just got through running a mile and a quarter. The next race is a mile and three-sixteenths. Isn't it?"

Yes, it is.

"You're going a mile and a quarter with the best horses in the country and then come back in two weeks," Sherman said. "You've got to have a super horse, you really do."

True, Chrome's Derby winning time of 2:03.66 was not super. Untapable earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure for winning the Kentucky Oaks on Friday. Chrome registered just a 97 for his Derby win.

But Untapable trainer Steve Asmussen said Sunday that his prize filly would not be headed to the Preakness. He'll send her to New York for the Acorn and Mother Goose.

Meanwhile. Bob Baffert indicated that Hoppertunity, who missed the Derby because of a foot issue, won't be making the trip to Baltimore, either. Before the injury, Hoppertunity was second in the Derby morning line.

Then again, Hoppertunity lost by 5¼ lengths to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.

And co-owner Coburn said flat-out Saturday that Chrome would win the Triple Crown.

"Oh, gosh, my owner," Sherman said Sunday. "They're very positive people and fun to be around."

So it's on to Maryland. That figures to be a lot of fun, too.

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