There were some people in life who were destined to be 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 what about trainer Art Sherman and the rookie owners of the California Chrome, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who hit the lottery with their first horse and never quite figured out their tremendous fortune?
Not so much.
Sherman, who announces his retirement this week at age 84, effective at the end of the year, is the gold standard for the 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.
Sherman said, “It was hard enough for me.” When Taylor Made (Farm) and the others got involved, it made my life a lot easier. They (Coburn and Martin) didn’t like each other, always. Used to fight and argue, and it was not a good scene for me. I am not in that kind of environment.
“They got so lucky to have a horse like that and never appreciated him so much. He was one of those weird types of horses that made it big and they got lucky. He hit the lotto, that’s what I did.” Told them.
Sherman will always be associated at the hip with the California Chrome, one of the most popular horses in the history of the sport. He became only the fourth Cal-bred to win the Kentucky Derby in 2014, joining Morwich (1922), Swaps (1955) and Decidley (1962), and was a two-time Horse of the Year.
Lucky Pulpit’s modest-born son, a $1,500 stallion, took Sherman on a journey he had never imagined. He went places and met people that would never have been the case for a remarkable chestnut horse that overcomes some owners who call themselves Dumb Ace 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 great horse to be with. It was great to have a once in a lifetime horse. He made just under $15 million, and that kind of money for a horse.” Earning is difficult.
“I still have people calling me about Chrome, and he’s always on Facebook. Even though he’s in Japan right now (Standing Stud), everyone[still talks about him].
Chrome won 16 of 27 races to earn $14,752,650. They won the Dubai World Cup in 2016, after finishing second the year before, and with their Derby and Preakness victories, beat Beholder in 2016 to become one of the best Pacific Classic appearances ever.
Sherman believes this was Chrome’s strongest run ever.
“I think winning the Pacific Classic (2016) was all-time for me,” he said. “I always thought the Pacific Classic was such a good race and it beat the beholder, and it was a great movie. I thought she’d be in trouble in that place, though. My horse was running so fast. When they did Letting him go ahead, I said, ‘This is what he likes. Just his ears are prickling.’ It was a highlight for me.”
The oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby at age 77, Sherman’s stables had shrunk to four horses and he knew it was time to bow down.
“I just thought my wife and I could still travel, the kids are doing fine now, it’s time for me to say, ‘Hey, do some other work in life,'” he said. “I think it is time. I could see that my stock is not the same. After you have had such good years, it is hard when you start to back off a little bit.”
Sherman, who became cancer-free after battling bladder cancer last year, has coached 2,261 winners to a net worth of $45.3 million. He has spent 66 years in the industry, starting a 23-year career as a jockey in 1955 at Hollywood Park. He used to do swap exercises at the age of 18.
Sherman recounts Swaps’ Derby-winning performance — “they (Kentuckians) don’t like cowboys and win their Derbys” — and how Chrome received little respect from many equestrians in 2014, when he dominated a Louisville Arrived anew with victory. Santa Anita Derby.
The California-bred, bred by a $1,500 stallion, shouldn’t have won America’s most famous horse race, or so the Kentucky Blue Bloods believe.
“It’s not like you’re not up against it, but sometimes you kick their ass anyhow,” Sherman said with a satisfied laugh.
That Derby win is one of many memories he will share with Faye, his wife of 62 years, and their two sons, Steve and Alan, who are also coaches. And he will remember how Chrome left most of the competition in his wake.
“Just try to catch him, that’s what you have to do,” Sherman said.
Most of the time, they couldn’t do that.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73