Alan Sherman an unsung hero in California Chrome's run to glory

awincze@herald-leader.comMay 30, 2014 

  • BELMONT STAKES

    What: Third leg of horse racing's Triple Crown

    When: Saturday, June 7

    Where: Elmont, N.Y.

From the record-keeping side of things, Alan Sherman is not the front man for the operation that has transcended the confines of Thoroughbred racing the past four weeks.

It is not his name that appears in the details of any past-performance sheets, nor will his full moniker be engraved on a certain Cartier-designed, three-sided piece of hardware if said trophy gets presented for the first time in 36 years come the evening of June 7.

Such details are minutia for those in the camp of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome, however.

The true measure of what Alan Sherman has meant to his father, to the Triple Crown hopeful in his care and to the crew who have been thrust into a cross-country groundswell of joy is best illustrated by the fact that nary a meaningful moment has transpired in California Chrome's life without Alan's stout frame on the end of his lead shank.

Trainer Art Sherman has repeatedly spoken in recent weeks about the grand fortune that has shone on him at this stage in his career. The most fortuitous aspect of the 77-year-old's development of California Chrome might be that he can leave the best horse he has ever conditioned in the hands of his 45-year-old son and assistant, safe in the knowledge that better care could hardly be asked for.

From the time California Chrome arrived in Louisville in advance of his Kentucky Derby triumph to when he heroically exited the Preakness Stakes bound for his Triple Crown attempt in the Belmont Stakes next Saturday, Alan Sherman has been at the forefront of the whirlwind. It's an intangible that goes far beyond the indelible image of him spinning himself onto the Churchill Downs track, arms in the air, tears down his face, in the final strides of their colt's triumph on the first Saturday in May.

Where his father has had to return to his California base between classics to oversee the rest of their stable at Los Alamitos, Alan Sherman hasn't left California Chrome's side and has taken on his own lion's share of the duties that come with having a horse on the brink of becoming just the 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

"I tell you, I wouldn't know what to do without Alan, he's my right-hand guy," Art Sherman said. "He's been with this horse ever since he's been a baby and since he's come to the barn. He has so much confidence in him and I know he's doing the right thing. He knows my pattern on training the horse.

"I really think he's doing a super job. I can't even describe it. He's my son and we're very close."

Like his father, Alan Sherman is a former jockey, though he jokes he "ate himself" out of that line of work and into his size 9 feet after only a few years.

"I was really light when I started riding (in 1986) but I was only 17 at the time," Alan Sherman recalls. "Through my apprentice time, I didn't have any problems with my weight but once I lost my apprentice and gained the five pounds, my body was like sponge."

On the back of a horse or not, being at the track was never up for negotiation as to what Alan Sherman's career path would ultimately involve. Having previously worked under Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham, Alan Sherman began working for his father in 1991, helping to oversee an operation that has had from 25 to 30 horses to as many as 100 at one point.

While the emergence of California Chrome has highlighted the old-school horsemanship Art Sherman possesses, the success of the son of Lucky Pulpit is an equal testament to how much the boy whose father used to catch him sleeping in horses' stalls has honed his own craft.

When the chestnut runner is on the track in the morning hours, it is Alan often up against the rail, eyes shielded by a ball cap monitoring the subtle communication between the colt and exercise rider Willie Delgado, looking for any shift in demeanor or form.

"Me and Alan are like two peas in the pod," Delgado said after their Preakness victory. "Art is usually at the kitchen (at Los Alamitos) watching the horses train, and me and Alan are at the barn so I interact more with him than with Art. This man loves what he does and makes me want to love even more what I do."

Added Art Sherman of his son, "He's going to make a great trainer whenever he goes out on his own. He knows about horses and he knows this horse like the back of his hand."

That Alan is able to carry a chunk of California Chrome's march toward history has allowed Art Sherman to pull off the balancing act of keeping other clients happy while maintaining a direct line into how the stable star is progressing.

Along with his day-to-day duties watching over Steve Coburn and Perry Martin's homebred colt, Alan Sherman has also shouldered many of the outside demands and distractions in an effort to further ease some of the Triple Crown burden for his father.

When "Coughgate" arose Preakness week and it was revealed that California Chrome had a tiny blister in his throat, it was Alan who fielded the swarming inquiries into the horse's health and kept reiterating it was a non-issue.

Since arriving at Belmont Park in New York, Alan has dutifully held daily pressers after California Chrome has finished his morning training — but not before making the call to his father at what is usually 4 a.m. West Coast time to give him the full dish.

"I try and do as much as I can for him, try to take some of the pressure off as much as possible," said Alan Sherman, whose older brother Steve has his own training operation in North California. "Obviously the reporters would rather talk to him than me, but I try and take care of as much as I can for him.

"Sometimes it gets to where the horse needs a little break, you know, with people coming around, but the whole experience has been great. We haven't changed anything as far as his training goes. He's been so straightforward and the horse just seems to be getting better. It's amazing."

Since the California Chrome wave hit, Alan Sherman says he and his father have picked up a few more clients and that he'd like to get the barn back up to about 30 horses again.

If they didn't know it before, any deal with Art is a 2-for-1 special.

"I'm just so happy for my dad. He's been in this game a long time and he's worked really hard," Alan Sherman said. "He deserves to get a horse like this. I'm just enjoying the heck out of it. I love that this horse has taken us on such a fun ride."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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