Join Kat Waldvogel, official photographer for Sherman Racing, for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life with the connections of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome as he nears his return to competition in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday at Parx Racing. (All photos courtesy of Kat Waldvogel/forestbird photography)
Another day that started before dawn, but while these are early days for me, this is old hat for Team Sherman. Trainer Art Sherman, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, groom Raul Rodriguez and exercise rider Willie Delgado have been getting up at 4 a.m. to start work for years, beginning with Art’s days as a jockey at the age of 17.
When I ask any of them about this, the early mornings are not an issue. It’s the rhythm of their lives. And while it’s an adjustment for me, it’s a truly the most beautiful and peaceful time of the day. It can be tough to climb out of bed, but once I’m at the track, with horses and barn cats, amid the playful banter and pace of the morning routine, I’m smiling. I am learning how to nap, though.
It’s notable to me, as I am introduced to close associates who come out to support Sherman Racing and California Chrome, that this team does not have clients — they have friends. There is a certain chemistry and bond that forms with them and the people who train with them, cultivated over years of working together, that can be described in no other way.
I have been fortunate to join in this experience over the past couple of months. Like many of you, I watched the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes on TV and followed Chrome on Facebook with rapt enthusiasm. But being in the middle of it, and hearing accounts of so many people who have made it a priority to be present to support these hard-working people and this amazing horse, is truly moving.
It’s clear that Chrome is happy with his people, too. At daily press conferences and in casual conversation, Alan is asked about how this horse travels and what went into the decision to ship him to Pennsylvania for this race. He travels great, and I’ve heard Alan say over and over that Chrome is not afraid of anything. When you are around him, it doesn’t really register until you stop to think about it, but I’ve never seen him shy or back away from anything. He is curious and playful and never timid. For anyone who has horses or has spent any sort of time with them, you know that this is remarkable for a 3-year-old and a product of his training and the people around him.
Chrome is surrounded by family, and seeing his reaction when Willie or Alan enters the barn always brings a smile to my face. (I’m sure he reacts the same way when Raul shows up, but I have NEVER gotten there before him, so I can’t say from personal experience.) And while it’s uncommon for a horse, he’s just like any of us who love to jump on a plane and go on an adventure, happy to see the people who love us when we arrive. That he loves to travel and exhibits no anxiety over trailering or boarding a plane means that Art and Alan can consider any race for him, based on conditions and competition. That the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby is the last time Chrome can race with 3-year-olds was the main issue, so location was not a factor or concern.
While the decision to travel to Parx Racing to participate in this Derby was based on conditions and timing that best suited Chrome’s preparation for the Breeders Cup Classic on Nov. 1, again there is family here. The team and their charge are being housed in the stables of Keith Nations, who has long been associated with the Shermans.
Keith recently moved his operation to Pennsylvania, after years at Golden Gate Fields, where he and Steve Sherman have been friends, and he has made a very warm welcome for Chrome and his team.
The combination of hard work, dedication to individual attention and what is best for each horse and easy humor makes this the perfect fit for both teams.
Our group’s arrival and the accompanying attention from fans and the press have certainly had an impact on the daily work of everyone in this barn, but they greet it with humor and grace because they truly understand what it has taken to get here. The daily bagel/donut runs help, too.
As for the work, it’s been just what Alan and Art have expected. Thursday morning, Willie guided Chrome on a gentle jog to the paddock where they schooled with no problems. This colt is incredibly curious, taking in everything around him with building enthusiasm. You see the wheels turning in his head as he connects all that is going on and anticipates the race ahead.
Co-owner Steve Coburn joined Alan trackside as his champion horse galloped out, wearing his trademark hat, a big smile and quiet pride. As Willie and Chrome finished their gallop and headed back toward the barn, Alan quickly led the rest of us through the paddock. He gave a quick “thumbs up” to Steve when asked how Chrome looked … just as expected.
The day was capped off with a “family” dinner, and we finally were joined by Art, who arrived in the early afternoon. I had missed my friend and was happy as ever to see him and hear his stories from the annual yearling sale at Keeneland. He showed me a photo of the horse he bought on Tuesday, and I’m anxious to see him in person and watch him develop. He’s a gorgeous chestnut — well muscled for a 1-year-old horse — that Art is calling “Little Chrome”. In addition to great food and laughter at dinner, we were able to watch the races at Los Alamitos. Regardless of the results, it was fun to get a glimpse of home
Everyone is back to work Friday morning, with Chrome scheduled to gallop again after schooling in the starting gate around 8:30 a.m. Some interviews are being added to the schedule, which includes the morning press conference at 10 a.m., as I expect media attention to begin building.
It’s all part of a happy day’s work for Team Sherman.