I arrived at the barn that houses the team from Sherman Racing on Del Mar’s backside a little after 5 a.m. PT Saturday morning, and the place was already buzzing with activity.
Duncan Taylor, president of Taylor Made Farm, was talking with trainer Art Sherman and assistant trainer Alan Sherman about bloodlines and breeding, while Frank Taylor, Taylor Made’s vice president of boarding operations, was busy orienting a group of owners.
Groom Raul Rodriquez was tending to 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome, who was the reason we all got up before dawn. It’s TVG Pacific Classic Stakes day, and the prerace routine is to get him out early for a jog then back to his stall to rest.
When I saw exercise rider Dihigi Gladney stride down the shedrow toward the office, I knew that he would be getting a leg up and guiding Chrome out to the track in short order. With so many people in attendance this morning, I decided to walk out to the track ahead of everyone and to wait at the turn for my most famous photography subjects.
Most of the spectators who stepped up to the rail to watch the champion step onto the track were full of smiles and brimming with excitement. Team Sherman had on their game faces, and that included California Chrome.
Dihigi and Chrome backtracked at a modest jog before heading back to the barn and handing his care over to Raul and his wife, Florentina.
As the group of owners looked on, Art called out that he was heading back to the grandstand to work a filly and I fell in step to join him.
When we returned to the barn, the morning’s visitors had departed and Chrome was comfortably in his stall, settling in for his morning nap. He moves to the back of his stall, with his hind quarters practically resting on the back wall, and his lower lip begins to droop. That’s what I call his “nap face.”
As I was thinking about heading out, Stephanie Searle, owner of Classic Silks — maker of California Chrome’s silks, among others — stopped by the barn with a gift for Alan Sherman and Jasper, his Labrador Retriever.
After seeing the TVG feature on Jasper, Stephanie decided that he needed his own dog jacket in Chrome’s racing colors. As she and Alan coaxed Jasper to cooperate, it became clear to her that the jacket would need to be let out a little. (Raul, standing to the left of me, stated in a matter-of-fact tone, “Gordito!” We all know Jasper doesn’t skip a feeding.)
Because the jacket was fastened under his belly, but would not close at his neck, Jasper discovered quickly that he could wiggle out of it, and did so by effectively chasing his tail until the jacket lay on the ground at his feet. With all of us laughing so hard, before anyone could move to pick it up, Jasper had grabbed it and was off running with the jacket in his mouth.
It was clear that Jasper was exceedingly proud of himself. The welcome bit of comic relief was just what the team needed to chase away some prerace jitters, even if just for a few minutes.