The cool morning air that met me as I arrived at Del Mar racetrack this morning was a welcome relief from the hot, humid Georgia temperatures we’ve been experiencing this summer. While the mornings are cooler relative to the steamy afternoon highs, I actually needed a light sweater this morning in Southern California, and I was thrilled. As ever, I was happy to be back on the West Coast.
While I had been with the Sherman Racing Stables team just four weeks ago, I was still met with smiles and hugs, and my friend, trainer Art Sherman, looked surprised to see me. I found him, along with his son, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, in their office, and was excited that I had arrived in time to catch them there, rather than finding them already out on the track.
I had a gift for Alan that I was excited to give to him. A little back story - I met Art and Alan, as well as the rest of the team, two years ago. It was just as champion Thoroughbred California Chrome was training for his return to racing after suffering a hoof injury coming out of the gate at the 2014 Belmont Stakes. My first race with the team was that September for the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, where the Chrome Diaries were born.
After returning from the East Coast, I traveled weekly to Los Alamitoswith Art to watch Chrome train, and when the fall meet opened at Santa Anita, I frequently attended races with Alan. On one of those afternoons, as we walked through the clubhouse, we saw a man wearing shiny, silver shoes. Alan remarked how cool that was - that he had chrome shoes! From that moment, I was on a mission to find a pair for him.
That mission proved difficult, as said “chrome” shoes were a limited edition of the Mexico 66 model of Asics Onitsuka Tiger. Rare. Hard to find. Expensive. I failed to find them in Alan’s size, and gave up my quest. Until …
Sunday. For reasons I can’t even explain, I decided to give my search another try. Packing for my trip to San Diego must have sparked it.
Two years had passed, so I was less hopeful than before. Was I wrong! They were not hard to find, and not so expensive! After securing a pair for myself and for Alan, I located the sizes needed to shod our dear friends and Team Sherman/Chrome supporters Matt and Courtney Smoot as well and had everything sent express delivery to the home of my best friend Kiera, where I stay when I’m in town for a race.
Generally I bring baked goods to the barn, but this day I had a box full of fun for my friend, and when he opened it, a huge smile came across his face, and Art chuckled when he saw the shoes. (I would have gotten a pair for Art, but I’ve never seen him wear sneakers … ) We are going to be a sight to see when we’re all back together for the Breeders’ Cup.
Once the shoes had been bestowed upon Alan, Art turned to walk to the paddock ahead of his most famous trainee, and I tagged along. We were joined by our friend, Tat Yakutis McCabe, whom I had not seen since last year’s Triple Crown races where she was coordinating coverage for NBC Sports. (It’s always a happy day when Kat gets to see Tat.)
Arriving in the paddock just ahead of 6 a.m. PT, the sun had yet to make its appearance as exercise rider, Dihigi Gladney, piloted California Chrome around the walking ring. I stood with Art in the middle of the paddock and asked him quietly, “No pony?” “No pony,” he said back to me, confirming that they had decided NOT to have an escort for Chrome as he schooled in the paddock and walked to the track to train. As we followed Dihigi and Chrome through the tunnel, Art said, “He falls in love too easy!”
Approaching the track, Dihigi paused with his mount to survey their surroundings before backtracking and turning around for a gallop. As the saying goes in the Sherman barn: “Uneventful is good.” Very shortly we were back at the barn, where groom, Raul Rodriquez, and his wife, hot walker Florentina Saldivar, were getting the 5-year-old chestnut cleaned up and cooled out.
While it was by no means crowded at the barn, there were a good number of friends and supporters around, chatting with team members. And while Art, Raul, Alan and Dihigi were all accommodating, engaged and charming, I could not help but notice that their attentions never shifted from Chrome. (Check my photos, and you’ll see for yourself.)
As the handsome chestnut colt was returned to his stall to enjoy his breakfast and morning bag of hay, Alan acknowledged the horse’s throaty call and came across with some cookies for his superstar. The peaceful morning was wrapping up, and I pointed myself toward the parking lot and checked my Fitbit Alta … 7:34 a.m., 7,500 steps. A good start to the day.