A light fog was lifting as I arrived at Del Mar this morning, just as the sun was peeking over the mountains to the east. When I travel from the East Coast, which is now my home, it takes me a few days to adjust to the time difference. Happily, I am not there yet. It made getting up at 5 a.m. PT a little easier.
One of the perks of coming back to San Diego is that I get to stay with my best friend, Kiera. She and her late husband bought my house when I moved to Georgia a year and a half ago, so it really is like coming home. She also spoils me and has a car that I borrow. I parked my car in the main lot, in a spot that made it easy for me to cut through the maintenance area and reach the track and the barns on the backside quickly.
This morning I arrived in time to find the team from Sherman Racing still readying their champion racehorse, California Chrome, for his daily drill. Groom Raul Rodriquez and his wife, Florentina, were talking quietly with jockey Victor Espinoza, and assistant trainer Alan Sherman sat outside the office with Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Stallions. It’s been just over a year since Taylor Made purchased an interest in this champion race horse, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Frank each time I’ve attended one of Chrome’s races. This morning, he and Alan were viewing racing footage on Frank’s iPhone, sizing up the competition for upcoming contests.
Exercise rider Dihigi Gladney was just coming off an earlier worker, and stood waiting for Raul to bring Chrome out so that he could get settled in the saddle. Always with a laugh and a wisecrack, Dihigi was all business as soon as we reached the paddock area. This morning the 5-year-old chestnut was feeling feisty, and his exercise rider had to leverage all his poise and knowledge of his mount to keep him collected.
Trainer Art Sherman was with the team now, joined by his close friend, award-winning turf writer Jay Hovdey. As Dihigi reigned Chrome through the tunnel and out onto the main track, I followed with Art, Jay and Victor not far behind. I stopped just to the far right of the grandstand to watch as California Chrome galloped past, a steely look of concentration on the face of his exercise rider. I only realized as I edited my photos that Gladney had looked directly at my camera for one shot. If I did not know him, the glare he fixed on me would have been unsettling.
To finish off his morning exercise, Chrome entered the practice starting gate with his entourage looking on and steam rolling off his flank. The gallop had released some energy and he now stood calmly. The gate is located down the chute on the backstretch of the track. The barn that houses the horses for Sherman Racing during the summer meet at Del Mar is a short walk, and Raul and Florentina are waiting to tend to their most famous trainee.
This morning Alan took Chrome from Florentina after a bath and a nice long walk to cool down. As Alan held the lead shank and took a few steps back, for a moment I thought Chrome looked like a baby — as he had when I first met him in 2014.
Alan waited patiently as the horse took his time, pawing the ground to make a pile of sand, before laying down for a good roll. A gentle reminder that even the highest-earning horse in North American Thoroughbred racing is still a horse, and he likes to play.
After four or five turns, completely covered in sand, he finally stepped into his stall, with a little urging from Florentina. As Chrome began to dig down into his hay bag, his groom stepped up to gently and thoroughly remove the sand from that handsome face and eyes.
Another day with work starting before day break and wrapping up as the rest of San Diego was just heading into the office. It’s not a bad gig.