California Chrome, the thoroughbred horse from Los Alamitos who will try to become horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, along with his owners and trainer Art Sherman, are thought of as this out-of-nowhere crew that has burst on the horse-racing scene this year.
That may be true for California Chrome, who as a 3-year-old horse is only beginning his racing career. It’s also true for Chrome’s owners — Perry Martin of Yuba City and Steve Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nevada, who call themselves “DAP” which is short for “Dumb-Ass Partners.”
Sherman, however, is hardly new to the “Sport of Kings.” The former San Mateo resident, who moved to Rancho Bernardo in 2007, was a longtime jockey before becoming a trainer in 1980 and spending most of his time training horses for Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields. He saddled his 2,000th winner in 2007 when Oneanwin won the fourth race at Bay Meadows in August of that year.
Sherman has tasted the Kentucky Derby before winning it with California Chrome, having served as the exercise rider for Swaps, who won the 1955 Kentucky Derby.
“He knew a lot about horses,” said Sam Spear, the director of media relations at Golden Gate Fields and essentially the voice horse racing in the Bay Area for nearly 40 years, and who has known Sherman since the mid 1970s
“[Sherman] had a passion for horses. He had a lot of knowledge being a jockey and then he learned from other mentors.
“Being a jockey … did help Art give him an understanding of horses.”
Wally Souza, who helps run the San Mateo Palomino summer baseball program, used to work at Bay Meadows with his father-in-law, Mario Spampinato, who was relatively close with Sherman.
“He was a good friend of my father-in-law. I used to see him all the time. He stayed at my in-laws’ house a couple times a year,” Souza said. “He was a really popular guy with the jockeys. I heard he was a really good trainer.”
Souza said he has a photo of his then 4-year-old son Lenny, who manages the Aragon baseball team and Palomino White Sox squad, wearing Sherman’s silks in a Christmas card the Souza family sent out one year.
“We didn’t have any (jockey) silks, so one of my friends, my father-in-law’s right hand man, ran into (Bay Meadows) and ran into Art Sherman,” Souza said. “[Lenny] was sitting on an escort pony in Art Sherman’s silks.”
Souza said Sherman lived with his wife, Faye, in a home in the San Mateo Village area of San Mateo and was well-liked.
“He was a really popular guy,” Souza said.
Spear has a radio show on Sunday mornings on KNBR 680 and said he’s had Sherman on every Sunday since March as it was becoming clear California Chrome was going to be a favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
“We’ve been chronicling this story since March and we just keep adding a new chapter every week,” Spear said. “Art is 77. He’s the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. (All this Triple Crown excitement) is kind of the icing on the cake. At this point, he’s enjoying himself. He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s just very humble and feels very blessed. He’s handling it very well.”
Jim Fetter, the manager for the Jockey Club on the grounds of the San Mateo County Event Center, said the buzz has definitely been building as California Chrome makes a run at history Saturday. Fetter said the combination of a former trainer from Bay Meadows, along with a horse with Northern California ties, has definitely ramped up excitement around the satellite wagering facility.
Adding to the Northern California vibe is Chrome’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, who got his start riding horses at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields.
“[Espinoza] started at Bay Meadows in 1993,” Spear said. “He was here for a few years before heading [to Southern California].”