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Trainer Art Sherman says California Chrome is thriving since his arrival at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire) 

Art Sherman, 77, who was last part of the Kentucky Derby scene when he rode in a rail car with Swaps from the West Coast to Louisville to win the 1955 Derby, has agreed to take followers of America’s Best Racing along for the ride as he prepares potential superstar California Chrome for the Run for the Roses. The California-bred dominated his last four starts by a combined margin of 24 ¼ lengths. 

Below is the third installment of his diary, written with Tom Pedulla:

In many ways, Derby week has taken me on an emotional ride back in time. It seems like only yesterday that I was an 18-year-old accompanying Swaps on a four-day train ride from California to Louisville. It was me, the horse and the groom. As the rail car lurched about, I had plenty of time to daydream about what Churchill Downs would be like, about how Swaps might fare against favored Nashua.

I will never forget my jubilation when Swaps proved his quality to the world by turning back Nashua in 1955. I call California Chrome “my Swaps” because he is the best horse by far to enter my barn as a trainer. He has left me at a loss for words with the way he dominated his last four races. He gave me my first victory in a $1 million race when he shook loose by 5 ¼ lengths in the Santa Anita Derby, a race that means so much to me when I think of the great horses that won it.

But to place California Chrome on the same playing field as Swaps this early in his career, I am not about to do that. That would be unfair to Swaps. His name may not mean a great deal to young fans. Perhaps it is hard for them to appreciate him fully. I do.

My wife, Faye, and I paid a memorable visit to Swaps’ grave on Thursday. It sits behind the Kentucky Derby Museum beside those of fellow Derby champions Brokers Tip (1933), Carry Back (1961) Dust Commander (1970) and Sunny’s Halo (1983). There was a rose placed on each grave, thanks to a group known as “The Friends of Barbaro.”

I am doing everything I can to enjoy this week with my family, to appreciate everything going on around me. I am making sure to smell the roses. I am at ease because I know I have done everything possible to have Chrome ready for the day that comes around once in a horse’s lifetime. He is as fit as he can be. He is thriving physically. He is getting over the track well.

Mentally, he is taking everything in, as I am, curious about his new surroundings but not in any way unsettled by them. When crowds of fans, photographers and television cameras gather around, he looks up as if to say, “Go ahead, take my picture.”

BATH TIME FOR CALIFORNIA CHROME

Chrome Bath Inside

Photo by Eclipse Sportswire

Chrome has made 10 starts. Some people may look at that as a lot of racing. I look at it as a lot of seasoning. He drew something from every one of those starts. I expect that experience to be invaluable in what will be a 19-horse Derby field. This can be a roughly run race. But he has been bounced around before and learned to overcome that and fight for his position.

I will not give Victor Espinoza many instructions, if any. As a former jockey, I know that you let good riders and good horses perform. Smart trainers stay out of the way. Victor knows the type of speed he is sitting on. I am confident he will use it to secure a good tactical position.

As easy as the victories have been, Victor tells me he has never gotten to the bottom of Chrome. If he does, the result could be breathtaking.

CALIFORNIA CHROME SLIDESHOW

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