Jim Mulvihill: Welcome everyone to our annual Kentucky Derby preview. We’re now just eight days out from the post position draw; 11 days away from the 140th Derby. The field is mostly set and we’ve got a clear cut favorite in Santa Anita Derby winner, California Chrome; easily the year’s most accomplished and impressive three year old to this point. But history tells us that no Derby favorite is a lock no matter how short the price. California Chrome is your standout on paper, but is he any more imposing than say, Bellamy Road was at this point in 2005 after winning each of his prior two starts by more than 15 lengths; or Empire Maker in 2003, who had swept the Florida Derby and the Wood; or Point Given, who, like California Chrome, was a dominant winner of the San Felipe and the Santa Anita Derby in 2001. Since the end of the days of the mutual field, meaning this era of all the entrants standing alone as individual betting choices, going back to 2001, five Kentucky Derby favorites went off at prices shorter than four to one. Of those, only Big Brown made it to the infield winner circle. Point Given, Empire Maker, Bellamy Road, Friesian Fire, all of those failed to run their best races on the first Saturday of May; all losing to horses that were double digit odds, including two 50 to 1 shots. So perhaps this Derby is more wide open than it appears.
Today we’re going to talk to three Kentucky Derby trainers. Mike Maker has three in the gate: Vicar’s in Trouble, General A Rod and Harry’s Holiday. Jimmy Jerkens trains the Wood Memorial winner, Wicked Strong. Then we’ll finish with 77 year old Art Sherman, preparing to saddle his first Kentucky Derby starter in California Chrome.
But first we’ve got a few reminders about the Derby weekend broadcast schedule. NBC Sports presents the Kentucky Oaks on Friday May 2nd from 5 to 6 Eastern on their flagship network, and then Saturday May 3rd, the Derby Day programming begins at 11 a.m. on the NBC Sports Network, and then from 4 to 7 p.m., the live Derby coverage moves to NBC. Estimated post time for the Derby is 6:24 p.m., and additional post-race coverage will be available on the NBC Sports Network until 7:30 p.m. Also keep in mind, the Horse Racing Radio Network has 14 hours of live coverage from Churchill Downs scheduled next week. That includes three mornings of preview shows, as well as Oaks Day and Derby Day stakes.
So, now let’s move on to our Derby trainers. Our first guest is going to be Mike Maker. Maker grew up in Madison Heights, Michigan, the son of a thoroughbred trainer. He worked as an assistant to Wayne Lukas for 10 years from ’93 to 2003. That was a span that saw the barn win three Kentucky Derbys. Maker went out on his own in 2003 and has won multiple training titles at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Turfway Park. He’s had five Kentucky Derby starters, with the best result being an eighth place finish by Stately Victor in 2010. This year he’s got three probable starters: Vicar’s in Trouble, the Louisiana Derby winner; General A Rod, second by head in the Fountain of Youth and third in the Florida Derby; and Harry’s Holiday, who missed by a nose in the Spiral.
Mike Maker, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York. Thanks for joining us.
Mike Maker: Thanks for having me.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Well, let’s start with Harry’s Holiday. Yesterday he moved up to 20th in the Derby point standings. Jay Privman reported this morning that he is going to run. We read that you had a conversation with the owners. Can you just tell us how that conversation went, and what went into the decision to go ahead and give the Derby a try?
Mike Maker: Well, the owners are from Louisville so they didn’t have much room for discussion. They just felt that if they earned their way to the top 20 that they’d like the chance to run.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, and Rosie Napravnik rode him his last two races, but she’s going to be aboard Vicar’s in Trouble, so any decision yet on who’s going to ride Harry’s Holiday?
Mike Maker: Not yet. I figure with all the juggling that’s gone on in the last few days we’ll probably wait it out as long as possible. I figure everybody that’s open now will probably be open a week from now if, you know, no other defections.
Jim Mulvihill: Just give us your impression of the Blue Grass and any idea why he didn’t fire that day?
Mike Maker: He lost a shoe in the race. He came out of the race with a lung infection and it just wasn’t his day.
Jim Mulvihill: Then how has he bounced back from that lung infection and…?
Mike Maker: His lung infection was minor, and, you know, obviously the shoe, he didn’t (inaudible) or anything, so it was nothing more than just replacing the shoe.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, well we’ve got other Derby horses to get to here, so let’s talk Vicar’s in Trouble now. You know, he comes out of the Louisiana Derby, and, you know, when he cut the corner under Rosie he was pretty much gone and the race was over. What were your impressions of the Louisiana Derby win?
Mike Maker: Yes, I feel he still needs to move forward, which I think he has. You know, he was impressive in that race, but having said that, he had everything his own way. But since the race he’s really moved forward; put on weight, he looks fabulous and he’s been very aggressive which, you know, built a lot of character for him, so I see a lot of positive signs in Vicar’s in Trouble.
Jim Mulvihill: Tell us more about him. He’s an interesting story. You know, he sold for only $8,000 as a yearling, so I’m wondering, you know, as he’s gotten better, what kind of qualities do you see in this horse that maybe nobody recognized when he was younger?
Mike Maker: Well, he’s on the small side; he’s not the most attractive horse. But he is well balanced, and as time goes on he’s maturing and looking a lot better. But he wouldn’t win any beauty contests the last few months. But having said that, he makes up for it trying hard.
Jim Mulvihill: Yes, absolutely. The Derby pace, though, could perhaps work against him. I mean you can pretty much count on a fast pace most years in the Derby. What would be the ideal trip for Vicar’s in Trouble if he were to get a chance to win?
Mike Maker: Well, you know, I think we erred in the Risen Star we instructed Rosie to take him back, because it looked like it was going to be a heated pace; we didn’t draw very well. And he kind of resented that. So I don’t necessarily feel he has to be on the lead but just let him place himself and be comfortable in doing so and I think he’ll be just fine.
Danny Brewer: Vicar’s in Trouble, talk about his aggressive nature and does that make him the Little Engine That Could?
Mike Maker: Yes, it does. He’s aggressive—he’s a laid back horse, you know, you want to work him in company, and (inaudible) just going to go through the motions and now he’s really into the bit and kicking and playing around the barn and in the stall, and showing a lot of positive signs.
Danny Brewer: Jim touched on it briefly; the stakes run in the Louisiana Derby. Hjust seemed to gear down and then the little rascal was gone. So is that something that you guys consciously work on with him, or was that just him taking over being him?
Mike Maker: No, just him being him. Like I said, in the Risen Star we instructed Rosie to take back and try to save ground in the first turn since we drew so poorly. She did so, and, but it was just letting him place himself and be happy. He kind of resented that a little bit.
Danny Brewer: The Derby, obviously it’s a different game plan there maybe with the 20 horse field. Any thoughts on what he needs to do, or just kind of let it unfold and let Rosie take over?
Mike Maker: Yes, the same thing; just let him break and place himself. You know, hopefully we draw well and get a good tracking trip behind the speed.
Steve Jones: General A Rod, how would you describe his running style and ideal trip for him similar to how you described Vicar’s in Trouble?
Mike Maker: Well, General A Rod, you know, you get the impression he needs to be forwardly placed. But, Gulfstream was so biased in frontrunners, but I think he can go either way, or I kind of think he’ll be placed similar to Vicar’s in Trouble.
Steve Jones: Just with his name, I don’t know if you’re aware yourself, is it related to the baseball player’s name at all?
Mike Maker: No, the owner’s name is Armando Rodriguez.
Steve Jones: Okay.
Mike Maker: So that’s obvious.
Don Jensen: Hello, Mike. A question on Harry’s Holiday. You started him at Tampa this year in his three year old campaign. He got bumped out of the gate in the Stakes there at the Pasco, and then can you talk about what you learned about him that day and also how he’s progressed since then?
Mike Maker: Well, he’s moved forward. After that we put blinkers on him. But that day I just felt he was limited at the gate and just kind of drew the line through that race. Obviously with the wide trip at Turfway and then just getting beat in the Spiral, he’s progressed quite a bit.
Tom Pedulla: I wanted to ask you your impressions of Wildcat Red, and whether you think the Derby distance will finally catch up to him?
Mike Maker: I hope it does. But, you know, he’s done nothing wrong. He’s a hard knocking horse I’ll take those horses every day over the horses that are bred for a mile and a quarter.,(inaudible) I don’t think that a mile and a quarter’s going to be any issue at all.
Ed McNamara: I was wondering you have an interesting dynamic in the barn; a unique one really with Rosie as the rider and her husband Joe Sharpe as your assistant trainer. How does that work?
Mike Maker: You know, Joe’s like any other assistant; he’s married to a jockey that we use frequently. He shows up and does his job and that’s about it. Rosie does well for us and there’s no special consideration because she’s married to Joe or anything of that nature.
Ed McNamara: Yes, you’ve used her a lot and she’s spoken very highly of you in previously interviews. What is your take on her as a rider?
Mike Maker: I think she’s going to go down as the best female jockey of all time.
Ed McNamara: Yes.
Mike Maker: Her accomplishments speak for themselves. She’s done well for me and she’s a great person so I have nothing but positive remarks on her, and someone has to give her her first Derby win and I hope it’s me.
John Pricci: Mike, You said (audio interference) in relation to General A Rod that you think he needs to be forwardly placed, yet after the Florida Derby you were saying, when he backed up a bit you saw a few things that you could tinker with that would make him go forward next time out. Well, next time out is a week from Saturday. There’s been some speculation as to blinkers or no blinkers or fooling with them. Could you tell us something about that and why you think he needs to be forwardly placed when he ran so well from far back in his debut?
Mike Maker: Well, I meant forwardly placed because we were racing at Gulfstream Park. Obviously it was speed biased and the dynamics of the race suggested that we needed to be forwardly placed. I mean he’s a horse I felt showed natural speed mid-pack. He’s kind of done it all in his career and he came from way out of it and, you know, it’s a little bit of an illusion that he won from off, but he didn’t get away from the gate in his debut very well, and (inaudible) the field and that’s just the way it worked out. At Gulfstream I felt somebody had to go after Wildcat Red; it just happened to be us. Last time, Johnny came right at General A Rod to carry him out. Joe lost a stirrup so we didn’t get up and put the pressure on that I felt we needed to do in the Florida Derby, and he just kind of ran even from there. So I still thought it was a good race with a couple of issues in there. I feel if we can make up a length and a half on those horses we’ve got a good shot in the Kentucky Derby.
John Pricci: Yes, well in the Florida Derby obviously at Gulfstream Park you need to stay on top of it, but we’re talking about Churchill Downs now. You needed to be forwardly placed in Florida. You really think you need to be forwardly placed at Churchill Downs, and, again, will there be any fooling around with the blinkers?
Mike Maker: Yes, the blinkers the first time he didn’t wear any blinkers; the second time he ran with some cheaters. It was good and mentally he was doing everything perfect, so in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, he didn’t really have much pep (ph) on at all, so I’m thinking about either leaving those on or taking them off for the Derby.
Jennie Rees: Mike, we don’t even know for sure who might still yet get in the field but what kind of pace scenario are you envisioning, you know, eight days before you draw? I mean sometimes we think there’s a lot of speed and then maybe it’s like a 2002 that when you look at the PPs, what do you see?
Mike Maker: Well, I think it’s going to be a very lively pace, and I think the draw is going to have something to do with who has to go and who can sit and so forth. We all know that. I feel in my horses they can adjust to whatever the pace calls for.
Jennie Rees: Final question is could you just comment on California Chrome and your thoughts on him?
Mike Maker: Well, obviously he’s impressive and a deserving Derby favorite. I think he’s the horse to beat, but the way the Florida horses have done so far I’m not so sure that the Florida horses aren’t the strongest.
Jim Mulvihill: Mike, I’ve just got a couple more for you about General A Rod. I’m wondering if you can expand a little bit on the idea when you were answering Tom’s question about horses that have fight in them, and General A Rod battling Wildcat Red down in Florida and the value of that when it comes to a big field in the Kentucky Derby. What kind of advantage is that for these horses that are truly battle tested?
Mike Maker: Well, even though Gulfstream was a speed-biased track, in the Fountain of Youth he took to Wildcat Red and they went stride for stride from start to finish, and I think that shows incredible fight in a horse, not only mine, but Wildcat Red as well. You know, even though he lost the Florida Derby by a length and a half, he lost a bit of ground and still fought hard. Again, Joe lost his stirrup, so he ran on hard.
Jim Mulvihill: At what point in the race did you all lose the iron?
Mike Maker: Going into the first turn.
Jim Mulvihill: Then how does that—how did that effect the way that you guys were planning to run the race?
Mike Maker: Well, he lost a bit of ground there, and by the time he got his stirrup adjusted it just seemed like Wildcat Red got out there and got things his own way, and we had to track instead of pressing like we had hoped.
Jim Mulvihill: Very interesting. All right, well, Mike, we appreciate your time today. Lots of great information on your three Derby horses and we wish you luck on the first Saturday in May.
Mike Maker: Okay, thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right, that was Mike Maker, trainer of Vicar’s in Trouble, General A Rod, and Harry’s Holiday, all of them in the gate for the Kentucky Derby.
Now we’re going to move on to our next guest, and that is Jimmy Jerkens, the trainer of the Wood Memorial winner, Wicked Strong. Jerkens is a native of Long Island, where he grew up the son of Hall of Fame trainer, Allen Jerkens. He spent 20 years as an assistant to The Chief before going out on his own in ’97. He’s won two Breeders’ Cup races with Artie Schiller and Corinthian, and a Travers with Afleet Express. He had a likely Derby favorite in 2009 with Florida Derby winner, Quality Road, but had to withdraw the week of the race due to a quarter crack. If all goes well this time, he’ll get his first Derby starter with Wicked Strong.
Jimmy, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York. Thanks for joining us.
Jimmy Jerkens: Thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Well, let’s start with the work last Thursday. Wicked Strong had his first move since winning the Wood. Can you just give us an update on how that went and how the horse has bounced back from the last race?
Jimmy Jerkens: Oh, it’s pretty much just what we wanted. We didn’t want a whole lot, you know, because we’re going to come back with a tougher work a little later. It was the same speed and everything I wanted. I worked him around two turns just to protect myself—sometimes like if he works on the main track and there’s a lot of straightaway he tends to work fast and he can fool the rider because he looks like he isn’t doing anything when he actually is, so I don’t want him to go down on a half and 47 at this stage of the game. So to make it easier on everybody I had him work around two turns and stay off the scent a little bit, and I thought it worked out just perfect.
Jim Mulvihill: Got you. But you are going to set him down a little bit harder for this next one?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, we’re going to go further anyway. We’re not going to go a whole lot faster. He’s a horse that he’s a little on the light side to start with. I don’t really want to at this stage of the game do anything fast that’ll get him too edgy and make him lose a few pounds. That’s the last thing I want at this stage of the game. I kind of want to keep him status quo. So we’re probably going to work 6 or 7furlongs and at a moderate pace.
Jim Mulvihill: Got you. That’ll be which day?
Jimmy Jerkens: We’re planning on Friday.
Jim Mulvihill: Okay. Then van to Churchill…?
Jimmy Jerkens: The following day, yes.
Jim Mulvihill: Okay. We were just talking to Mike Maker about the potential fast pace of the Derby, which is the way it seems to play out most years, which, for you it would play right into your hands. What kind of advantage do you have in the Derby with your horse’s style?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, it looks good on paper, but, so many things have to go right regardless. On paper it looks good for us of course, but at the same time we have to be able to be in a good spot where he’s comfortable and saving a little ground and he puts in a little bit of a move and improves position and hopefully he doesn’t get stopped in the meantime. You know, so many things have to work out in your favor, and you pretty much just got to make sure your horse is doing as good as you can possibly get him and just hope the rest takes care of itself.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, and on paper it does seem like he’s doing as well as ever; like he’s coming to hand right at the right time. Can you talk about his progression from two to three and then throughout the winter in Florida and just to where he’s at right now?
Jimmy Jerkens: Yes, actually he took a step back when he was in Florida; it wasn’t what we expected. There were some valid reasons for his bad race. There were a lot of prerace antics that he did before the Holy Bull, and he acted terrible in the gate and ended up getting a tail injury. Underneath his tail he ended up getting a big, long gash that took awhile to heal. Once the gate opened he just wasn’t in a good mood, and he ended up losing a lot of ground and just got hung out and he just threw in the towel early in the race halfway down the backside and he ended up just galloping around. But it looked like he was doing very well. He came into the second race and he was still only fourth in a (inaudible) but it was a lot better race than it looked on paper. He only got beat six lengths with a very, very wide trip. He lost ground on every turn. He only got beat six lengths, and the horse that won it came back and won the Florida Derby, so it was a key race.
Danny Brewer: Talk about the mentality of Wicked Strong and what you like or don’t like about it, and how you’re managing it?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, he’s a colt, let’s put it that way. He’s a young colt and he wants things his way, and it’s the kind of deal you’ve got to kind of give and take almost like having a teenager at home. Sometimes you’ve got to exchange; I’ll let him have his way some days and then he turns around and he gives you a little slack. You know, that’s the way he is. He’s a tough little guy. He’s kind of plain looking, but he has a little streak in him like you like to see for a colt, and we pretty much handle him, to let him think he’s getting away with something once in awhile and then there’s a time we have to make him mind us. He’s made great strides in the last couple of months. I really love how everything about him heading into the race is just where I want him. I just hope he heads into Churchill with the different surroundings and does the same thing. That’s the big question mark. At least he is going down there in as good a frame of mind as we could possibly hope, so I’m really happy about that.
Danny Brewer: You’re a veteran of this game. As long as everything goes right, and what does it mean to you to have a horse in—sending a horse to post in the Kentucky Derby?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, it’s a great feeling no doubt about it. Like I said, I’m of all the foals there is every year, when it gets narrowed down to this and you’ve got one of them going to the post, especially one that has a big shot, you’ve got to feel like you’re lucky. But, again we need to go there and certainly needs to run the race of his life to win it or hit the board. I think he’s primed and heading that way, so we’re going down there with a lot of confidence.
Danny Brewer: The closing kick in the Wood Memorial, is that something that you want to bottle and see again on the first Saturday in May, or have we not seen the best out of this horse yet?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, I don’t know if we’ve seen the best of him or we haven’t, but like I said, if he’s able to act good in the gate, and that’s a big question mark with him. He has a tendency to get a little antsy in the starting gate, and that big crowd and everything like that and it also depends on the post he draws; if he’s in the gate a little too long that might rattle him a little bit. I’m just hoping that things work out the right way for us; that he gets a nice trip, he gets a nice trip where he’s and even though the pace is going to be fast, I still have to say I wouldn’t want him too, too far back, because I think horses lose interest when they’re that far back, plus they get hit with so much dirt and they’ll only take so much of that kickback for so long. So you kind of want them in a spot where he was in the Wood was perfect. I had great confidence in where he was laying turning down the backside because he was laying about five or six lengths off. He might be a little further off because this pace should be a little more contentious, but at the same time, I’d like him within, not striking distance, but a little more than striking distance down the backside—unless the pace is just unbelievably stupid, and then he could be further back and circle them, but the ideal trip would be just like he had in the Wood Memorial I would think.
Adam Himmelsbach: Just a general question. What do you kind of think horse racing as a sport needs to do to change some of the negative national perceptions about it, whether it be related to, you know, drug testing or misconceptions about the general treatment of horses?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, that’s a hard question because, if you’re alluding to that PETA thing, I think, it’s unfortunate that that kind of language and everything came out —Scott could talk like that, but we all know that he’s a terrific caretaker of horses, and I think a lot of that stuff was taken so far out of context it just isn’t fair. I’m not saying things need to be done to clean it up a little bit, and I don’t really want to get into that too much, but I think that whole PETA video was very unfair to a lot of people, and that really isn’t a true indication of what the sport’s about.
Adam Himmelsbach: Is it unfair or kind of frustrating as a trainer when things like that pop up or you hear about an incident that might be isolated and there’s an idea that it’s more common when it’s really not?
Jimmy Jerkens: Yes, but it kind of vilifies everybody and that’s not fair. We’re in the game because we love horses, and there certainly is a lot easier way to make a living than getting up seven days a week and spending all day at the track. I mean you’ve got to be a martyr to do something like that if you didn’t love the horses themselves. It’s just how it’s perceived it’s just if that needs to be worked on I don’t know how to do it, but that whole thing was very unfair. It’s just not a good indication at all.
Tom Jicha: Yes, Jimmy, it’s been written and said so much that Wicked Strong hated the track at Gulfstream. You’ve cited some other reasons why he didn’t perform maybe as well as he could. How do you tell when a horse doesn’t like the track or was that just something that people decided because he didn’t run well?
Jimmy Jerkens: Yes, well I agree with you there; it’s overused. It’s an overused excuse, no doubt about it. But believe it or not, there’s a lot of times we just don’t know why, and, yes, sometimes you just say something and you say, well, I guess he didn’t like the track. But the thing about the track that he didn’t like, I don’t know if it was the surface itself not the way he was getting through it, but the way the kickback, when it’s thrown back into the horse’s face seemed to be much harder on horses at Gulfstream than say the New York tracks. I don’t know why that is, but the only thing I noticed is both races when he came back to Florida, I mean his eyes were irritated to the point where they were closed shut for a couple of days. We really had some time clearing them up and getting him to open his eyes again, where that wasn’t the case in any of his New York races where he came off the pace also. So I think that was the biggest thing.
Ed McNamara: The late great Paul Moran told me that he watched the 2009 Derby where Quality Road probably would’ve been the favorite with you or he saw you watching the race, and he said you looked most upset about it. Did you think you had a great chance to win that?
Jimmy Jerkens: Well, you had to with a horse like him because his talent was far beyond anything of any horse I’ve ever had by a long shot. I mean he could do things that just make the hair on the back of your neck stand up as easy as he could do them. He could put some workouts in the morning that was just incredible. He had a cruising speed—he could go three quarters at nine and just act like he was just galloping. He just had such so much talent, and to know that you had a horse that was that much better talent-wise and not be able to get him over there was just incredibly frustrating. Yes, well.
Ed McNamara: Maybe the Derby owes you one. Good luck.
Jimmy Jerkens: Yes, I think so. All right.
Jim Mulvihill: I just wanted to ask about your dad, and if you could tell us, with as much as he knows about training a racehorse, how often do you seek advice from The Chief?
Jimmy Jerkens: I seek advice pretty often. I haven’t so much in this case. I don’t know why, I’ve been happy with how things have gone so far so I haven’t really stumbled over anything yet that kind of mystified me so far, but we’ve still got a ways to go and it might happen. But, he
[Chief] basically, not so much about the horse, but he was talking about trying to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed with the importance of it, and try to act like it’s just another race. I know it’s hard to do, but you can’t let anything change the way you want to train him no matter what somebody says or you’ll be asked the kind of questions; how come this, how come that, and how come this? You’re with him every day all day long, so no one knows the horse better than you do, and don’t let anything sway your judgment. So that’s pretty much what he had to say.
Jim Mulvihill: Sounds like sound advice to me. I also wanted to ask you about Donald Little. He’s Boston-based and he gave this horse a name that resonates with people in Boston. I just wanted to get your impressions of training this horse that maybe now has a fan base amongst those people that lived through a pretty terrifying experience at the Marathon last year.
Jimmy Jerkens: Yes, yes, he does. It’s a little something extra important about it no doubt about it. You know, and it’s kind of neat. Who knows, it might be another force that we need to help us along, and I just hope it works—I hope it works out for everybody.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Okay, well, Jimmy, we appreciate your time today. Good luck in Louisville and in the Derby.
Jimmy Jerkens: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
Jim Mulvihill: We’ve got one final guest on today’s call, and that is the trainer of the Derby favorite, Art Sherman. Sherman was born in Brooklyn in 1939. He moved to LA as a youngster and went to work at the racetrack in 1953 for Rex Ellsworth. He galloped Swaps and accompanied him to the 1955 Kentucky Derby, as well as to Chicago for his match race against Nashua. He was a jockey for more than 20 years, from 1957 to 1978, and then worked as an assistant and a racing official before taking out his trainer’s license in 1980. He based out of Northern California until 2007 when he shifted to Southern California, and he’s got more than 2,100 career wins, including Grade 1 scores by Siren Lure, Ultra Blend, and now, of course, California Chrome.
Art Sherman, you’re on with Jim Mulvihill in New York. How are you doing?
Art Sherman: How are you today?
Jim Mulvihill: I’m doing great, and we’re happy to talk to you. Can you just give us the latest on what California Chrome is doing in the mornings this week between his Saturday works?
Art Sherman: Well, he just galloped this morning and he was full of himself. They close down the racetrack for him only when he goes out there, and he enjoys himself very much. He likes to train in the morning anyhow. You know, he’s one of them horses that likes to train. He’s a good doer, and he’s a people’s horse. You know, he’s got no bad habits; he just goes out there and does his thing, walks back, he just drops his head, and he’s a pleasure to be around.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, and his work last Saturday was pretty sharp. How do you feel about his condition overall right now?
Art Sherman: Well, I think he’s coming into the Derby perfect; the way I would like for him to be. I have one more final work this Saturday and hope everything goes right. You know, we’ve got to have a poster day that day we had last Saturday over a hundred people out there to watch him work at Los Alamitos where he’s stabled at. It’s been quite fun. He’s a rock star in California I can tell you that.
Jim Mulvihill: Well, and are you able to enjoy that fun? It’s also a stressful position to be in training the Derby favorite.
Art Sherman: Well, you know, I’ve been in the game along time. I’ve always been one of them kind of guys that if it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. I just want my horse to have a fair shake at it and have good racing luck, and I’m sure hopeful for him. You know, he’s a gutty little horse.
Jim Mulvihill: Excellent. Well, Art, I’m going to turn it over to our operator Michelle, and she’s going to see what other questions there are for you.
Jennie Rees: California Chrome was a good California-bred last year, but I think you could debate whether he was even on paper the best, but obviously very good. But these last four races he has been a world beater in, you know, Grade 1 company since Victor Espinoza got on him. What’s been the difference? Is it Victor? Is it just maturity? I mean you can’t even say it’s just two turn racing, because one of the races was seven eighths.
Art Sherman: Well, I think it’s maturity. , I know he was kind of green when he first started, but he’s a different looking horse now. He grew up and he’s got a good head, good shoulder, and no wasted motion. He just developed into a runner, and I’m kind of just sitting back and each time he goes out there it kind of takes my breath away, because how many lengths that he won, the last four races he’s won by over 25 lengths, and I’ve never had a horse that did that before.
Jennie Rees: Well, after the Golden State Juvenile when he came back in the King Glorious and won by over six lengths, I mean did you think—where did that come from?
Art Sherman: Well, I was kind of awed by his performance. I really thought he was coming into the race super. He’s been training good and he was more focused, and I said, if he runs this race he’s going to be tough, but I didn’t realize he was just going to gallop in the race, you know what I mean? You always have expectations that your horse is going to run well, but until you see him run, and then I said, wow. It was a great moment for me because it was the last race at Hollywood Park, and that’s where I started riding when I was a kid. It meant a lot to me to win the last stake at Hollywood Park.
Danny Brewer: How much fun are you having right now?
Art Sherman: Well, you know, I’m having a lot of fun believe it or not. I’ve had friends—I just had Kenny Church on the phone and he’s wishing me all the best; names that you haven’t seen for a long time. Dave Erb, who was, you know, some of the people you don’t get the chance to see and hear from because they’re all retired now, but I’ve been getting phone calls from all over the country, and it’s pretty exciting for me. I’ve had a lot of friends in this business and I enjoy hearing from them.
Danny Brewer: Now have you been on California Chrome or are you tempted to get on him?
Art Sherman: Well, maybe 20 years ago I would’ve done it, but I haven’t been on a horse in at least 10 years now, you know what I mean? I told Victor the other day, if he keeps winning by that far I might take my license back out and try it one more time, because it seemed like he was easing him up the last time he was riding. I said I could probably ride one like that.
Danny Brewer: Just hang on, right?
Art Sherman: That’s right, and have a good time with it.
Danny Brewer: I know it’s been many years, but can you compare him at all to Swaps, or is there any comparison between the two, because I think (cross talking) together, right?
Art Sherman: I’ve been asked that question so many times. You know, it is really difficult for me. I hate taking anything away from Swaps. He had six world records. He was a champion sprinter and runner and when you’ve got riders like Bill Shoemaker telling you he’s one of the best horses he’s ever ridden, you know, you’ve got to appreciate that. I think that California Chrome is coming up to these races great, and I hope I have him around until he’s four. He could be a horse that’s going to develop into a really nice horse. I want you to ask me this question a year for now and then I can have a more definite answer.
Debbie Arrington: How are you holding up through all this?
Art Sherman: Well, pretty good. Right now I’m in San Diego. I take a couple days off, in the San Diego area, so it’s kind of nice to get away for a couple days and get ready because next week and the week after that we’ll be wall to wall people. So I’m kind of getting my thoughts together and doing a few things that I need to take care of before I leave. It’s been fun, but yet pretty demanding, you know what I mean? We have a big schedule in front of us. We have a lot of reporters and NBC and HRTV and FOX News, and Sports Illustrated did an article so we’ve been busy. It’s kind of been nice, but it’s sure a hectic kind of time for us right now.
Debbie Arrington: Okay. How has Chrome matured this spring?
Art Sherman: Oh, he looks great. He’s just turned into a very beautiful looking horse. He shines like a copper penny. He’s doing good right now, and I’ve just got to hold him together for a couple more weeks. Sometimes you read the paper of all these horses going by the wayside, I hold my breath. So it’s going to be a kind of anxious time until I can ship him. He’s leaving on Monday the 28th and he gets to Kentucky, and I’ll school him, I’m looking forward to that. I just hope I have a good trip. That’s my main concern.
Pat Forde: I’m just wondering if over the years you’ve had a place where you normally watch the Derby or if you really have paid a whole lot of attention to it over the years?
Art Sherman: Oh, I do. I never miss watching the Kentucky Derby. Even if I’m racing horses, I’ve always had an interest. Well, everybody loves the Derby, and I know a lot of the people that run horses and the different trainers always wishing them luck and everything, and it’s going to be interesting to see if I’m up there this time, you know what I mean? I’ve got my whole family coming; both my sons who are trainers, and I’ve got my wife coming, and my nieces, and my brother, so it’s going to be quite a family affair.
Pat Forde: Do you normally watch it at the racetrack or at home, or where do you watch it?
Art Sherman: Well, I watch it at home, but most of the time it’s at the racetrack. I’m usually running a horse that day. It’s usually a pretty nice day especially in California. They make a really big party for the Kentucky Derby. And in fact, Santa Anita is giving away California Chrome t-shirts that day and posters.
Pat Forde: Nice. One other question, just I’ve heard that you were quite card aficionado—card player in your day.
Art Sherman: I know, that’s what my friend Vince DeGregory put that out there. You know, I didn’t know that was going to get out. Even though it’s a true story, I don’t want everybody to think I’m a card shark. But it sure helped knowing how to play Racehorse Rummy in the day.
Pat Forde: Because you were pretty good?
Art Sherman: Pretty good, pretty good.
Tom Pedulla: The first one is what kind of work are you looking to get into him on Saturday? You know, is there a target for what you want to get accomplished on Saturday?
Art Sherman: You know, I’m really going on a pattern that I’ve been. You know, he usually breezes about 47.2; goes out usually in a minute and gallops out in 13 and change. I look for the same pattern. He doesn’t really need much. He’s coming back in a month running a mile and an eighth, and I really think this horse will run all day long. He’s got that kind of a stride to him. He’s no wasted motion. I don’t think a mile and a quarter will be a bit of trouble for him.
Tom Pedulla: Okay, then my second question is do you allow yourself to think of the Triple Crown; the big picture of three races in the five weeks, or do you just focus on the Derby with your training?
Art Sherman: You know, I’m a guy that goes race by race. I’d love to be able to predict the future, but when you’re a horse trainer and you see all the things that can happen- – I go one race at a time. If it’s meant to be that I go through the Triple Crown and get lucky, boy, that would be a big feather for everybody involved with my stable and the owners. But I’d like to really focus on the Derby right now, and we’ll wait and see after that race.
Art Wilson: I was talking to Victor the other day and he told me that even before he ever rode California Chrome for the first time that he’d been wanting to ride him, and he was really excited when his agent told him that he was finally going to get the chance to ride California Chrome. Can you kind of just give us the story on how you hooked up with him and how he got the mount the first time?
Art Sherman: Well, you know, we were looking to make a change. Being a former rider, I don’t like to knock any riders, but the jock that was on him before wasn’t riding enough. And I know Victor, Victor and I go back a long time. When he was up in Northern California where I was training for years, I put him on a lot of horses when he was a young rider just starting out and he won a lot of races for me, so we kind of bonded together, and I always wanted to get him on horses. He’s won numerous different races for me even in Southern California, so when I had a chance to get a top class rider like himself, I never hesitated. I just said, hey, listen, I know he’ll fit this horse because he’s a free-running horse, and Victor’s smart. It has been great. He’s four for four on the horse now.
Art Wilson: Okay, and of course you’ve been around the California industry for awhile. Can you remember a time or the last time a California three year old that had a really solid chance to win the Derby captured the public as much as—the public’s fancy as much as this horse has?
Art Sherman: Well, I really don’t realize it. Maybe they did, but I want to tell you something, I’ve never had so much publicity on a horse in all my life, and I really think it’s just because it’s the owners’ first horse and making it to the Derby, and what they paid for him, it’s kind of like a dream come true for a lot of people, especially the smaller breeders in California, they’ve got a chance now. They don’t have to spend a million dollars on horses and six and seven, you know, a lot of them are being bought right after they win a couple of races, and you get ready-made horses. Here’s one that’s coming from a baby and a dream for these people and when you turn down $6 million for a horse, you know that dream’s got to be pretty solid.
Ed McNamara: Much has been made of you sleeping in the stall with Swaps on the train on the way to the Derby. How did that work out? Who got to choose the side of the car he wanted to sleep on; you or Swaps?
Art Sherman: Well, it was me and the groom. It was two of us in a sleeping bag and Swaps is on one side. He was such a cool horse that I never ever thought about him ever trying to roll over or do anything. He was just one of those horses that knew you, and he was a kick to be around. He didn’t have a mean part in his body. He was just perfect to be around. He reminds me so much of my horse, his demeanor- they’re people kind of horses.
Ed McNamara: So he was an easygoing horse?
Art Sherman: Yes, very easygoing horse.
Ed McNamara: All right. Well, and how long did it take to get from—where’d you go, from LA to Louisville?
Art Sherman: Yes, I think it was four days, if I’m not mistaken. Gosh, it’s been so long; you know, 18 years old, it’s been a long time, but I’m almost sure it was about four days in the car.
Ed McNamara: Four days?
Art Sherman: I think four days.
Ed McNamara: So and you have pleasant memories of riding in the railroad car?
Art Sherman: Oh, yes, that was the good old days in them days. I’ve done it twice; once then and the following year when we took Swaps to Gulfstream and all that,—that was even a longer ride.
Ed McNamara: So you had…
Art Sherman: So I mean we—and then we went to the match race too in Chicago, I forgot all about that, you know, and we did another big ride there. It’s a different era. You know, now you go by airplane and…
Ed McNamara: Right.
Art Sherman: You’re there in three and a half hours. What a difference that is.
Dick Downey: Art, have you been on the backside of Churchill Downs since 1955?
Art Sherman: Yes, I have. I just was a couple years ago with Ultra Blend in the Breeders’ Cup. I’ve been to about three Breeders’ Cups where I had horses in, so it hasn’t been that long. I’ve kind of familiarized myself. I stayed at Churchill Downs and around that area in downtown Louisville. We’re going to be at the Brown Hotel, too, which is a real easy spot for me to get back to the track.
Dick Downey: All right, and what barn will California Chrome be in?
Art Sherman: Well, he’s going to be in trainer Tom Proctor’s barn, who does very well; got a big stable over there in Churchill Downs. You know, I wanted to be around other horses —familiarized, and better than being by himself it’s different when you’re around other horses, he feels more at home.
Dick Downey: You’ve known him for a long time?
Art Sherman: Oh, Tom? Yes, I do, and we get along great. He’s a super nice guy.
Tom Jicha: Well, I don’t know if you’re going to have the horse with the most races going into this race, but this horse is going in with 10. We see horses going into the Derby now with three, four starts under them. Do you have any feelings on that about building a foundation on a horse looking forward to the three year old races?
Art Sherman: Well, you know, I’ve had a lot of decent three year olds. I had Lykatill Hil come to the Derby, and everything that I’ve read about horses winning the Derby and backgrounds they all run a mile and an eighth prior to running in the Derby, and I just think that being seasoned and not have to do a whole lot of training prior to the Derby I think is a big benefit. A lot of guys that just start once or twice and you’ve got to get a mile work into them, and then if their track happens to be raining you don’t get the right type of a workout to keep your horse fit, you know what I mean? So I think that the pattern that we used this time is going to be very beneficial to us.
Art Sherman: All right. How are you? I love the picture (cross talking). Yes, that was a great picture of the horse. I just thought it was (cross talking).
Frank Angst: It was. I was curious, what went into the decision of working Saturday at Los Al as compared to maybe shipping him early to Churchill and working?
Art Sherman: You know, I’ve been there to Churchill Downs with different horses I think the demeanor of this horse means a whole lot. You know, he’s a horse that’s not as scared of strange things. He kind of adapts real easy. All I have to do is just school him. In case there is that chance of rain or off track or something, I didn’t want him to take a chance of not having the right kind of surface to train on. I’ve been back there and I know what can happen. This way he’s going to have a beautiful track there at Los Alamitos and it’s his home ground. He’s shipped all over to win. I’m not worried about his shipping. He’s run on three different racetracks already. I just didn’t think that I needed to work him again, so all I need to do is stand him in the gate and take him to the paddock.
Frank Angst: You feel like that surface has been really good for him to train on?
Art Sherman: Oh, I do. It’s a good old dirt track that I used to ride on years ago. I love that rich loam that they’ve got down there. The horses seem to enjoy it very much.
Jim Mulvihill: We had Steve Coburn on a few weeks ago and he claimed that he believed California Chrome was a Derby horse from the first time he laid eyes on him. Wondering was there a moment for you where you started to believe that this was a horse of that caliber?
Art Sherman: Well, not really. I’ve been around a long time. You know, you’ll always love to have dreams, but I’m from old school; you’ve got to show me. I believe in luck and fate, but I have to see the horse improve a whole lot, which the Road to the Derby for them has been very lucky because he’s won already four of the races that they had written down, so maybe they know a little bit more than I do now. I’m not sure.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Well, Art, you’ve been very generous with your time today. We appreciate your time coming on, and enjoy your last little bit of quiet before the madness of Louisville.
Art Sherman: I hear you. Thank you.
Jim Mulvihill: All right. Thanks, Art Sherman. Our thanks once again to all of our guests. In addition to Art, Mike Maker, Jimmy Jerkens, and a special thanks to all the horsemen who joined us over the past two and a half months on this Road to the Kentucky Derby. There won’t be a call next Tuesday; the next call will be our Preakness Stakes Preview, that’s Thursday, May 8th at 1 p.m. That’s a Thursday call, May 8th at 1 p.m. for the Preakness Preview. We