Don’t plan a retirement party for Art Sherman anytime soon.
The old guy still gets up at 3:30 in the morning and heads to Los Alamitos to tend to his 12 head, and while he’s first to admit the game ain’t what it used to be, it beats watching 1970’s game shows on TV or playing golf.
“I did a podcast, which I’d never done before,” Sherman said, “and discussed a lot of things, was even asked what I’d do when I retire, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll retire.’ It’s not going to be that far off, but I’ll probably go through this year, for sure.
“I’ve got some young horses coming up so I’ll stick around at least till the end of the year. I gave my personal opinion about things. It’s such a different ball game now from when I started training in 1979.
“You lose something these days; this virus thing kind of knocked everybody for a loop. You can’t get your owners to come to the races and they’re all bummed out.
“I saw a story about me retiring, and I was surprised. They kind of got a little carried away. It’s no big thing, except maybe when my clients read it, they’ll say, ‘Oh, gee, Art’s not going to be around that long.’
“I talked about the old days and things that I’ve done all my life. It gets to a point where you look back and you say, ‘Wow!’ But my stock isn’t really like it was. You have good years and bad years and it’s more of a struggle right now than it is fun.
“It’s a tough time and you don’t know down the road if it’s going to get any better or not. But I’ve got some young horses, a California Chrome baby named Macho Chrome that’s a yearling now, and I’d like to be around when he runs.”
Sherman also has some other youngsters coming along, although he admits, “I’m a little behind on my two-year-olds, including one that I raised; she’s up to a half-mile now.
“I never pushed my two-year-olds, just let them do their own thing; I don’t run them too early.”
At 83, Sherman takes care of business at his own established and proven pace. He fancies training at his Los Alamitos base where he has a condo not far from the track, in addition to a home in Rancho Bernardo, 24 miles north of San Diego.
One of his horses, Been Studying Her, is entered in Saturday’s $75,000 Angels Flight Stakes for three-year-old fillies at 6 ½ furlongs. Owned and bred in California by Kevin and Kim Nash, who campaign as KMN Racing, LLC, the bay daughter of Fast Anna rallied from well back to finish third in the Evening Jewel Stakes for Cal-breds on May 16, her first race in four months.
“I like her,” Sherman said. “I look for her to run a big race. She’s training well, I schooled her in the gate and she’s acting good. I’m happy with the outside draw (post five of five).”
More than six decades ago, Sherman survived financially as a standby rider on the New York circuit where he earned extra cash by fleecing his peers at Gin Rummy in the jocks’ room at old Jamaica Race Course. He was barely out of diapers before he honed his street smarts watching guys make book in his father Harry’s barber shop in Brooklyn, a Runyonesque retreat if ever there was one.
It was there that one of the kibitzers eyeballed Art’s 5-2, 112-pound frame and told him, “Kid, you ought to be a jockey.” Sherman took his advice and in a riding career from 1957 until 1978, he would go on to win more than 2,000 races. In a training career that began 41 years ago, Sherman has 2,250 victories.
Those Flatbush flings served him well while reaching racing’s apex with California Chrome, who missed winning the 2014 Triple Crown when he dead-heated for fourth in the Belmont Stakes.
Chrome was named Horse of the Year not once, but twice (2014 and 2016), won 27 races, earned nearly $15 million, and became an international phenomenon, a fable appropriate for Aesop.
The money, the celebrity, the fanfare never went to Art Sherman’s head. He enjoyed it, sure, but otherwise took it in stride, savoring it while treating the media courteously, patiently, attentively and forthrightly.
He is a blue-collar gentleman’s gentleman, assuredly one of racing’s good guys. Put it this way: if he’s not the best, there aren’t too many ahead of him.
And for random acts of kindness, Sherman cited this: “A few years ago, a lady came all the way from Palm Springs to Los Alamitos (nearly 100 miles each way, a trip of more than two hours) just to see Chrome gallop. She couldn’t recognize him among all the horses coming and going and asked when he was coming out. I said he was out 15 minutes ago.
“She said, ‘Oh, I didn’t know he went by already. I came all the way from Palm Springs just to take a picture of him.’ I was busy but I felt bad for her and brought Chrome out to let her take the picture. She couldn’t thank me enough.
“‘You don’t know what you’ve done,’” she said. ‘You made my day and my life. I just love this horse.’”
Little wonder he was presented the Turf Publicists of America’s Sport of Turfdom Award in 2016 for his cooperation with the media.
But that was then and this is now.
“Not having fans at the races has taken so much from our sport,” Sherman said. “Believe me, it’s different . . . It’s so weird . . . I remember winning the Santa Anita Derby (with Chrome in 2014) and having all the people in the paddock and all the hoopla.”
Hard to believe, but less than four years ago, on Nov. 5, 2016, 72,811 fans turned out at Santa Anita to see Chrome run against Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
“Now it’s changed so much,” Sherman said, “but I’m just glad we’re racing and the owners can make some money.”
He has more than one reason to be glad–a vital reason.
“I had a tumor removed from my bladder in March of last year,” Sherman said, “but I’m cancer-free now.”
That’ll beat winning the Kentucky Derby every time. “I was there with the good times,” Sherman recalled with a touch of nostalgia. “I remember when we had 70,000 people at Santa Anita when I was a kid and watched all the great horses run and had fun. You never forget that.
“You always have the memories.”
The field for the Angels Flight, race eight:
1. Gingham, Mike Smith, 5-2
2. Biddy Duke, Aaron Gryder, 4-1
3. Praise and Honor, Abel Cedillo, 4-1
4. High On Gin, Victor Espinoza, 7-2
5. Been Studying Her, Flavien Prat, 9-5
Santa Anita Press Release
Photo: Art Sherman. Credit: Benoit Photos