Long before he trained the horse that won the famed Kentucky Derby earlier this month and became one of the most popular men at this year’s Preakness Stakes, Art Sherman was just another student at Hebrew school in suburban Los Angeles.
“It was a little different in that era,” said Sherman, 77, who dropped out before his bar mitzvah after a case of mistaken identity resulted in his getting whacked on the head with a ruler by the morah.
“I got up and never did go back,” laughed Sherman.
Today, what began more than 60 years ago as a half-joking suggestion that Sherman try out jockeying has landed him in the history books as the oldest trainer to ever saddle the winner of the Derby.
“I was always on the small side,” said Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, the clear favorite to take the top spot on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course. Horse races were always on the TVs at his father’s barbershop, said Sherman, and some of the clients told him, “Gee, you’re little enough to be a jockey.” So Sherman decided to give it a shot.
“It was great,” he said of his first experiences riding at a ranch in Ontario, Calif., where he worked as a stable hand before becoming an exercise rider.
After spending some time breaking in young horses Sherman, a native of Brooklyn, eventually moved up to racing.
“[Racing] is a different ballgame,” he said. He had to learn to get along with the much more high-strung horses, many of which weighed 1,200 or more pounds.
He jockeyed for 23 years, during which time he won some races but said he existed pretty “under the radar.” He retired from jockeying with a win in his last race and, after winning his very first race as a trainer, became hooked on prepping the horses for the track.
Whether or not California Chrome wins at Pimlico, which would propel it to just one win away from claiming the Triple Crown, Sherman said he plans to enjoy his time in Baltimore. Though he loves traditional Jewish food — “I call it soul food,” he said — he is especially looking forward to eating some of the local delicacies.