The Butterfly Effect on California Chrome

And yet if Gilchrist, acting on behalf of Scott Sherwood’s Blinkers On Racing Stable partnership, had not gone to $30,000 to buy a filly by Not for Love at the second session of the Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training in May of 2008.

She would not have ended up in Northern California. She would not have won an $8,000 maiden claiming race for Blinkers On. She would not have been sold to Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, who met through Blinkers On. She would not have been bred to the $2,500 California stallion Lucky Pulpit. And she never would have dropped that white-trimmed chestnut who ended up in the care of Art Sherman and destroyed the Santa Anita Derby field to be perched at the threshold of Kentucky Derby favoritism.

No one is more surprised, or pleased, than Gilchrist.

“Everybody deserves one of them once in a while,” Gilchrist said. “I couldn’t be happier for Art.”

Gilchrist had his, and then some. He trained Eclipse Award champion sprinter Lost in the Fog, a colt who won his first 10 races and 11 out of 14 starts before succumbing to the ravages of cancerous tumors attached to his spine and spleen. He was euthanized in September of 2006.

Gilchrist, who retired from training in 2010, has kept his hand in the game as a bloodstock consultant. He never counted on the Not for Love filly – eventually named Love the Chase – ranking high on his résumé.

“She wasn’t very big, and she did not continue to grow at all,” Gilchrist said. “When I put the saddle on and can look the valet straight in the eye, that’s not a good sign.

“I ran her twice, and I told Mr. Sherwood the filly just didn’t have any talent,” Gilchrist went on. “She’ll try all day long, but she just can’t run. When she won it had to be the slowest maiden race in California that year. If anybody but Perry Martin would have bought her, she probably would have ended up in a 4-H club somewhere.”

So, some little kid’s loss is racing’s gain. For his part, Art Sherman has stopped wondering why California Chrome has come into his life and is more concerned with keeping the show on the road. It is Sherman’s job to maximize the colt’s considerable attributes while minimizing the impact of any natural-born defects.

“He’s got no wasted motion,” Sherman said this week, after California Chrome emerged from his Santa Anita Derby romp in the pink. “He’s got a good shoulder on him, and he’s real strong in the front. I always say I’d like to see a little more ass on him, but what are you going to do . . . pick him apart? I’m just so happy he’s running the way he is.

“He is a little offset in the knee, and his right foot turns out a little,” the trainer added. “I’m always checking his knees and his ankles. Everything has been ice-cold, knock wood. When I was riding I broke my right ankle in three places, so me and the colt toe out about the same.”

Sherman and Gilchrist, long-time colleagues on California’s second circuit, have more in common with the horse trainers of Parx or Calder, all working in the shadow of the major tracks in New York, Miami, and L.A. If that isn’t tough enough, early in his career Sherman, a jockey for 23 years, found himself battling an age-old prejudice.

“I used to hear all that b.s. about how ex-jockeys never make good trainers,” he said. “I thought, that can’t be true. People saying that, they’ve never had a horse between their legs, and feel the pounding, how there’s nothing like riding a race and being part of the horse. People don’t understand what a thrill that is.

“That’s why I missed it so much when I quit,” Sherman added. “It’s a way of life, and it took me a while to get acclimated. But a lot of jocks don’t make it as trainers because it is so different. As trainer you’re focusing on so many other things, like trying to convince owners you can do the job just as good as the guy who’s been on top for a long time.”

Two days after the Santa Anita Derby, Sherman had an NBC film crew at his home in Rancho Bernardo, just northeast of Del Mar. At 77, he is getting one of those rare opportunities to tell his personal story and share his love of the racing game with an unimaginably large audience. Of course, with such heights comes the potential of a terrible fall.

“I know,” Sherman said. “I’ll have to be tough. But sometimes you can’t even win for losing. I once won a stakes race and they booed me, when I beat Lost in the Fog up north with that little gray horse, Carthage. They were even giving away Lost in the Fog bobbleheads at the track that day.

“I felt bad,” Sherman added. “I really did.”