Art Sherman still a class act even after defeat at Belmont

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Everybody is talking about California Chrome owner Steve Coburn. He called the winners of the Belmont Stakes, and anybody who ran in the Belmont without running in the Preakness or Kentucky Derby "cowards" and "cheaters."

You'll see his face all over ESPN. He was splashed across Sunday’s New York Post under the headline, "Triple Clown." Fewer people today are going to talk about Art Sherman. California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer showed up at his colt's barn Sunday morning, and did exactly what you would expect an old horseman to do.

He showed how someone is supposed to act when he loses. First, he talked about his horse's condition.

"He had a big chunk of his quarter taken out," Sherman said. "I have a still picture of the No. 3 horse coming over and hitting his right front and taking a big chunk out of it. I can heal that up in about 2-3 weeks. And then we'll stop on him for about six or seven weeks and give him some pasture time. So Chrome is going to have some needed rest. It's been a tough campaign for him."

Sherman said his horse got pinned inside and couldn't get to his preferred position of stalking horses outside the leaders. But as an old rider, Sherman also said that the jockeys in the race did exactly what they were supposed to do.

"Victor [Espinoza] tried to get him out, and they were pushing him down in there and he had no racing room," Sherman said. "But hey, listen, the horse has had six straight races and had perfect trips. You know, sometimes in this game when you do have a bad trip, that's part of it. "You can't blame the jocks, they know he's the horse to beat. You know you're going to have one of them trips. Hey, listen, we'll be here to fight another day."

In fact, after watching the head-on replay of the race, Sherman said he felt fortunate that California Chrome didn't sustain a more serious injury.

"Well, it [the first contact] was up by his tendon," Sherman said. "That's what scared me the most. But it wasn't deep, it was superficial. God, that's the worst thing that can happen to a horse is you hit his tendon."

Sherman said he doesn't think, given the racing patterns of today's horses, the Triple Crown is likely to happen. He said he'd be fine with a change in the rules to allow more time between the races, but noted that tradition is a powerful thing, and that he doesn't expect anything to happen soon.

He did not share Coburn's criticism of other trainers and owners. Asked about Coburn's "cheaters" comments, Sherman said, "I don't do that. I can't make excuses. ... He'll probably make a pretty good apology for that, I would think."

Sherman expected Coburn to come out and apologize for his comments, but that's not exactly how things went down.

Coburn did appear Sunday morning to talk to ABC's Good Morning America, but he wasn't there to apologize.

"I think I'm just going to stand by what I said," Coburn said.

His message has been that if a horse doesn't qualify for the Kentucky Derby, he shouldn't be eligible to run in any of the Triple Crown races.

"You might compare this to a triathlon," Coburn said in his GMA interview. "You know you've got to swim and you've got to bicycle and you've got to run. ... You don't make it to run if you're not going to do the other two."

"That would be like me, at 6-2, playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair," he said in a later interview with ESPN. "There were three horses in this race ... that ran in the first two, none of the other horses did. So you ask yourself, would it be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheelchair?"

Coburn has several problems. First, and biggest: He's way out of line. He has every right to make his point about the Triple Crown rules -- and to his credit he was making it long before his colt lost. But calling people "cowards" and "cheaters" crossed a line.

Tonalist didn't run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes because he had a lung infection that kept him from acquiring the points needed. The Belmont Stakes is a Grade I stand-alone race worth $1.5 million dollars. If you have a horse who qualifies, you can run in it.

Billy Gowan, trainer of Ride On Curlin, one of three horses who ran in all three legs this year, was asked if he'd enter a horse in the Belmont if it hadn't run in the Derby or Preakness. His answer, "Yes, if I thought I had a chance to win."

Woody Stephens won five consecutive Belmont Stakes from 1982 to 1986. Two of those Belmont winners didn't run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness.

The fact is, no more than a handful of horses are going to run all three races in any given Triple Crown year. The Triple Crown, as a series, was not set up for horses to win it. In fact, it was named after the fact and awarded to the first few who already had.

You can argue, and Coburn and Sherman and many others are, that there won't be a Triple Crown winner under these conditions, because that's not how horses are run anymore.

Coburn has made his point, but he lost the public relations race Sunday morning when he didn't apologize for calling his competitors cowards and cheaters. At the very least, he needs to back off those words. They're hurting his larger argument and they took attention from the wonderful streak his colt put together.

As for Sherman, he said he hasn't changed.

"Same old Art," he said. "Got up, put my boots on, and I'm here. To me, being around the horses is my life. Although I did win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, I never did that before."

Art Sherman is a great story, and amid a weekend of controversy, proved an adept ambassador of his team, and his sport.

Sherman said California Chrome would return to the West coast, would heal up from his injury and spend a month or so resting. He said he hoped to set him back on a course for the Breeders' Cup Classic in the fall. Before leaving, he looked out at reporters and said, "It's been a great run. I appreciate what you guys have been. Everybody has a job to do, and like myself, you try to do the best job you can. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you get beat. That's just what it is. You can't be a hero all the time. I appreciate everybody. Thanks."

Those aren't the kind of comments that make for big headlines. But they should.

The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, and television station WDRB in Louisville, Ky. Eric Crawford writes for WDRB.

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