Garden City Hotel Long Island: The great and good of racing have gathered at the party for the media for the 2014. Belmont Stakes to be held at Belmont racetrack just a gallop from here.
But all the attention is on a small man holding court quietly in a corner while the party rages on.
Art Sherman is 77 , a middling trainer from California, via a Brooklyn childhood. A former jockey and journeyman his is the tale of a thousand small characters who make up the racing world.
But this year He is a tale from a Damon Runyon short story, especially his racing ones which were full of offbeat characters some making it big..
Anonymous Art fits right in.
This year against all odds, he has the Big Horse.
Let me explain.In 1987 as a relative newcomer to New York I saw Alysheba fail in his attempt to win racing’s Triple Crown, the Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
I will never forget the atmosphere that day as the massive crowd cheered and hooted and hollered as the field came to the top of the stretch and a wall of noise engulfed the stately Belmont arena.
In all my life having attended and covered World Cups, Olympics, Super Bowls, All Ireland finals, I had never experienced a roar like it as the crowd encouraged Alysheba who, alas, faltered in the long Belmont stretch
This Triple Crown is really something I thought, vowing to be present to see a horse do it. I expected it would be only a matter of a couple of years
I’ve been waiting ever since.
Two years later Sunday Silence failed and the list goes on and on from heartbreak misses like Real Quiet who lost by a nose, to complete flops like Big Brown who was pulled up. Some suspect it is a jinx.
This week they even brought back that New York Irish anthem “Sidewalks of New York” to be sung before the race when someone noticed that since they stopped no one had won the Triple Crown.
Each time I saw a contender fail I went home deflated but vowing to be there the next time.
It is on my bucket list now.
On Saturday they expect 130,000 or so again to show up at the venerable old track on the Queens, Long Island border.
I’ll be there, tolerating the crush and the crowd, loving the atmosphere and wishing and hoping this time the Big Horse, 2014 version will do it.
It has been 36 years and 11 failed attempts and I have seen about eight of them.
Now comes California Chrome.
He is a complete throw back, already has contended in 12 races when the fashion nowadays is that horses rarely race more than five or six times before the Triple Crown.
His trainer is Art Sherman, an old Jewish guy from New York originally who now hangs out at unfashionable Los Alamitos race track n Southern California, his owners are working stiffs who can hardly believe their luck. They threw together a bad mare and an even more useless stallion and produced an unlikely champion.
In soccer parlance consider it like Luxembourg winning the World Cup, in baseball like the Toledo Mud Hens beating the Yankees, in college football a community college beating Alabama.
Bluebloods spend hundreds of millions trying to win the Triple Crown or even one of the races every year. A horse that cost $2.500 in breeding fees may well do it
The horse is a big flashy chestnut with white markings who stands out in a crowd and seems to enjoy his heroic status.
He wins his races the same way all the time, lying just off the leaders then unleashing a powerful kick on the turn for home.
When they get to the top of the stretch tomorrow just before 7p.m that Belmont roar will lift the roof off the grandstand if the flashy chestnut hits the front. The racing Gods have made the Triple Crown fiendishly difficult in order to ensure that only true champions prevail.
Here’s hoping California Chrome is one.