Wednesday, January 21, 2009

O Firefly's Trainer: Steve Sherman

From a Daily Racing Form article written by Chuck Dybdal:

Steve Sherman was not born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, but he will be the first to admit he began his training career in January 2008 with plenty of advantages.

"It takes a lot to get going, but I was left in a good position," he said of taking over what had been the Northern California barn of his father, Art Sherman, who is concentrating on a Southern California operation.

Taking over a successful operation has plenty of advantages, but it is far from a cakewalk. "There is some pressure on you," Sherman said. "You're expected to win when you have a big barn."

But even Sherman says he didn't expect his first year as a trainer to go quite like it did. "If you told me I'd win a stakes and 140 races in my first year, I'd say, 'No way,'" he said.

But win he did, posing for pictures 139 times, including a snapshot in the winner's circle with Siren Lure after the Sausalito Stakes on Nov. 22.

And thus far, he's avoiding the so-called sophomore slump, already saddling his second stakes winner, the talented 3-year-old filly Ultra Blend.

Sherman, 45, ascribes to the old sports axiom that it is better to be lucky than good, telling his jockey and owner before each race, "Let's get lucky." But he also believes, like legendary baseball general manager Branch Rickey, that luck is the residue of design.

And while he may be surprised by his good fortune thus far as a trainer, he is not surprised by the work it takes to maintain a winning percentage of 23 percent (and 57 percent in the money).

As his father's top assistant he has known good times and not-so-good times. And he knows that hard work and attention to detail are two key ingredients to success.

"You have to appreciate everything you have, but there are times when you don't do good," he said. "You struggle and you do a lot of thinking, staying up late at night. But you have to grind it out, keep working and plugging along."

Although his father had nearly 1,000 wins as a jockey and has amassed more than 2,000 wins as a trainer, Steve Sherman never expected to go into the family business.

He was an excellent high school athlete in football and track whose career goal was to join the California Highway Patrol. It wasn't until after his high school graduation that he came to the backstretch for what he thought would be a summer job.

But he never left.

"I started rubbing horses, ponying, being a hotwalker," he said. "I believe you have to start from the ground up, so I also went to a ranch to learn about breaking and caring for horses and beginning the training process.."

When he began his training career on Jan. 1, 2008, Sherman didn't have to do anything different."It was easy for me," he said. "My dad was gone, trying to get started down south. I was doing it all up here anyway."

Sherman has the same crew he used to work side-by-side with and says his success is a reflection of their hard work and the teamwork within the barn. He keeps lines of communication open with grooms, owners, and even fellow trainers. "You always have to be open to suggestions," he said. "I'm not scared to ask people questions and get feedback."

Sherman has outstanding winning percentages and shows profits with new faces in his barn, with layoff runners and with blinker changes.

Sherman's success comes from his ground-up learning, his communication with his crew, watching horses closely and equal amounts of patience and aggressive placement of horses in races.

He says that with new runners he likes to try to work them two or three times and always tries to use the same gallop rider with them, listening to any suggestions they may offer. He checks the newcomers' general health, their teeth, and gives them time to adjust to his feeding program. And he spends long amounts of time under a horse checking legs.

"If you spend time with them and get in their head and get to know them, it pays off," he said. "You have to make your horses happy. If they're not happy, they're not going to do much running."


Capn Dyke said...

Th'Lad sounds like a Fine Trainer for O Firefly, Me Tig! Well Held! As an Aside, he certainly has 'Luck' in his stable now, eh? ;)

Joyce said...

Well, he's simply a good guy, and his girlfriend Cary is a sweetheart, too! That whole barn is made up of good folks--the grooms, exercise riders, even the barn cat, who always manages to hop into my arms to let me carry him around for the horses to sniff at whenever we're going through with carrots for the big babies. :-)

Margo Moon said...

How did I miss this post? Durrr.

I love this, Joyce. Sounds like you all and O Firefly hooked up with a winner. So cool that he knows the key is making them happy.

Joyce said...

Well, I can tell you that she's already filled out and has been training well. I think he may take the blinks off and run her with just a shadowroll. We'll see how she does.