Ex-jock Sherman rides with
Solis, but not his owners

Feb 20, 2007 12:54 AM

No one feels worse for Alex Solis than Art Sherman. Sherman rode for 23 years. He knows what it’s like to be taken off a good horse.

So when it came time for Sherman to tell Solis he no longer was the regular rider of multiple stakes winner Siren Lure, Sherman, now a successful trainer, did so reluctantly.

Solis’ career has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Despite having one of the sharpest and most successful agents in the game in Scott McClellan, Alex, a top money rider for years, is finding business uncharacteristically sparse this meet at Santa Anita, where he is a three-time champion.

Solis, who will be 43 on March 25, won 100 races at Santa Anita 15 years ago. Ten years ago, the native of Panama won the title with 90 wins, and he led all riders at the 2001-02 meet with 76.

Coming off a three-day suspension and through 39 days this meet, he had only eight wins from 91 rides. He was winning with only nine percent of his mounts. On Feb. 10, when 16 horses ran in Santa Anita’s two Grade I races, events he seldom missed in the past, he didn’t have a mount. On the Presidents’ Day weekend encompassing three days and 30 races in which 303 horses were entered, Solis was named on only seven; one Saturday, two Sunday and four on Monday. Four of those seven were for one of his most loyal employers, trainer Paddy Gallagher.

At the moment, Solis’ career is lower than the crotch on a gang-banger’s pants.

Rumors can be vicious in any medium, but the race track spews its own special venom. Backstretch whispers say Solis has lost the eye of the tiger since coming back from a July 23, 2004, spill at Del Mar which sidelined him for more than five months with a fractured vertebrae in his back.

Had it been strictly his decision, Sherman, a Brooklyn native who turned 70 on Feb. 17, was willing to give Solis a free pass on Siren Lure, a durable yet lightly raced gelding Solis had ridden in eight consecutive races. Solis won five times, including the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap. Siren Lure’s owners, Stuart Kesselman and Tony Melkonian, had seen enough after a wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which he finished eighth by more than nine lengths behind victorious Thor’s Echo and second, while three wide turning for home in the Vernon O. Underwood.

Richard Migliore replaced Solis in Saturday’s San Carlos Handicap. As it turned out, Shoemaker wouldn’t have made much difference. Siren Lure finished seventh under Migliore and never threatened.

"We wound up changing riders, but that was kind of an owners’ decision," Sherman said. "I feel bad because I rode for a lot of years, and I know when I got taken off a horse I had won a half-dozen races on, it wasn’t easy. Still, I have a job (to do) and the owners are calling the shots, and I think in a couple of those races, Alex probably could have been a lot closer if he’d have saved some ground.

"It’s a tough situation, and not one of my favorites to be in, I want to tell you. Alex is such a nice guy, and I like Scotty," Sherman continued. "I understand things happen. I rode for a lot of years and maybe you lose a step or two, but that doesn’t stop you from winning on the best horse. I was in a bad situation and was almost adamant about it. I tried to stick up for Solis, but my owners said they wanted to make a change.

"What makes things worse for Alex is that now people bad-mouth him and say he’s scared. It’s something I have to go through, and I don’t like it, because I’m sitting here on the fence," Sherman added

Throughout his career, Sherman could have fallen on one side or the other, but by persevering, he has become one of the nation’s elite horsemen. Last year he captured 189 races, winning at a remarkable 25 percent clip.

"I’ve been around a long time," Sherman said. "I’m getting to be the old-timer. A lot of my friends have passed away. I’m 70 now and I’ve been on the race track since I was 16 years old, over 50 years. Each year has been great, but last year was my all-time best in money won, over $4 million in purses. I trained in Northen California for years, but now I’ve got a stable in Southern California and I’m happy about that and the fact that I’m getting decent clients. That’s why I’m settin’ where I am today."

That would be on top of the fence, a position he would love to share with Alex Solis.

The homestretch

”¡ Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning jockey Kent Desormeaux returned to California "for a cup of coffee" on Feb. 10, riding Jump On In to a last-place finish in the Las Virgenes Stakes, but don’t expect the former Southern California regular to ride full time again in the Golden State any time soon. The Hall of Famer, who turns 35 next Tuesday, has been riding on the East Coast with a modicum of success since making a major career change a year ago.

"It’s been a successful move so far," Desormeaux told me. "My measuring stick at this hour is Premium Tap. I’ve picked up one of the best handicap horses in the country. So far, so good, but the state of my business is going to tell me where to ride."

Desormeaux recently guided Premium Tap to a daylight victory over 15 rivals in Saudi Arabia, in a prep for the $6 million Dubai World Cup where he likely will face Invasor and Discreet Cat on March 31.

”¡ I was surprised to read of "Mule Train" singer Frankie Laine’s death at the age of 93. I thought he was already dead.

”¡ Two words that prove no one is indispensable: Marty Schottenheimer.

”¡ And let me make one thing perfectly clear: I did not father the baby of Anna Nicole Smith.