Jay Paris: Besset’s training career took an unexpected turn with California Chrome

Jay Paris: Besset’s training career took an unexpected turn with California Chrome
Paula Besset, a Torrey Pines High School alum and Encinitas resident is helping train California Chrome, a candidate for horse of the year. Courtesy photo

It was a stretch drive, the likes not seen even in horse racing.

That didn’t deter Paula Besset.

Besset, of Encinitas, had a hankering to work for Sherman Racing Stables.

But the local horse trainer didn’t know anyone associated with the crew.

She didn’t have a formal interview, but informally, presented herself to California Chrome’s handlers.

She did have gumption, motivation and a resume which revealed she knew her way around ponies.

Still it was stretch in November when Besset climbed in her car and drove to the Los Alamitos Race Track. She was determined to join the Sherman stable and if it didn’t happen, so be it.

“I wasn’t sure where anything was,” Besset said, about roaming the Orange County oval where the Sherman bunch hangs its shingle.

She sniffed a trail to the right area and found Art Sherman. Besset’s story was quick and to the point.

“I told him I just wasn’t a California Chrome follower trying to get in,” she said. “I was a true, dedicated person that has a passion for thoroughbred race horses. I just introduced myself and that is kind of how it started.’’

It’s a start without a finish, and why would Besset want it to end?

“They just scooped me up,’’ Besset said.

That has Besset, 50, at the Sherman table in Florida for Saturday’s Eclipse Awards. California Chrome, a 3-year-old colt and winner of two legs of the Triple Crown, could be named the 2014 Horse of the Year.

Is this the spot Besset pinches herself? If Al Michaels wasn’t busy peddling his new book, he could deliver a nifty, “Do you believe in miracles?”

“I had no expectations,” said Besset, a Torrey Pines High graduate. “This is more than I could ever dream of.’’

Before getting too far ahead — it’s easy when California Chrome is the subject — let’s retreat to last fall.

Besset’s training pitch was enough to intrigue Art and Alan Sherman, the owners of Sherman Racing Stables. So they invited her to Del Mar to watch California Chrome run in November’s Hollywood Derby.

Although when she RSVP’d, it wasn’t just for the race.

Besset was among trainers helping in the week-long Del Mar lead-up and that’s where her bond with California Chrome became clear.

“Whoa,’’ Art Sherman said when spotting California Chrome nuzzling Besset. “You guys really have a connection.”

It’s not surprising considering Besset’s background.

She was training off-track horses for their new life at Grindstone Farms before finding the Shermans.

She rode and competed on horses as a youth.

She’s a self-described “tom boy” and doesn’t mind getting dirt under her finger nails or boots.

“I can definitely hold my ground,” Besset said, and if you doubt her, that’s on you. “And I’m definitely confident around horses.”

That’s obvious when she’s sharing space with the high-strung California Chrome.

“Most people can’t get close to him and not that many people are even allowed to get close,” Besset said. “He’s pretty aggressive and if you get too close, he’ll bite you.’’

That same is true with Besset, but California Chrome nibbles instead of chomps.

“He’s very sweet and almost romantic with me,” Besset said. “He gives me these tiny little love bites and is very gentle.

“I think horses have a sixth sense on things, as all animals do really. He’s leery about people but we have a connection.’’

So for the week before the Hollywood Derby, Besset was hands-on.

“I even walked with him to the race that day,’’ she said. “I was with him every moment.’’

The same is true today.

Besset is in Los Alamitos by 5:30 most mornings, helping with all 20 of the horses in the Sherman Racing Stables.

Who says long shots don’t hit? Besset is among the two-legged variety to find her own winner’s circle.

Kudos to Besset for shooting for the moon.

Kudos to the Shermans for letting her help train their sport’s biggest star.

“They just took me under their wing,’’ she said.

Proving that California Chrome had nothing on the Shermans.

“I think,” Besset said, “they had a sixth sense about me, too.”

Contact Jay Paris at jparis8@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports and at mighty1090.com


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