David White: California Chrome racing into hearts across Valley

The Fresno BeeMay 17, 2014 

Did you hear the thundering of the hooves?

That wasn't just the sound of California Chrome dancing down the final stretch of the Preakness Stakes that echoed across his native San Joaquin Valley on Saturday.

That was the sounds of flip-flops and sandals, tearing up the hardwood floor at a neighborhood pool party in Terra Bella ... the sounds of bare feet pounding the carpet in a living room in Selma ... the stomping of dress shoes and heels, with violent roars to match, at a Fresno bar and grill -- where all eyes were fixed on the nearest flat screen to watch California Chrome rumble to victory.

California Chrome is no longer just any horse. Saturday, he became our horse.

We met him in the winner's circle of the Kentucky Derby two weeks back. We adopted him straight out of the gate at the Preakness.

If he takes the Belmont Stakes next month to win the Triple Crown, we'll throw him a homecoming party from here to his Harris Ranch birthplace in Coalinga, on the southwest tip of Fresno County.

The question isn't can California Chrome conquer the mile-and-a-half Belmont course June 7. The real wonder is, can your heart take it?

Admit it: whatever you were doing at 3:16 p.m. Saturday, you stopped and told the kids to go outside because Mommy and Daddy don't want you to see them scream without dignity at the television for the next 2 minutes.

You worried when California Chrome got antsy at the starting gate, telling him to take it easy, big fella. You jumped out of your seat when he galloped into a prime outside position at the ringing of the bell, yelling "Atta boy" at the screen.

He slipped into third place for a moment, and you muttered the word "no" at a clip of 14 times per second. He made his push at the final turn, and you were jumping and leaping and puncturing your lungs and involuntarily losing your spittle.

California Chrome pulled away from Ride on Curlin, and crossed the line to end the longest 1 minute, 54 and 4/5 seconds of your adult life. You spilled your drink and screamed like a 10-year-old at a One Direction concert. That's your horse, baby, everyone in the room now knows.

For the first time in forever, you didn't care who the next Fresno State football quarterback was, or where Derek Carr got drafted, or what Donald Sterling had to say.

Fresno, and all the Valley, just got hooked on horse racing. We couldn't Google "When is Belmont" fast enough.

We may not all know a furlong from a furlough, but we grasp how our horse is a couple New York minutes away from being horse racing's 12th Triple Crown champion, and the first since Affirmed in 1978. Imagine how many local high school graduation party starting times will be built around the starting post time at Belmont.

California Chrome just became that big a deal in these parts.

From Fresno to Coalinga and all parts in between, he is now to horse racing what Indy 500 winner Bill Vukovich is to auto racing, what Olympic champion Bob Mathias is to track and field, what world champion Young Corbett III is to boxing, what Hall of Famer Bill Sharman is to basketball.

California Chrome now defines a sport for us. He has given everyone in this Valley a reason to watch a horse race, and you don't even have to drop a $2 Exacta to care.

California Chrome is our horse. If you're not on the bandwagon, then giddy up, because California Chrome doesn't slow down for anyone.

The columnist can be reached at bydw@sbcglobal.net and on Twitter @bydavidwhite.

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