For one last time, at a racetrack 3,000 miles from home, California Chrome gets to do what he loves most:
If the decision were up to him, and not his human owners, California Chrome would continue galloping toward the wire another year. At least that’s my horse sense. Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park in Florida, with its $12 million purse, would not be his final race.
Especially if the chestnut colt with the distinctive silver blaze, bred and foaled at Harris Farms just outside Coalinga, defeats rival Arrogate from the outside post and claims the $7 million first prize. If that happens, imagine a scenario where California Chrome and Arrogate go nostril to nostril at racetracks across the globe. Perhaps even match races a la Seabiscuit and War Admiral.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. So does Art Sherman, California Chrome’s longtime trainer.
This horse is getting better and better. I’d love to have another year.
Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer
“This horse is getting better and better,” the 79-year-old Sherman recently told the Daily Racing Form. “I’d love to have another year.
“It’s kinda sad. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse. It’s been a hell of a ride. I watched his work on (Jan. 17) and said, ‘Give me one more year, please.’ ”
The legions of California Chrome fans (aka “Chromies”) want exactly the same thing.
Instead, we’ll have to settle for one more trip around the track at 1⅛ miles before he retires to stud life in Kentucky, just in time for breeding season.
To be factual, the greatest four-legged athlete in Central California history – yes, we’re claiming California Chrome as a native son – has already enjoyed a longer racing career than most championship thoroughbreds.
Many horses with his track record don’t race past their 3-year-old year because racing is risky and the breeding fees so darned lucrative.
Many horses with his track record don’t race past their 3-year-old year because racing is risky and the breeding fees so darned lucrative. (See 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, whose owners charge $200,000 each time he … ahem … “covers” a mare.)
California Chrome took a different path. He continued racing through an injury-marred 2015 and again last year, thanks to a new partnership between original co-owners and breeders Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and major Kentucky breeder Taylor Made Farms.
His 2016 results were nothing short of sensational. California Chrome won seven of his eight starts, including the $10 million Dubai World Cup, to push his career earnings over $17.7 million. The only defeat came by half a length to Arrogate in the Breeder’s Cup, which makes Saturday’s swan song all the more intriguing.
If the younger Arrogate, who missed last year’s Triple Crown races because of injury, defeats California Chrome for a second time, then perhaps it’s best for the 6-year-old colt to move on to the next chapter of his remarkable story.
But if California Chrome evens their head-to-head series, who in the world wouldn’t want to see a best of three? Hard to imagine a bigger shot in the arm for a sagging sport.
California Chrome LLC strongly considered racing the horse through 2017, according to Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farms.
It came down to a “risk/reward” situation, Taylor told the DRF. Not to mention the fact that California Chrome already has 120 mares booked for the five-month mating season.
120mares already booked to breed with California Chrome during the five-month mating season in Kentucky
Yes, 120. Someone’s going to be a busy boy.
“We can breed him and make $6 million,” Taylor said. “If we run in all these (2017) races he could earn $15 million, but he’d have to win all those races and stay in training for a year.”
Nobody asked California Chrome for his opinion, of course. But if he could give it, I’d bet he’d opt for galloping down backstretches over frolicking in barns.
No, I don’t have any special insight into the horse’s psyche. It’s just a feeling I’ve gotten after watching him run and reading anecdotes about how much he loves training and racing. Stories from employees at Harris Farms about how he never missed a day, or how he was able to plop down in his stall and take a nap, even snore, after being ridden hard.
Just like any two-legged athlete who knows he can’t perform at his best without proper rest and recovery.
California Chrome is a horse for the ages. … I choke up every time he runs, he is just so special.
John Harris, owner of Harris Farms where California Chrome was bred and foaled
“California Chrome is a horse for the ages,” said John Harris, owner of Harris Farms and a 2017 Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame inductee. “He is the whole package – great personality, looks and performance coupled with inherent charisma. … I choke up every time he runs, he is just so special.”
Millions of Chromies share those sentiments. What a horse. From modest beginnings – California Chrome’s mother cost $8,000, and she was bred to the unheralded Lucky Pulpit for the piddly sum of $2,500 – rose a champion thoroughbred that captured the world’s attention.
At Gulfstream Park this week, scores of fans turned out to watch him train. Millions more will tune in for his final race, which will be televised on NBC. Win or lose Saturday from the difficult outside post position, California Chrome’s legacy is secure.
Still, this is one of those times where I wish animals could talk. Because if they could, I’d bet a lot of hay this horse doesn’t want to hang up his bridle.