California Chrome: America's Horse
Horse racing has always had a way of helping and inspiring people. Seabiscuit inspired the country to stay tough during the Great Depression, Whirlaway swept the Triple Crown while World War II loomed overseas, Tiznow won the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Classic “for America” just twelve miles from Ground Zero, and Barbaro inspired strength and resilience in 2006.
On Feb. 18th, 2011, a new inspiration was born for America. What made him so intriguing is that he hailed from almost nothing. His dam, Love The Chase, was purchased for $8,000 by Perry Martin and Steve Coburn. She was small and had been unsuccessful on the racetrack, but horses like Native Dancer, Numbered Account, and Swaps appeared twice in her pedigree. Also to be found were Count Fleet and Somethingroyal.
For just $2,000, Coburn and Martin bred their new mare to Lucky Pulpit. Not only was he an uproven sire, he had also had breathing problems during his racing career that caused him to win only three of twenty two starts. It was unlikely that the colt that resulted from the pairing would amount to much.
The beginning of life proved difficult for the colt. Love The Chase nearly died during foaling and required a lot of medical attention once her colt was born. The new colt also received a lot of attention because of this and it is believed that this human attention helped him develop into a successful racehorse later on in life.
As many humans know, life is not where you start, but where you end up going. This new colt was heading for the stars.
As the colt grew up, he was called “Junior” due to his resemblance to his sire. He was finally given his official name when he was two-years old - California Chrome. Under the care of trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome began to mature. He stood out because of the huge white blaze and four white stockings that decorated his bright, chestnut coat.
California Chrome made his debut on April 26th, 2013 at Hollywood Park, finishing second. He broke his maiden a month later before weakening to fifth in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes. In July he won the Graduation Stakes before finishing sixth in the Gr.1 Del Mar Futurity. He was dropped back down in class for the Golden State Juvenile Stakes at Santa Anita in November, finishing sixth once more. He ended the year with a victory in the King Glorious Stakes back at Hollywood Park with Victor Espinoza was in the irons for the first time.
California Chrome’s two-year old season was inconsistent. However, the colt still showed some promise as a potential top three-year old. With Victor Espinoza back in the irons, California Chrome soared home to a win in the California Cup Derby to start his three-year old season in January.
Next up was the Gr.2 San Felipe Stakes. It was the first time that California Chrome was in graded stakes company since his sixth place finish in the Gr.1 Del Mar Futurity the previous year. With ease, California Chrome and Espinoza won the race.
Things were now looking incredibly good for California Chrome. He was probable for the 2014 Kentucky Derby, a goal that Martin and Coburn had for the horse from the moment he was born. For a final preparation, California Chrome zoomed home to a victory in the Gr.1 Santa Anita Derby.
Coming into the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome was favored over horses like Wicked Strong and Danza. It was almost unbelievable that this $10,000 investment for first-time breeders Martin and Coburn was not only a Kentucky Derby starter, but the favorite.
Breaking from post position five, California Chrome and Victor Espinoza sat in third on the backstretch. At the top of the stretch, California Chrome was on top and rolling away from his competitors. Making it look easy, California Chrome won by 1 ¾ lengths. His victory margin could have been even higher had Espinoza not eased him in the stretch to save energy for the Preakness Stakes.
Coming into the Preakness Stakes, California Chrome was again favored to win. His loyal fans, nicknamed “Chromies”, believed in the horse despite the slow Kentucky Derby time and the relatively low Beyer Speed figure that left some people suspicious of his ability to win. He proved all doubters wrong by winning the Preakness over Ride On Curlin.
Now a chance at a Triple Crown loomed. Racing fans waited anxiously to see if California Chrome would be the one to end the Triple Crown drought. However, the chestnut colt lacked his usual burst of speed in the stretch. To the disappointment of the racing world, he finished fourth. It was discovered after the race that California Chrome had been stepped on by Matterhorn at the start, taking a chunk out of his right front heel. Even with an injury, California Chrome had given his all to finish just 1 ¾ lengths behind the winner Tonalist.
California Chrome had gone through a grueling month of racing and was given a rest until September so his wound could heal. He returned to racing in the Gr.2 Pennsylvania Derby, finishing sixth. In November he finished third in the Gr.1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, just two heads behind Bayern and Toast of New York. He ended the year with a win in the Gr.1 Hollywood Derby.
California Chrome had a sensational three-year old season. He had nearly broken the Triple Crown drought and had proved to the world that heart can mean some more than pedigree. He was deservingly named Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year Old.
The colt’s four-year old season was a short one. He started the year with a second place finish behind Shared Belief in the Gr.2 San Antonio Invitational Stakes and then shipped to Dubai to finish second in the Dubai World Cup. After the race he was shipped to England to prepare for Royal Ascot week, but scratched due to a bruised hoof. Upon arrival home to the United States, it was found that he had a bruised cannon bone and would need time to recover.
Coburn sold his 30% interest in California Chrome to Taylor Made Farm. The horse spent some time recovering at Taylor Made before returning to training in 2016. A new partnership, now called the California Chrome, LLC. meant new silks for the horse. Espinoza would now be wearing grey when he rode California Chrome.
California Chrome’s first start of 2016 was a win in the Gr.2 San Pasqual Stakes. He was then shipped back to Dubai where he won a Handicap race in preparation for his second try at the Dubai World Cup. He won the Dubai World Cup by 3 ¾ lengths, becoming the leading money earner in North America.
He returned to the United States and was given a month of rest at Taylor Made Farm before making a start in the Gr.2 San Diego Handicap where he won by a half length over Dortmund. His next start came in the Gr.1 Pacific Classic, beating horses such as Beholder and Hoppertunity by five lengths.
In preparation for the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, California Chrome won the Gr.1 Awesome Again Stakes. In the Breeders’ Cup, California Chrome would be facing Bob Baffert’s top-performing Arrogate. The race proved itself to be extremely exciting. After a duel down the stretch, Arrogate prevailed by a neck.
To end the year, California Chrome won the Winter Challenge Stakes at Los Alamitos. He was named Horse of the Year for the second time.
California Chrome was entered into the Gr.1 Pegasus World Cup in January of 2017. It would be the final start of his career. He raced poorly, finishing ninth. He came back from the race with fluid in his knee but was ultimately fine. He was officially retired to stud at Taylor Made Farm.
This $10,000 investment had turned into $14.75 million for his connections. He had a record of 27:16-4-1. Over his career, California Chrome proved to the world that you do not have to start out as royalty to be considered great. His connections and his fans believed in him, transforming the chestnut colt from a nobody to one of the greatest horses the sport has ever seen.
His career proved to America that anyone can be successful, no matter where they start from. For Coburn and Martin, the relatively low price of $10,000 got them California Chrome, an inspiration to those who do not have millions of dollars to spend to try to get a top-notch racehorse. The story of California Chrome is a prime example that horse racing is accessible to anyone willing to take risks and follow their dreams.
It is unlikely that the world will ever forget about that chromed out chestnut. As his first yearlings hit the sales ring in 2019, memories of California Chrome will dance in the minds of those who loved him. Time will tell if his legacy will be passed along to his offspring. Until then, California Chrome rests peacefully at Taylor Made Farm, posing for cameras and gleaming in that Kentucky sunlight.
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Sources: Equibase Taylor Made Farm America's Best Racing
Sources from Wikipedia