Chasing a Dream: Runaway Wildcat – How It Began

Chasing a Dream: Runaway Wildcat – How It Began

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Runaway Wildcat – The Dream Who Came True

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Anyone who has known me or followed my blog for a while knows that horses have always been an extremely important part of my life. I’ve often said that when one is born in Kentucky, the very first inoculation is one which ensures love of horses and bourbon. The love of horses kicked in very early with me, and some of my earliest memories are of horses – most specifically, thoroughbreds.

My beautiful picture

Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

Without completely rehashing earlier blogs, Jim and I spent a few years in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business. While we loved the horses and everything about being around them, the business end was not kind to us. As I’ve often said, “If you want to make a small fortune in horse racing, start with a big one.” Let’s just say, it didn’t end well.

One of the brightest spots about loving horses is that you can meet some of the most wonderful people on the planet. (Yes, the flip-side is true, too, but we will focus on the good.) One of the best people I’ve ever known I met many, many years ago through the early days of computer networking – on Prodigy. My dear friend, Peggie, and her family became extended family of mine. We talked nearly every day on the telephone. She lived in the heart of horse country, near Lexington, Kentucky. Her love of horses and racing and mine dovetailed forging an amazing bond. She went through the many ups and downs of the horse business with us. She exulted with us over wins and cried with us over tragedies.

KeenelandInsideSalesPavilion

Keeneland Inside Sales Pavillion – From Keeneland.com

In September of 2009, I got a call from my friend. She’d been battling cancer and had been quite sick, so it was something of a surprise to hear from her. She said she’d gone to Keeneland to go to the yearling sales hoping it would lift her spirits. I thought that sounded just like her. Go see horses (especially young ones) = feel better. She was actually excited about one she saw there. He was from Michigan! (We had moved to Michigan in 2003, and had been out of the horse business for many years prior to that.) The thing about this colt was that he had a nice pedigree – especially considering that racing in Michigan had become all but non-existent (and, sadly, still is).

She said he was so incredibly pretty, well-built, and kind. Her big hook was that he had three Triple Crown Champions in his pedigree. Citation, Seattle Slew, and Secretariat (THAT almost got me), along with a couple of descendants of Northern Dancer – the preeminent progenitor of thoroughbreds in the current era, all figured prominently in his pedigree.

Wiley

Didn’t I want to reconsider having horses? Didn’t I want her to buy him for me? I was laughing because my never-give-up friend was so excited about something. I assured her that owning a racehorse (especially starting with a baby) was just not in the cards. I did promise her, though, that I would keep track of him to the best of my ability. I wrote down his hip number (that’s how they catalog horses in the sale), his pedigree, who had bred him, and followed his sale (for $10,000 to a gentleman from California).

Hip Number

Hip Number Example (NOT Runaway Wildcat)

In 2010, a 2-year-old horse named Runaway Wildcat started showing up as readying to race in California. Sure enough, it was the colt from the sale. Everything matched.

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Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

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Gulch: A True Champion

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One of the problems with loving horses is that they are all mortal. Even the ones whose names will live on forever – like Secretariat and Man O’War – have gone to the great, green fields in Heaven. Another of the greats has just joined them.

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Gulch at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch was a true champion. He was a tough competitor who raced against the best of his generation (which was one of the best group of horses in history). I was lucky enough to see his gritty win in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That was the year he won the Eclipse Award (the highest award given to a horse) as Champion Sprinter. It was also his last year to race before going to stud at Lane’s End Farm (where he would stand his entire career). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

 

Gulch was foaled (born) April 16, 1984. He was the son of perennial, number one sire, Mr. Prospector. His dam (mother) was Jameela.

 

Mr. Prospector is well known for his amazing history for siring top class runners (i.e., Fusaichi Pegasus, Forty Niner, and Seeking the Gold, etc.). His continuing sire line (through sons such as Fappiano, Forty Niner, Kingmambo, Smart Strike, and, of course, Gulch) is one of the most enduring and successful in the history of thoroughbred breeding. His prowess at siring top-notch broodmares is also well documented by being the top broodmare sire for many years.

 

Jameela was, by far the best runner her female family had produced for generations, and was also the best runner her sire ever had. The hard-knocking mare competed for four years and compiled a race record of 58 starts, 27 wins, 15 seconds, and 6 thirds for a whopping earnings of $1,038,714. In today’s racing, $1-million in earnings is still an amazing achievement. Considering that Jameela ran from 1979 through 1982, her total earnings are even more compelling.

 

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Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch ran from 1986 through 1988. While best known as a classy sprinter, Gulch actually came in second in the 1987 Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is 1-1/2 miles, run on a sandy surface, and is the longest distance of any of the Triple Crown races. Gulch competed successfully at distances from 5 furlongs (a furlong is 1/8 mile) to 12 furlongs. This is exceedingly rare in racing in this day and age. Most horses show an affinity for a certain distance and are run almost exclusively in that distance or very close. Gulch showed great promise right from the start when he won several of the top races for 2-year-olds in 1986 (including the Hopeful Stakes, the Futurity Stakes, and the Saratoga Special Stakes.)

 

As a three-year-old, Gulch continued his winning ways. There were wins in the Wood Memorial, the Metropolitan Handicap (against older horses) and the Bay Shore Stakes. There were other great finishes besides the aforementioned second in the Belmont. He ran against all ages in the Woodward and the Whitney (both top American races) and finished second.

 

At four, he had his final, great year at the track with wins in the Metropolitan Handicap (for the second year), the Potrero Grande Handicap, the Carter Handicap and his tough win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In addition, he had several seconds and thirds in the top races in the country. His final race record was 32 starts: 13 wins, 8 seconds, and 4 thirds for total earnings of $3,015,521. Again, remember this was the 1980s when purses were much less than they are today. He was appropriately named Champion Sprinter of 1988.

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A Shiny, Clean Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

In 1988, we were attending our first Breeders’ at Churchill Downs. Jim and I had recently gotten into the racing business by buying a part interest in a 2-year-old colt in Georgia. Georgia (sadly) does not have legal horse racing (an aside – some very bright lights in the thoroughbred industry are still working on rectifying that). The plan was to race this colt in Alabama and/or Florida. We also had intentions of purchasing our own broodmare to get into breeding our own racehorses. Part of that process took us to Kentucky for a sale and to go to the Breeders’ Cup races. My hero, Alysheba, was competing for the last time of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and the amazing, Personal Ensign was running in her final race in the Distaff. In my opinion, that year was the penultimate Breeders’ Cup.

 

 

I knew about Gulch. I had always loved his name considering his sire was Mr. Prospector. He had been trained by two great trainers in Leroy Jolley and D. Wayne Lukas. I loved his gritty determination and was anxious to see him get his due by winning the Sprint. An old favorite, Precisionist, was trying to win his second Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and one of my other favorites, Sunshine Forever was competing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now that I look back on that Breeders’ Cup, I’m struck that all of these favorites ended up at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

My beautiful picture

Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

The next time I saw Gulch was the following May at Lane’s End. Several top runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End and I was anxious to meet them all. Notable among the group were Alysheba, Bet Twice (the horse who denied Alysheba’s Triple Crown) and Gulch. I knew that all of the stud fees would be far out of our reach. One never knows if lightning will strike, and our first mare (a half-sister to a very good horse who had run third in the Preakness Stakes) had foals that could become stakes winners. If that were the case, the scenario could change. Of course, chances were slim, but one thing for certain in the horse business – if you don’t dream, you don’t belong.

My beautiful picture

Gulch – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989 (Does this look like a Champion?)

 

I had to laugh when they brought Gulch in. Alysheba was shiny and acting much the king of the hill and enjoying all the attention. Gulch, on the other hand, looked for all the world like a sullen little boy who had been pulled away from play. Indeed, he was covered with mud, was completely disheveled, and stood grudgingly in front of us. This definitely did not look like a champion. If you’d have seen him in a group, you’d never have looked twice. But, sure enough, in front of us was the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award winning Sprint Champion. That was the moment I decided I really loved that horse. He became a “real” horse. He just wanted to play in the mud.

 

As a stallion, Gulch was a success. He sired Thunder Gulch who won the Kentucky Derby and who also went on to become a successful sire. Other good offspring include Court Vision, Great Navigator, and fellow Old Friends retiree, Wallenda. He sired more than 70 stakes winners during his long career.

 

Several times in following years we visited Lane’s End. Each time, I’d make certain to look for Gulch. We got to see famous half-brothers A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Lane’s End has been home to some of the best stallions in the 20th and 21st century. Still, Gulch was a favorite and I never tired of seeing him.

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My favorite photo of Gulch – Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

 

When I heard that Gulch had been pensioned to Old Friends in 2009, I was ecstatic. It’s been over 20 years since we were in the horse business, and our visits to stud farms pretty much ended when we left the business. With Gulch going to Old Friends I was happy for several reasons. The first was that I knew he would continue to get the best of care. Second, other fans would get to meet this wonderful horse. The most selfish reason was that I would get to visit him again.

 

The last visit I had to Old Friends was to celebrate a landmark birthday in 2013. We planned our whole trip around making certain that we would be able to be at Old Friends on my birthday. That’s all I wanted for my birthday – to be able to see all the horses that truly were “old friends” of mine.

Gulch

My last photo of Gulch. He’d been in the mud again (his left side was caked). A happy horse

 

When I saw Gulch, I had to laugh. Once again, he’d been in the mud. He was wearing a fly mask as the August weather and lots of rain had made for a bumper crop of biting flies. Gulch was still the same horse I’d come to know. He was friendly, but still I had to feel that he’d rather be back out rolling in the mud. So, somehow, it seems fitting that my final visit with Gulch was similar to the first.

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Rick Capone’s Wonderful Photo of Gulch at Old Friends – Fields of Green

 

Gulch was humanely euthanized on Sunday, January 17, 2016. The gallant, old man lived to the ripe old age of 32 (which is very rare in horses). Old Friends took the step to put him down because cancer was starting to overtake Gulch and he deserved to be pain free and go quietly to sleep.

 

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Gulch – The Look of Pure Joy (How I’d Want His Hereafter to Be) – Photo by Rick Capone

 

One more beloved champion is racing through the never-ending fields of green (and, in Gulch’s case I hope an always-sloppy, mud hole).

 

 

Remember, I really love to hear your comments. Just click on the “Leave a Reply” link and let me know what you think. Also, let me know if there’s something you’d like to hear more about.

Looking Forward to “Seeing” You Here Next Time on Colmel’s Blog!

April 28, 2015

I’m Reblogging this terrific post from Old Friends. It’s time for the Kentucky Derby. Without a doubt, my favorite winner (other than Secretariat – and y’all know how I feel about him) was Silver Charm. He had the same sire as our Untarnished, and he was born and raised on the farm from whom we bought Untarnished’s mom, Permanent Cut. I got to know Bonnie’s Poker (Silver Charm’s mom) while she lived at Old Friends. I can’t wait to go and visit him – and all the other wonderful horses at Old Friends later this spring or early summer.

In the meantime, I’m trying to heal from foot surgery (in case you were wondering why I hadn’t been around for a while). I promise to start blogging again in the very near future.

Old Friends Blog

Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert and Silver Charm share a playful moment. Hall-of-Famers Silver Charm and his trainer, Bob Baffert, share a playful moment. Photo by Tim W.

…Speaking of wonderful moments shared between our residents and their connections, here’s one that happened today. I wish I could describe the reminiscing shared by 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and his trainer Bob Baffert when Bob, Jill and Bode Baffert took time out from their busy pre-Derby schedules to visit Old Friends.

A Silver Charm brings good racing luck, they say... Are the two veteran Derby winners exchanging perspectives on how Saturday’s race will play out? Photo by Tim W.

Or the welcome Game On Dude gave them, especially Jill–smart horses like the Dude know who loves them the very best of all.

The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other's company. Photo by Tim W. The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert, Bob Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other’s company. Photo by Tim W.

I wish I could describe the memorable time they all had being together again…

View original post 120 more words

Solid Chrome – Part 3: No Triple This Year

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California Chrome Yes, We're ALL Looking at You, Kid!

California Chrome
Yes, We’re ALL Looking at You, Kid!

I had hoped (as had millions and millions of others) that California Chrome was going to be the latest Triple Crown winner. I had all kinds of comparative information all set up to discuss the similarities and differences between California Chrome’s Triple and those of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. I’ve been around for all of those. Only once since Secretariat, though, have I been so emotionally involved. It’s partially because Secretariat was the most amazing horse who ever looked through a bridle. Having been raised on stories of Man O’War (I read everything I could get my hands on about him as a child), I thought Secretariat was the first “Big Red” reincarnate. Perhaps he was. Another part of it could be that there had been the longest (until now) stretch between Triple Crown winners – 25 years.

Tony Leonard's Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Tony Leonard’s Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Seattle Slew (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Seattle Slew
(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Affirmed - Our Last Triple Crown Winner (Photo from CNN)

Affirmed – Our Last Triple Crown Winner
(Photo from CNN)

I absolutely want to take nothing away from Seattle Slew or Affirmed. Both were amazing horses who completed the heroic challenge of winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. All bested the best of their generations. I think part of the reason that their accomplishments took something of a back-seat in my mind was that, similar to the multiple Triple Crown winners of the 1940s, several happened in a very short time. Perhaps we got a little spoiled; perhaps a little jaded.

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby (Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby
(Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

This year, we had California Chrome. The whole story around this horse was “made for movies.” Actually, had anyone tried to script this, it would have been tossed for being too implausible. No one would ever believe that two complete neophytes to the art/business of breeding thoroughbreds could possible buy an $8,000 failed mare, breed her to a bargain ($2,500) stallion and end up with a horse that would end up 1-¾ lengths from winning the Triple Crown. Who does that? Steve Coburn and Perry Martin did. All of the back stories have been covered intensely, so I’m not going to rehash them. I do want to say that, as a former, very small-time breeder, these two were AND STILL ARE my heroes. I keep looking at them and saying, “That could have been me.” They are living proof that even the smallest of small-time can end up with a “freak” – a horse who doesn’t realize he’s not supposed to be that good – a horse that God gifted with the speed, endurance and personality to captivate and capture the American racing scene.

Steve Coburn with his Champion!

Steve Coburn with his Champion!

I’m not going to go into the human aftermath of the race because I feel it’s been covered ad nauseum. All I’m willing to say is that, while Steve Coburn probably should have just quietly said, “I don’t want to talk now, I want to go look after my horse.”, I completely understand the well of emotions that exploded in him when he watched his champion injured and defeated at the hooves of other horses. That was especially true due to the fact that the first two horses were completely “new shooters.” Only Medal Count in third had competed in any of the other Triple Crown races. It was a bitter pill and the reality blew up in Steve Coburn’s face.

Barbara Livingston's Photo of California Chrome's Foot After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

Barbara Livingston’s Photo of California Chrome’s Foot After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

The heel will heal in a few weeks. The scrape to Chrome’s leg/tendon probably is already gone. What I hope lingers is the magic that enveloped us all for so many weeks. I am also hopeful that this intense campaign hasn’t taken too much out of California Chrome. Huratio Luro, the great horseman and trainer of Northern Dancer, once said it was important to not squeeze the lemon too dry. Winning the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes is an amazing feat. Chrome really doesn’t have anything more to “prove,” but I hope he does come back and get back on the winning track this year. I also would love to see him continue to grow, strengthen, and come back as a four- or even five-year-old. As he gets larger, stronger and even more confident, he could show us an even better Chrome.

Silver Charm Winning 1997 Kentucky Derby

Silver Charm Winning 1997 Kentucky Derby

One last bit of business. Perhaps you caught my allusion earlier, “Only once since Secretariat, though, have I been so emotionally involved.” That “once” was in 1997. Another horse with a “metal” in his name was poised on the brink of winning the Triple Crown. Eerily, this horse won his Kentucky Derby on May 3 (like California Chrome), his Preakness on May 17 (like California Chrome), but lost his Belmont on June 7 (like California Chrome). This horse was Silver Charm. He also was a horse who came from California. However, his ownership and trainer were part of the everyday fabric of American horse racing. Bob and Beverly Lewis were the owners and Bob Baffert was his trainer. The Lewises were always a class act, so for their horse to win the Triple Crown might not have been such a huge surprise.

Untarnished's Jockey Club Registration Photo (1990)

Untarnished’s Jockey Club Registration Photo (1990)

So, why was I so emotionally invested in Silver Charm? That’s an easy one. Silver Charm was bred in Florida on the farm of the Heath family. Bonne Heath and Jack Dudley (the man who sold us our very first broodmare) were partners for years. They are part of the Needles connection. I’d like to think that Silver Buck’s dam (mother), Bonnie’s Poker (who retired, lived and was loved at Old Friends in Kentucky), and my mare might have actually looked through the fence at each other over the years. Even more compelling is the fact that Silver Charm’s sire (father) was Silver Buck. The sire of the baby that Permanent Cut was carrying when we bought her was also Silver Buck. While it’s true that stallions can have over one hundred offspring per year, I always considered Silver Charm as a half-brother of our filly, Untarnished. Untarnished died from colic a couple of years before Silver Charm’s heroics so I always felt like he brought a little of her back to the racing world and to me.

Untarnished as a Baby With Permanent Cut

Untarnished as a Baby With Permanent Cut

Little Untarnished with Me

Little Untarnished with Me

Happy Times Untarnished as a Yearling with Me

Happy Times
Untarnished as a Yearling with Me

Up Next: Back to Normal – Michigan’s Lumberjack Festival

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This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 2: Two Down…

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

 

How do you feel about your "competition?"

How do you feel about your “competition?”

I had planned to talk about California Chrome’s early years, but the coverage of the first two races has been so complete, I’m sure you’ve heard just about everything there is to tell about him prior to the Kentucky Derby.

 

Since the Kentucky Derby, I’ve found that there is a very personal connection with California Chrome. It was my great pleasure to find out that one of the Kalitta family of companies (Kalitta Air, Kalitta Charters, and K2) had the distinct honor of flying California Chrome from Louisville to Baltimore. My friends, who know what a huge fan I am, sent me a couple of photos of California Chrome on the plane. It wasn’t as though I actually needed another reason to cheer for Chrome, but it sure added to the personal enjoyment.

California Chrome on K2 flight from Louisville to Baltimore

California Chrome on K2 flight from Louisville to Baltimore

 

California Chrome in his stall on K2 aircraft

California Chrome in his stall on K2 aircraft

California Chrome leaves K2 aircraft for ride to Pimlico

California Chrome leaves K2 aircraft for ride to Pimlico

I also want to touch on how wonderful I think it is that Art Sherman, California Chrome’s trainer, was able to train a Kentucky Derby winner after accompanying the great Swaps on the train from California to win the 1955 Kentucky Derby. Sherman was Swaps regular work rider and he slept in the straw with Swaps all the way east. I also think it’s incredibly touching that he visited Swaps’ grave before this Derby and asked the great one to imbue Chrome with some of his toughness. I believe that was one request that was granted.

 

Art Sherman with California Chrome

Art Sherman with California Chrome

 

The Great Swaps

The Great Swaps

 

Chromie's Favorite Trick Stealing the Hat off Alan Sherman's (Art's Son & Assistant Trainer) Head

Chromie’s Favorite Trick
Stealing the Hat off Alan Sherman’s (Art’s Son & Assistant Trainer) Head

One more shout-out regarding the Kentucky Derby. It goes to California Chrome’s spectacular “pony” horse. When I saw the pony leading Chrome in the Kentucky Derby, I could swear he looked like an old friend – Perfect Drift. The more I saw the pony, the more I concentrated on HIM rather than Chrome (which, my friends, is really saying something). I could have sworn it was Perfect Drift. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know how much I have always adored Perfect Drift. I’ve been a huge fan of Perfect Drift ever since he started racing. Having bred to Dynaformer, all his horses (especially Perfect Drift and Barbaro) have been favorites. I visited Drift at the Kentucky Derby Museum while he was their “representative.”

Perfect Drift at The Kentucky Derby Museum

Perfect Drift at The Kentucky Derby Museum

Susan Salk in one of the other blogs I follow did a bang-up piece on Perfect Drift in his new job as “pony” in her blog http://offtrackthoroughbreds.com/ That’s when I knew for certain I was right. Chrome’s pony horse was my old pal, Perfect Drift. I hope she doesn’t mind that I borrowed one of her photos from her blog. If you head over to her blog, I think you will really enjoy it. I read every one of her posts and have loved to hear the happy stories of “off the track” thoroughbreds in their new lives.

Perfect Drift Ponying California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby

Perfect Drift Ponying California Chrome at the Kentucky Derby

If you watched the Preakness Stakes, you saw that Chromie (affectionately Tweeted and written about as #Chromie) broke well from the gate. This is really important for Chromie. He has had a history of having to overcome poor “breaks” (starts) from the gate. This time, he was rocking forward. It’s not that he’s a bad actor in the starting gate. There are horses who constantly fight going into the starting gate, or flip over, or just flat won’t go in at all. Chrome is anxious. He rocks back and forth with anticipation. He’s getting better with each race, it seems; and one can only hope that he will be rocking forward when they pop the gates at Belmont Park on June 7.

 

California Chrome in Preakness Winners' Circle

California Chrome in Preakness Winners’ Circle

Now, we’re on the brink of the first Triple Crown (Chrome?) in 36 years. Without going into all of the negative press horse racing has gotten just over the past few months, I can confidently say that we sure could use a Triple “Chrome” winner now more than ever. This is especially true for this particular horse with his storybook background, working-class owners, and septuagenarian trainer.

California Chrome Racing with History?

California Chrome
Racing with History?

A whole cottage industry has sprung up around California Chrome. Tee-shirts and other garments are being printed with DAP (Dumb Ass Partners – the ownership’s racing name) colors and logos and California Chrome’s name (or #Chromie). Many of the parties selling these items are donating a percentage of their sales to my dear friends at Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/ ). If you’re interested in checking out some of these items, Teespring.com and Etsy have them. I, personally, do not have any financial interest nor do I receive any funds from any of these, but I have made purchases for myself.

California Chrome Sure Doesn't Look Like He's Stressed

California Chrome
Sure Doesn’t Look Like He’s Stressed

As the Belmont Stakes gets closer, I hope to be blogging more about this year’s Triple Crown and the sense of destiny surrounding California Chrome. Stories like this don’t come along very often. As the adage goes, “A racehorse is an animal that can take several thousand people for a ride at the same time.” I sure am enjoying this ride. I’m praying that it takes all of us to the Winners’ Circle at Belmont Park on June 7; and California Chrome into the history books and his own slice of immortality.

 

California Chrome Yes, We're ALL Looking at You, Kid!

California Chrome
Yes, We’re ALL Looking at You, Kid!

 

Up Next: Solid Chrome

 

Would you like to subscribe to my blog? (Oh, yes, it’s free!) Hopefully, you have already clicked on the title and are now directly in my blog page. If you have not gotten to the blog page, click on the title of the Posting and it will take you to the blog. From there, click on “Follow.” I hope you will. You will be notified of each new posting. I also hope you will jump in and comment on my posts.

 

Looking forward to “seeing” you here on Colmel’s Blog!

I Have to Recommend…

That you read this wonderful blog post from Steve Haskin at Blood-Horse. No, that refers to Thoroughbred horses not anything sanguine. I will be returning in the next day or two with my take on California Chrome’s connections, his pedigree, and races up to the Kentucky Derby.

Until then, please enjoy this magnificent literary piece!

http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2014/05/06/a-horse-to-soothe-the-soul.aspx?&utm_source=DailyNewsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140507

Title: This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 1 (The Beginning)

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

 

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby (Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby
(Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

Every once in a great while a story comes along that seems “made for movies.” The story of California Chrome and his connections is one of the most heartwarming yet improbable to come along in a very long time. California Chrome, the Kentucky Derby (and Santa Anita Derby) winner is a horse that everyone can love. It would be an amazing story if it was just what the horse, himself, has overcome to become the horse that the world would love to see become the next Triple Crown winner; but that’s only part of the story.

Having been a very small-time thoroughbred breeder/owner, I can tell you that what has happened for the Coburns and the Martins (lovingly naming their partnership “Dumbass Partners” – hence the DAP and funny-looking donkey on their racing silks) is pure magic of the very best kind. These are regular people. They get up at 4:30 in the morning and go to work like all the rest of us. They got the name for their group because friends told them that they were “dumbasses” for getting into the thoroughbred business. Some (and I’m included) have called having a magnificent horse like this “catching lightning in a bottle.” I think it’s even more. I think that God, very rarely, reaches down his finger and lightly touches a foal and says, “This one.” California Chrome must have gotten that loving touch. There’s no other way to explain how complete neophytes to the business of horse breeding and racing can pull together their savings to purchase a mare for $8,000 (and who was not successful racing) and breed her to a stallion who has excellent bloodlines but is not very commercially successful that stands for a $2,500 fee and get blessed to have the result be California Chrome.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge and thank everyone at “Blood-Horse”, but most especially Mr. Steve Haskin. Without Mr. Haskin’s great reporting and the wonderful photos from “Blood-Horse,” I wouldn’t be able to tell you as much of the story as I now can.

Mr. Haskin is, to my mind, the premier equine-related journalist in the country today. His ability to paint pictures with his words is remarkable. Rather than paraphrase, I’d like to directly quote liberally and directly from Mr. Haskin’s blog on “Blood-Horse”…

“California Chrome Was Flashy From the Start”

From the time he was a foal at Harris Farms in California’s Central Valley, California Chrome made sure people noticed him. With his flashy markings, the chestnut colt was easy to spot, but he also seemed to seek out attention—in a good way.

In spite of a shaky beginning, the likely favorite for the” (and now winner of the) “140th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was easy to remember for the people who put him on his original path to the races. And everyone you speak with at the full-service breeding establishment near Coalinga—whether it’s farm veterinarian Dr. Jeanne Bowers-Lepore, horse division general manager Dave McGlothlin, trainer Per Antonsen, or owner John Harris himself—the recollection is entirely positive.

“He was a little bit under the radar that way,” said Bowers-Lepore, who has been taking care of the horses at Harris Farms since 1992. “He never gave us much trouble, he was always good about things like taking medication or worming. He didn’t do terrible things. He was always the type who liked to greet you, look you in the eye.”

California often sends horses to the Derby, but hasn’t had a homegrown winner since Decidedly in 1962. That makes California Chrome, a son of fast-rising stallion Lucky Pulpit   (who stands at Harris Farms for his owners, Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams) extra special to the state’s breeders and owners.

“We’re absolutely excited about the Derby,” said McGlothlin. “The entire California racing industry is rooting for him.”

“My fingers are so, so crossed,” said Bowers-Lepore.”

“California Chrome’s owners and first-time breeders—Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City, Calif., and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev.—swear they knew the colt was something special the moment they saw him. He was less than 24 hours old and they were referring to him as their Derby horse.

It’s something the Harris folks hear often from newcomers to the business. “You don’t want to pour cold water on their dreams,” said Harris, who ironically has been trying for decades to breed a Derby starter. “But they were very optimistic from the start about their colt. He did everything right (while at Harris Farms). But there was nothing to indicate he would turn out to be like this.”

The most special thing about the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner” (and now Kentucky Derby winner) “as a youngster? He never got sick, never got hurt, never did anything bad. First to the feed tub and first to the fence, the young colt got along well with his fellow pasture mates and liked to outrun them. And he enjoyed interaction with his people. Although he wasn’t the biggest colt in the pasture, you could say he was the brightest.

He also was a people horse from day one.

That affinity for people, much commented on during his current run of success with trainer Art Sherman, probably stems from his earliest imprinting, says Bowers-Lepore. It was the result of a difficult start in life, she said. His dam, the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, suffered life-threatening complications in delivery of the bigger-than-average 137-pound baby, her first foal on Feb. 18, 2011.”

“Love the Chase needed quite a bit of treatment over several weeks, but she responded. As her wound healed, she spent more than a month stall-bound.

California Chrome with his "mom" Love the Chase (photo from The Blood-Horse)

California Chrome
with his “mom” Love the Chase
(photo from The Blood-Horse)

While his mother recuperated, the foal nicknamed “Junior” was always at her side, confined to a stall with only a short run to exercise in. Love the Chase—never one to seek out attention—wasn’t in a mood for people, but Junior soaked up the strokes.

“She responded okay to treatment,” Bowers-Lepore said of Love the Chase. “But most importantly, she didn’t reject him. Sometimes, with a young mare, something like this happens and they will reject the foal.”

He got used to the attention of other vets and handlers, always being touched, always watching and listening; he learned to anticipate what people wanted him to do.

 

California Chrome Baby Photo with Love the Chase (his mom) (photo from The Blood-Horse)

California Chrome
Baby Photo with Love the Chase (his mom)
(photo from The Blood-Horse)

“I think it was from that experience that he enjoys people,” she said.

It’s interesting to contemplate that were it not for the fact that Love the Chase failed to conceive in her first try at pregnancy, California Chrome might not ever have been born. As has been well-chronicled, she wasn’t much of a runner and was purchased for $8,000 off the track in 2009 by the Martins and Perrys, who previously owned 5% of her through a Blinkers On racing syndicate.

Redattore was their first choice as a sire, but when she didn’t take the first time, they could not take her back to him because he had moved to Brazil. The owners then opted the following year for Lucky Pulpit, and the resulting foal became California Chrome. After a year off to fully recover from her injury, Love the Chase has been bred back twice more to the popular son of Pulpit, producing two fillies.

And after the close call with his dam, California Chrome was quickly on his way. McGlothlin, the farm manager, said he was easy to spot in the field with some of the other weanlings on the farm.

“He was always very flashy,” he said. “Because the mare was injured he wasn’t allowed to go out in the field with the others. But once he was able to, he was always a little bit of a character; he had a little bit of an edge.”

After weaning, California Chrome was sent to the River Ranch facility, a 140-acre site with much grassy pastureland about an hour’s drive from the main horse farm where he and other yearlings are sent. It was there that California Chrome got most of his early socialization.

Craig Allen, assistant manager at River Ranch, remembered him well as part of a five-horse grouping selected by size and temperament. A couple of others in his band have also found success on the track including Well Measured, most recently third in the April 5 Echo Eddie Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Allen said Chrome got along well with his mates. “He wasn’t one of the colts that was in a fight every day. He was certainly alpha enough that he got the feed tub second after the babysitter (an older horse that helps keep the youngsters calm).

“He was one of the leaders of the pasture but he didn’t get a lot of boxer’s cuts (from kicks or other skirmishes),” Allen said. “He was always very manageable. Every horse that age is going to try you—they’re teenagers. But once you let him know (who’s boss), he understood and he settled down.

“I think part of his personality comes from being touched every day. That’s a big part of our program here, human contact. He was always looking forward to seeing us. He was the first to greet us when we approached; it was like he was asking, ‘Are you here to see me?’ ”

After several months at River Ranch, he was returned to the main farm to begin training under Antonsen. The Denmark native has been in charge of that aspect of young horse development for the past 33 years. He also had fond memories of California Chrome.

“He was always a great horse to work with, a pleasure to work with,” Antonsen recalled. “He possessed a long stride and he was very precocious. He loved training and he was just a natural athlete. But you never know how good they’re going to turn out to be. There are so many factors.

“I’ve had some good ones, going back to Tiznow,” he noted. “There was no way of telling that he (California Chrome) would be this special. But he never missed a day of training. That’s amazing for a young horse. They are always getting sniffles or a snotty nose, a cough, or hurting their shins. I remember he used to bite a little bit, but nothing serious, just a little nippy. And he always ate up all his food.

“He was not a huge horse, a little on the narrow side. He did not have a big rear end but he doesn’t seem to need one. He took to racing naturally, learned how to switch leads very quickly; he was very smart and he seemed to take everything in stride.”

Watching California Chrome progress along the Derby trail has been amazing, he said.

“It’s very gratifying,” Antonsen said. “We’ve been breeding horses for many, many years here, and we’ve had some good ones. But we’ve never gotten one to the Kentucky Derby.”

Dr. Bowers-Lepore said she recalled Antonsen telling the Martins and the Coburns, ‘You are going to have a lot of fun with that horse.’ I don’t know if he thought they’d be having this kind of fun, though.”

 

Up Next: This Chrome is Solid Gold – Part 2 (Early Races)

 

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