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!


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

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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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Old Friends at Old Friends – A Visit to Great-Grandpa’s Grave

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Great-Grandpa is buried at Old Friends? Yes. Our very first mare’s name was Permanent Cut. (If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll undoubtedly recognize the name.) She was bred by Dan Lasater in Florida. Her sire (dad) was a son of the great European champion, Ribot. Her dam (mom) was by the very good Nasrullah son, Jaipur. Even more interesting was that her grand-dam (grandmother) was by the great son of Nasrullah, Noor. Noor is buried at Old Friends.

Noor (Stallion photo)

(Stallion photo)

Here’s Permanent Cut’s pedigree

PERMANENT CUT (USA) b. F, 1981 {16} DP = 7-4-7-0-4 (22) DI = 1.93   CD = 0.45

  Permian (USA) 1971 Ribot (GB) 1952 Tenerani (ITY) 1944
  Romanella (ITY) 1943
  Pontivy (USA) 1959 Battlefield (USA) 1948
  Mahari (USA) 1954
Permanent Cut
(USA) 1981 Jaidan (USA) 1969 Jaipur (USA) 1959 Nasrullah (GB) 1940
  Rare Perfume (USA) 1947
  Dawn Fleet (USA) 1953 Noor (GB) 1945
  Monsoon (USA) 1942
Permanent Cut in 1989

Permanent Cut in 1989


Permanent Cut Noor's Great Granddaughter

Permanent Cut
Noor’s Great Granddaughter

Noor was born in 1945 in Ireland. The black son of Nasrullah was bred by the Aga Khan III. He was first raced by his breeder but purchased as a two-year-old by Charles S. Howard. If the name Howard rings a bell, you probably either read the story of Seabiscuit or saw the movie. While Noor won on the turf in Britain, he excelled on the dirt in the U.S.A.

Noor (Photo from Charlotte Farmer)

(Photo from Charlotte Farmer)

Even those who don’t follow horse racing closely probably recognize the name “Citation.” Citation was one of Calumet Farms’ triple-crown winners from the 1940s. He also had the longest unbeaten (16 straight) streak in thoroughbred racing for almost 50 years. He could beat almost every horse on any track – that was until he met Noor.

Noor's 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup (photos from "Noor: In Memory of a Champion" Facebook Page

Noor’s 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup
(photos from “Noor: In Memory of a Champion” Facebook Page

Noor (whose regular jockey was the famous Johnny Longden) defeated Citation four times, in the Santa Anita Handicap at 1¼ miles, the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1¾ miles in world record time, the Forty Niners Handicap at 1⅛ miles in track record time, and the Golden Gate Handicap. In the latter event, Noor conceded weight to Citation and set a world record of 1:58 which stood as an American record on a dirt track until Spectacular Bid broke it 30 years later. Citation’s times in these races would have also been records, but Noor ran faster than any horse in history up to that point.

Noor & Johnny Longden American Handicap

Noor & Johnny Longden
American Handicap

Noor - Johnny Longden up (Photo from Devora Berliner, creator of Noor Facebook page)

Noor – Johnny Longden up
(Photo from Devora Berliner, creator of Noor Facebook page)

On his way to being named 1950 U.S. Champion Handicap Male Horse, Noor beat not only Citation, but he also beat Horse of the Year Hill Prince, Derby winner Ponder, and twice overtook another Triple Crown winner, Assault. This made Noor the only horse in American racing history to defeat two Triple Crown winners. Sadly, Charles Howard died in June of 1950 and never saw his horse crowned champion.

Noor Battles Citation 1950 San Juan Capistrano)

Noor Battles Citation
1950 San Juan Capistrano)


Noor Wins By A Nose (1950 San Juan Capistrano)

Noor Wins By A Nose
(1950 San Juan Capistrano)

After his championship year, Noor was retired to the breeding shed. He first went to Kentucky (where he sired our mare’s grand-dam, Dawn Fleet, who was born in 1953 – the same year as I). He sired 13 stakes winners, but Dawn Fleet went on to become a very important mare and she and her dam, Monsoon, went on to be foundation mares for many, many stakes winners (not including my dear old Permanent Cut) and can be seen in the pedigrees of many top horses.

Noor on His Way to Kentucky with Trainer Burley Parke

Noor on His Way to Kentucky
with Trainer Burley Parke

Noor Arrives in Kentucky

Noor Arrives in Kentucky

Noor (What a Beautiful Head!)

(What a Beautiful Head!)

After 1954, Noor returned to the sight of his greatest achievements, California.

Noor with Trainer Burley Parke

Noor with Trainer Burley Parke

Noor was an imposing individual with terrific balance. He was very tall – over 17 hands (one hand equals 4 inches) at the withers. He was very much the same size as the amazing Zenyatta Unlike his sire, Noor was known to have a very pleasant disposition until the age of 29 when he developed equine dementia. Even Zenyatta’s trainer, John Shirreffs, became a fan of Noor. As a very young man, Shirreffs would tack a 19-year-old Noor up during the winter and ride him around the back arena at Loma Rica Ranch.

Noor Obituary (Photo from Horseandman)

Noor Obituary
(Photo from Horseandman)

He lived at Loma Rica until his death in 1974. Upon his death, Noor was buried in an unmarked grave (which was common in that era) the infield of the half-mile training track at Loma Rica. He was gone and almost forgotten by many. In 1999, however, Blood-Horse Magazine released their list of the 100 top champion thoroughbred racehorses of the 20th Century. Noor was listed at number 69. Then, in 2002 (any far later than one would think), Noor was inducted into the Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga in New York.


That was not to be the end of his story. Loma Rica Ranch was sold and a business park and residential development were planned for the land. That is when racing enthusiast, Charlotte Farmer, got involved. Not willing to see the beautiful champion remain buried under what would become a parking lot, Ms. Farmer went to work and got the wheels in motion to have Noor disinterred and brought to Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky. 

Charlotte Farmer (Noor's Greatest Fan)

Charlotte Farmer
(Noor’s Greatest Fan)

In March of 2010, using ground penetrating radar, Noor’s remains were located. On August 26, 2011, the bones of the great racehorse were very carefully exhumed from the earth and reverently placed in a wooden coffin. The long trek across country began. On August 31, 2011, Noor was buried with a fitting funeral/memorial at Old Friends. Ms. Farmer completed her mission of love by attending the service and seeing that Noor had a fitting headstone. I’d like to take this moment to, personally, thank Ms. Farmer for her dedication to making sure that Noor finally got the respect and resting place he so richly deserves.


Great Grandpa's Grave (the Amazing Noor at Rest at Old Friends)

Great Grandpa’s Grave
(the Amazing Noor at Rest at Old Friends)

This past summer (almost exactly two years later), I finally got to pay my respects to a grand champion and the great-grandpa of my beloved mare. I couldn’t help but shed tears for Noor and for my old girl. I wish I’d known Noor. He embodied all the things in a horse I’d grown up loving. He was big, black, could run like the wind, and – by most accounts – had a very pleasant personality for a stallion. He was, in all ways, a Champion.

Noor's Headstone (With Utmost Thanks to Ms. Charlotte Famer)

Noor’s Headstone
(With Utmost Thanks to Ms. Charlotte Famer)

This is the final post in my current series on Old Friends. I want to particularly thank Lorraine Jackson for her article on Noor, and Devora Berliner, creator of the Noor Facebook webpage “Noor: In Memory of a Champion.” I want to send special thanks to the amazing Charlotte Farmer for sharing her photos and research, and for her fortitude and persistence in not allowing this magnificent horse to be forgotten. As always, a huge “thank you” goes to all the wonderful people at Old Friends for finding a special burial plot where many can come to pay their respects and learn about this worthy champion.

Noor's Headstone (epitaph by Ms. Charlotte Famer)

Noor’s Headstone
(epitaph by Ms. Charlotte Famer)

Remember, it takes a great deal of money to support all the horses at Old Friends. They give the horses the kind of life they so richly deserve. Old Friends gratefully accepts donations (which are tax-deductible) and has some terrific items for purchase (some on Ebay). All of the profits go to help the horses. Please check out their website ” (www.oldfriendsequine.org ) and see if you, too, might want to be one who helps Old Friends and their tremendous mission.


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Old Friends at Old Friends – Part 2 – The Grand Geldings

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When I last left off, I had told you about several of the wonderful horses I got to be reacquainted with at “Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds” (www.oldfriendsequine.org ).

Popcorn Deelights and Special Ring

Popcorn Deelights and
Special Ring

The next residents I want to talk about are Popcorn Deelights and Special Ring. These two geldings are buddies and put on quite a show. Although Old Friends was initially begun as a retirement home for thoroughbred stallions, Michael Blowen and the folks at Old Friends have, over the years, become the caregivers for geldings (like the four in this post) and mares, as well as their stallion contingent.

Pops! (aka Seabiscuit)

(aka Seabiscuit)

Popcorn Deelights? Name doesn’t ring a bell? No, not a Kentucky Derby winner or any race you might ever of heard of. Why is he here? I’ll just bet you either saw or heard about the movie, “Seabiscuit.” The Laura Hillenbrand best-seller became a terrific movie which told the story of a crooked-legged horse who ran into history and the hearts of millions of Americans during the Great Depression. His match race with the Triple Crown-winner, War Admiral (son of the great Man O’War) is the stuff of legend. Well, Popcorn Deelights played Seabiscuit in the movie! That was Pops breaking from the gate in various races, and that was him in the penultimate scene where Seabiscuit beats War Admiral.

Special Ring and Pops

Special Ring
and Pops

Pop’s buddy, Special Ring, is quite a different story. This gorgeous son of top sire, Nureyev, won nearly a million dollars in his career. As with most Nureyevs, he excelled on the turf. Special Ring’s best distances were a mile to nine furlongs. Most of his earnings were in top California races including two winnings of the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar.

Another Nureyev that many remember (as both a runner and a sire) is Theatrical who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf at 1.5 miles in 1987. Why am I bringing up Theatrical (who passed away at age 30 in 2012)? Because I had the great pleasure to meet Theatrical when he first went to stud at Allen Paulson’s Brookside Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. I became thoroughly charmed by this large son of Nureyev. Why? Because one of the first things he did when I met him was to stick his tongue out to be pulled. Then he threw his top lip back and showed off his tattoo.

Special Ring with Pops

Special Ring
with Pops

Any of you who have been to Old Friends and/or know Special Ring are re-reading that last sentence. It must be genetic! The first time I met Ring, the very first thing HE did was throw back that top lip and show off his tattoo! I was flabbergasted. I was told that this is his normal habit and that he does it for guests quite often. I couldn’t stop tears from welling up in my eyes. I was thrilled to see that, on our visit this past August, he is still showing off.

Special Ring About to Show His Tattoo

Special Ring
About to Show His Tattoo

I guess you might be able to tell, Special Ring is a particular favorite of mine. Over the years, sons of Nureyev have been especially gregarious and friendly with me. I never met a Nureyev I didn’t like, and Ring is no exception. One more thing I find particularly charming about this grand gelding is his ability to shed his halter. I’ve never visited (nor seen too many photos) when he was wearing his halter. I don’t know if he has a special arrangement with Pops, but that halter somehow disappears – sometimes without a trace. Perhaps he’s a little bit Houdini.

Flick and Danthebluegrassman

Flick and
(Grumpy Old Men?)

The other two geldings I’m going to tell you about today are Flick and Danthebluegrassman. These two paddock buddies are both friendly and love visitors. I have to say that Dan seems to think he’s all that – and more (even though Flick won more money). Both of these geldings did most of their running on the west coast.



Flick was foaled in England and got his start there, but came to the US to do most of his racing and winning. He won several stakes races in California and placed in several more. This grand fellow raced successfully through age 10 when his owner decided that he had more than earned a happy retirement.

Flick is one of the lucky horses who had an owner that truly cared that her boy got the best care throughout his life. When time came for him to retire, she knew the best place for him was at Old Friends. That’s really lucky for all of us. Flick is one of the sweetest-tempered and long-suffering horses I’ve ever met. He seems to truly enjoy all of his visitors.


Going to Tell Me Your Story?

Danthebluegrassman! What a name! Dan was named after a friend of the owner. This character showed real ability as a youngster, and won several races. Dan actually was entered in the Kentucky Derby, but was scratched from the race the day before.

Dan Telling a Stpry?

Telling a Story?

An amusing story was told about the friend who was the namesake of Danthebluegrassman. Apparently, Dan’s owner had made arrangements for the human Dan to come to Louisville for the Derby and had made all kinds of arrangements for a special party and room at Churchill in honor of his friend. Well, I guess none of that mattered because the human Dan sold his tickets and never showed. Ironic as Dan the horse didn’t make it to the starting gate either.


Former Kentucky Derby Entrant

I tell this story because, after getting the opportunity to spend some time with Danthebluegrassman, that kind of story fits with his personality. He’s a showman! He loves the attention of the humans who come to visit. He’s quite a character. He loves to eat the carrots offered, but I think he enjoys the attention even more.

Danthebluegrassman Showing Off

Showing Off

Dan is a great-looking horse. His story is one of the all too common, riches-to-rags stories in racing. This former entrant in the Kentucky Derby ended up in the claiming ranks. A couple of gentlemen decided that Dan had done enough and hated to see this former star racing at that level. They made arrangements for Dan to come to Old Friends.


All the horses at Old Friends have terrific stories. No two are the same. Again, I highly recommend that you visit Old Friends’ website. Even better, make plans to visit them in Georgetown, Kentucky. I’m absolutely certain that you, too, will meet a favorite or two – or three. When you DO find your favorite(s) (notice I said “when” not “if”), Old Friends makes it possible for us to sponsor them for a year. For a donation of $100, sponsors get a gorgeous 8 by 10 inch glossy photo and a certificate. Better than that, you get the knowledge that you are helping Old Friends provide the unparalleled care they are renowned for.


Up Next: Old Friends at Old Friends – The Superstars


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