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!