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)


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!

Talkin’ Horses

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!


Some of you who read this blog will remember a television show on ESPN called “Racehorse Digest.” It was a weekly show, hosted by Chris Lincoln, which ran from 1982 through 1998. It was a great show that recapped the important races from the previous week and discussed many of the races which were coming up. It was a terrific show that is still the standard by which all current and future shows will be judged.

One of the great segments on “Racehorse Digest” was called ‘Talkin’ Horses’ with Dave Johnson. In that segment, Dave talked to individuals about their involvement in horse racing. Sometimes he spoke with owners, sometimes trainers, and sometimes jockeys. Some of those segments can still be seen on YouTube. They were fascinating glimpses into the sport through many different angles.

In one segment from October of 1989, Dave Johnson interviewed three women who were ‘Talkin’ Horses’ through a new medium called “the internet.” These three women had met through the old “Prodigy” in a Horse Racing Bulletin Board. They were part of a larger group who had all become acquainted through discussions of horse racing and horse breeding on that one, very early, internet site who had come together at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky to enjoy a weekend at the races – culminating with the Spinster Stakes. The three were known as “#1 Kentucky Filly,” Leslie (went by her real name), and “Teach.” These three had formed a friendship and had become three very recognizable voices on the site. “The #1 Kentucky Filly” specialized in horse racing – especially at Keeneland. Leslie was an owner/breeder from Washington (state). “Teach” was an owner/breeder/pedigree student from Georgia.

"Teach" With Her First Homebred

“Teach” With Her First Homebred

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I’m betting you can guess who “Teach” was. Yep, yours truly. My “specialty” on Prodigy was looking up pedigrees of racehorses and stallions and giving my predictions as to which would be the most successful either on the track – especially considering different types of racing (sprints/distance, dirt/turf, etc.) or in the breeding shed. Incidentally, I didn’t give myself that title, it was conferred upon me.

Our segment of ‘Talkin’ Horses’ was about the “new” idea of people from all over the country getting together on this new medium discussing horse racing. We were concurrently thrilled and terrified to be featured on a national television show, but we got through it. We were later told that our segment was one of the most well-received in that program’s history.

Today, there are any number of places on the internet where horse racing, ownership, and breeding are discussed. We’ve come a long, long way in 25 years; but it’s so much fun remembering back to those days on “Prodigy,” friendships made, having my 5 minutes of fame, and the early days of the internet.


This post was written in loving memory of my dear, dear friend, Peggy. She was – and always will be – The #1 Kentucky Filly.


Up Next: Derby Time!


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!

Old Friends at Old Friends – The MOST Anticipated Visit

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook or Twitter, 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!)


This is the next-to-last installment about our visit this past summer to “Old Friends – A Kentucky Facility for Retired Thoroughbreds” (www.oldfriendsequine.org ).


Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that we were in the thoroughbred breeding and racing business for a few years. That business brought me some of the highest highs and the lowest lows in my life. Helping with the birth of a foal, getting her through serious illness, and then into the winner’s circle is one of the greatest achievements in my life.


Our first mare was Permanent Cut. You’ve heard about her before, and you will again in this and the next post. P.C. was a half-sister to Cut Away, who ran third in the 1982 Preakness. P.C. was a grand-daughter of the great Ribot and her female family was (and still is) one of the top-producing female lines in the country. She was an easy-going girl who I loved, dearly. I hated to part with her; but, unfortunately, the horse business can be very difficult. After some serious financial and emotional set-backs (including losing our first foal – who we had foaled, raised and raced – to colic), it became clear to us that we needed to sell our horses and leave the business. It was a heart-wrenching decision, but a necessary one.


Luckily, we had kept our mares with a terrific horseman in Kentucky. He understood our plight and agreed with us that the thoroughbred business had become a losing proposition for us. He helped us find an excellent home for our girls – Permanent Cut and her yearling filly. I was very happy that the new owner kept us apprised of what was going on with the girls. Imagine my joy when I found out that he bred Permanent Cut to a son of Secretariat named Tinners Way.

Tinners Way (photo from Sporthorse)

Tinners Way
(photo from Sporthorse)

Tinners Way had become a favorite of mine the very first time I saw him. I quickly recognized him as being very much like his sire in looks. Secretariat had several sons who had his brilliant chestnut coloring, but most of his sons and daughters that I had met had looked more like their dams (e.g., Lady’s Secret – the brilliant race mare – was gray, Risen Star was virtually black). I had also met Academy Award (better known as “Oscar” – a past/passed Old Friends alum) when Permanent Cut was bred to him at Claiborne farm. “Oscar” had Big Red’s coloring, but he was a slighter/smaller version. Tinners is more like his sire in stature, and – as you can see from photos – in his markings.

Tinners Way (photo from Pintrest)

Tinners Way
(photo from Pintrest)

Tinners Way was a foal of 1990. His sire, and arguably the best horse to ever look through a bridle, had passed away in the previous fall. Tinners was a late foal. Thoroughbred horses become “yearlings” the January 1st following their birthday, no matter what month they happen to be born in. Since Tinners was born in late May (the 25th), he would have been at a great disadvantage racing in the Triple Crown races. His owners/breeders, Juddmonte Farms, instead sent the colt to Europe.

Tinners Way

Tinners Way

In Europe, Tinners only had one start as a 2-year-old. That was a win on the turf. He had four more races in Europe which were all stakes races and in which he won two and came in third in the others. After that, he came to the United States where he ended up in the care of the amazing, Bobby Frankel. Tinners Way won the Pacific Classic (Grade 1) at Del Mar in 1994. In 1995, he won the Pacific Class yet again. Another stand-out race for him in 1995 was a second in a graded stakes race to the great Cigar. His last Grade 1 win was in the Californian at Hollywood Park in 1996. Unfortunately, in his attempt to win back-to-back-to-back runnings of the Pacific Classic, Tinners Way was injured. He was retired to stud.

Tinners Way (photo from maggiemae)

Tinners Way
(photo from maggiemae)

I had been looking forward to meeting Tinners Way since the moment he went to stud in Kentucky. However, that was at the time that we were getting out of the horse business, and my heart just wasn’t in seeing reminders that we were no longer breeding and racing horses. I always hoped, however, that one day I would meet this son of Secretariat that looked so much like his sire. As you will see in an upcoming post, I had been lucky enough to get to know the great, red horse and had visited with him several times. I’d met several of Secretariat’s sons and daughters, but had only found his “spark” sizzling in Lady’s Secret. I wondered if Tinners Way had gotten any of that undefinable quality. I really hoped he had.


Tinners Way – SO Handsome

Tinner and Me

Tinner and Me

On August 23 I got the best birthday present ever. I got to spend time at Old Friends with the wonderful people and horses. I had told them about my desire to see Tinners Way (he wasn’t on the regular tour at the time). The staff gave us permission and told us where to find him. It wasn’t far, but there had been so much rain that the way was excessively muddy. I wasn’t to be dissuaded. They also told me that Tinners could be a bit stand-offish. They warned me not to be disappointed if he stood up in the corner of his paddock and didn’t come down to visit. I told them I understood, but still wanted to at least see him from a distance.

My Chat with Tinners Way

My Chat with Tinners Way

They shouldn’t have worried. I called out to Tinners when we were walking up to his paddock. He lifted his head, turned, and started trotting down to the fence. He was wearing a fly mask, but I could see through it that he was, indeed, his father’s son. There was a look of welcome there. Certainly, a large part of his welcome was for someone bringing carrots, but I really felt as though he could tell that I was someone who appreciated him. I immediately got tears in my eyes because his gentleness and self-awareness was much like the way his sire was with me, years ago. He doesn’t have the amazing “presence” Secretariat had – doubt another will – but he did have a calm acceptance that was endearing. I could have stayed there at the fence and talked to him all day. Unfortunately, time to head home came much too soon. I made a promise to myself that I would be back for another visit before too long.


Why, Yes, I believe I WILL have a carrot

Why, Yes, I believe I WILL have a carrot


One Share in Tinners Way

One Share in Tinners Way

We went back up to the Old Friends office where I immediately bought a “share” in Tinners Way. A share is a $100 donation that helps Old Friends pay for the marvelous upkeep of their horses. Shares are available for all of Old Friends’ wonderful equine guests. I had purchased a share in Bonnie’s Poker a few years back, and intend to make it a yearly donation for Tinners Way. It’s a tangible way to be involved with the horses. Old Friends later sent me a beautiful certificate and photo along with his information page. I also saw that Old Friends had bracelets made from the manes of several of their horses available for purchase. I asked that they call or email me when they had one made from Tinners Way’s mane. I am proud to say that I now have two bracelets.

You Aren't Leaving Are You?

You ARE Going to Give Me That Carrot, Right?

Let me emphasize, again, what an amazing job everyone at Old Friends does. From their beginnings with only a few stallions, Old Friends has grown into the best place on the planet for horses to go when they retire from either the breeding shed (in the case of stallions and mares) or the racetrack (in the case of the geldings). It takes a great deal of money to support all these horses and give them the kind of life they so richly deserve. Old Friends gratefully accepts donations (and they are a tax-deductible charity) and has some terrific items for purchase (some on Ebay) which all 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.


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


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!