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Archive for November, 2019

At this writing, many voices have already sounded out about the recent sale of California Chrome to Japanese interests. As the champion is due to leave prior to Christmas, I wanted to add my own voice to the choir.

 

I have to admit that I’m still in shock. California Chrome stands large among that small, elite group of American thoroughbreds that over the centuries gave the breed and the sport wings. So the very idea that the consortium that owns Chrome would sell him to another country still floors me, and the message it sends in so doing is dark. Very dark. Because it has the effect of a kind of semantic vortex, ramming the point home to me that any thoroughbred is essentially a commodity and, as such, about making money. And more money. Ad infinitum.

Too, the timing of the transaction, given what the sport is going through in the USA this year was, to be kind, “unfortunate.”

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The first thing that happened when I heard the news was a voice inside me that whispered: “…so…Chrome doesn’t belong to us anymore.”

My response may sound silly, but even Samuel Riddle, all those decades ago, understood that Man O’ War belonged to the people.

 

When a horse belongs to the people, they are woven into a nation’s identity and into personal histories.

It can happen with real, live superstars like California Chrome, or those that lived long before most of us were born.

And it isn’t always in the cards that a great thoroughbred receives this kind of recognition; in fact, those thoroughbreds who make the journey from the track into the heart of a nation are small in number.

Time does nothing to wither the people’s devotion to the few who join the pantheon: Man O’ War, Exterminator, Phar Lap, Red Rum, Greyhound, Arkle, Dan Patch, Seabiscuit, Northern Dancer, Desert Orchid and Secretariat are with us today, glorious in their vividness. Stories about them are passed down over generations, so central are they to the foundation of racing and National Hunt culture. They live on within a people’s consciousnes, a nation’s collective memory.

Chrome grabbed my attention early in his three-year old campaign. It was his courage and the sheer majesty of watching him run that did it. For three minutes, several times through 2014, Chrome lifted me up and took me to that world where great horses take those who journey with them.

And journey I did. Fervent hopes travelled with Chrome and his team when they arrived in Kentucky a little ahead of the first Saturday in May in 2014. By then, I was tired of hearing how the big chestnut was a “freak,” given his pedigree. I understood that Chrome was a champion-in-the-making. (It was enough for me that he carried Pulpit, A.P. Indy, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew, Numbered Account and Secretariat over his first five generations. As a racing historian, I know that a great individual can emerge from a sire line or female family as much as three generations later. This is far more usual than a casual observer might think. In the case of Chrome — he was to become the most accomplished of the A.P. Indy line by the time he retired. )

Chrome’s Derby gave me the same chills and sense of wonder that I had felt watching Barbaro in 2006 and Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. It was the spectacle of the colt leading the field home that so reminded me of my response when first Barbaro, and then Rachel, came down the home stretch. My heart cracked wide open and I wept.

On our journey went, through the highs and lows.

Dubai 2016: “…It’s alchemy in Dubai: Chrome turns to gold…” This call will live with me forever, right up there with the most famous lines from Secretariat’s Belmont and Zenyatta’s BC Classic win.

When Chrome left the Shermans’ barn at Los Alimitos, California for the last time, I watched it live and tried not to cry. Art Sherman and son Alan, together with Dhigi and Raul, were family by now, and I could almost feel what they were feeling as the time for their colt’s retirement drew nigh.

 

In Kentucky, I delighted in his burgeoning relationship with Gilberto at Taylor Made and the spontaneous home videos and photographs of them playing together. And the folks at Taylor Made were wonderful, honouring the social contract with Chrome’s faithful following in so many ways, from Chrome visits to timely updates.

CHROME and Gilberto at Taylor Made.

 

 

All seemed right in Chromeland……until the news broke, on November 20, 2019.

I had to read the headlines twice. I just couldn’t believe it.

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I appreciate that thoroughbred breeding is an international affair. But that’s not new. The British stock that travelled to Kentucky in the eighteenth century were, after all, the foundation of the North American thoroughbred.

And I have little doubt that California Chrome will be given the royal treatment in Japan.

He’ll stand at Arrow Stud, a base that doesn’t attract elite mares but, rather, more modest types. His full book for 2020 indicates enthusiasm, but it also bespeaks an industry that is no less impatient for quick results than anywhere else in the thoroughbred racing world. As was pointed out to me by bloodstock expert Michele MacDonald recently, Empire Maker only got 50 mares in his last year in Japan: despite a superb pedigree, he was apparently a less-than-succesful outcross to the Sunday Silence bloodline and too slow to get winners. And so it was that Empire Maker, the grandsire of TC winner American Pharoah, came home.

My sorrow is founded on the fact that Chrome isn’t just any horse. He’s an American icon and the pride of a nation. He’s also a conduit, bringing youth and others into horse racing by closing the distance between the sport, its superstars and the public.

But none of that mattered, it would seem.

It would have been unthinkable in the racing community of owner-breeders like William Woodward or the late Penny Chenery, who were only too pleased to share their pride in their champions with the nation.

As a fan recently wrote: “Well then, let’s just ship them all out of the country. I’m done with racing.”

How very sad.

(David Trujillo on Youtube)

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) I wrote my heart out about Chrome and his team on THE VAULT on January 31, 2017:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2017/01/31/to-chrome-and-his-team-how-you-made-me-feel

2) Did you know this about California Chrome? Steve Haskin of The Blood-Horse. Highly recommended.

http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2019/11/25/chrome-gone-but-forever-part-of-history.aspx

3) Posted by David Trujillo (Youtube)

 

4) Before California Chrome’s Belmont Stakes: fan video posted by America’s Best Racing

 

5) From RIDE TV

6) Another video made lovingly by a fan (debhart01498 on Youtube)

7) Playing: Chrome and Gilberto at Taylor Made (Armando Reyes, Youtube)

 

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

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