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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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(Source: Facebook.)

 

The heart and mind process imminent endings before they actually happen. There are reflections, a fondness for the past tense, a sense of distancing the self from the event, because when heart and mind know an ending is upon them, they rehearse.

But eyes and mind are different, as they must be, since the eyes live in an eternal present. On January 29, 2017 California Chrome left his stall on the Gulfstream shed row to begin a new career at Taylor Made in Kentucky. Eyes and hearts watched him go for the final time, saw the empty stall, began to register the absence.

As I watched Chrome leave his home in Los Alamitos, I knew in my heart what Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul were feeling. They had welcomed me into Chrome’s world, closing the space between the far-away me and themselves, and as the van pulled out of Los Alamitos for the last time I was filled with sadness. “The eyes are the window of the soul” and my soul was right there beside the people who made Chrome’s stall a home.

Chrome’s departure for Gulfstream had almost nothing to do with the Pegasus and everything to do with the closing chapter of a brilliant career for me. And along with the Team Chrome family, I knew I’d miss the presence in my life of this magnificent copper horse and his honest, courageous heart.

 

TEAM CHROME: IN THE BARN AND ON THE TRACK

Trainers Art & Alan Sherman, exercise riders Willie Delgado (until April 2015 approx.) and Dhigi Gladney (April 2015-January 2017 approx.), groom Raul Rodriquez and jockey Victor Espinoza comprise the “hands on” of Team Chrome, the people who did everything from picking out his feet to teaching him how to win.

And they did it brilliantly, while always making time for the press and their colt’s devoted Chromies by throwing open windows to the tribulations, trials and excitement of campaigning a great horse.

(Videos: from 2014, produced by David Trujillo and Blood-Horse, respectively):

Art Sherman was not entirely a stranger to the media, having been champion Swaps’ exercise rider in 1955, at the age of eighteen. Between 1957-1979, Sherman was a professional jockey, turning to training thoroughbreds after that. And even though California Chrome was Sherman Stables’ first Kentucky Derby contender, Art brought a depth of knowledge about thoroughbreds to the table. His down-to-earth, straight-shooting and always cordial style set the bar on what it means to be a consummate professional. The Shermans are sportsmen and they love the game. Art’s admiration for Shared Belief and Arrogate was palpable following their victories over Chrome, and bespoke a classy gentleman of the track.

In the three/four years that the colt and his trainers were under the microscope they taught us all so much — not only about California Chrome, but about the life of a trainer responsible for a North American racing icon. Expressions like, “He (Chrome) ran his eyeballs out…” and “He’s just a cool horse,” became part of my lexicon, as did the familiarity of Art in cap and jacket, hands in his pockets, answering still another round of questions.

Of all the interviews with Art, this one, after his colt’s win in the 2016 World Cup, is my favourite. I was so thrilled for Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul that I danced all around the living room, my eyes glazed with tears.

But glamour of Dubai aside, the largest percentage of Chrome’s racing life happened at the Sherman Stables in Los Alamitos (and before that, at Hollywood Park). It’s easy to forget just how much time thoroughbreds spend in their stalls or in training; a trainer’s greatest skill is keeping his horse happy during the (sometimes) long stretch between races. Keeping a horse “well within himself” is based on familiar routines, appropriate exercise and attention from those who are most important to him/her. Centre stage are the exercise rider(s) and the groom(s) and it is the latter who often become a thoroughbred’s best friend. As with dogs and cats, the person who cares for them is, in the horse’s mind, the person to whom they belong.

Enter Raul Rodriguez, who accompanied Chrome from his very first start to his retirement (video produced by the Blood-Horse in 2014):

Raul’s bonuses from Chrome’s wins have allowed him to purchase a home amid an 80-acre ranch in his home, Jalisco (Mexico), where he intends to retire. As I write this, Raul is with his boy at Taylor Made, helping him to settle in. And I’m remembering Eddie Sweat taking Secretariat and Riva Ridge to Claiborne, and that photo of Eddie in tears, leaning against a stone wall….. May your goodbye be a kinder one, Raul.

Raul and his boy, CALIFORNIA CHROME

Raul and his boy

It was William Delgado and Dhigi Gladney who put the muscle on America’s 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year. Working in tandem with Art and Alan, they were the ones who taught the juvenile his job. Through their hands and voices, Chrome learned about gallops, works and cooling out. They taught him how to break from the starting gate and how to change leads on the fly. It was from Willie and Dhigi that he received praise, and began to understand how to work with a rider instead of against him. Too, it was from Willie that the colt first heard “the question” — that moment a thoroughbred is invited to really run. With Dhigi came the fine tuning — sharpening Chrome’s sensitivity to his rider’s commands, helping him move fluidly from one “gear” to another. And both of these fine young men had everything to do with the champion’s “attitude” towards racing.

Delgado worked Chrome as a juvenile and then until April 2015, teaching him many key lessons along the way (video produced by America’s Best Racing in 2015) :

And it was Dhigi’s beautiful smile, cordiality and enthusiasm that lit up the last 18 months of Chrome’s career, as he added his skill to the racing repertoire of the champion (video produced in 2017 by Gulfstream Park):

 

The accomplished Victor Espinoza was Chrome’s jockey throughout most of his career. Victor is a man known for his generosity with fans. But he is also the man that guided Chrome home, giving him confidence when he needed it and helping him navigate safely through traffic. There is another kind of intimacy between a jockey and a horse he knows well, and it was when Victor took over the irons in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2013 that California Chrome began to turn into the Chrome we know and love. There was a chemistry between them. An understanding. And it was Victor who took care of Chrome in his final start, making certain that the horse got back to the barn without sustaining what could have been a fatal injury.

Here they are in the August 21, 2016 Pacific Classic, where they took on an absolutely stellar field:

 

TEAM CHROME: THE OWNERS

Msrs. Steve Cobourn and Perry Martin were the first owners of California Chrome and through the eyes of two new to the sport, we shared the ups and downs of Chrome’s early career. One can only wonder how many newcomers were inspired to get into the game by knowing the enthusiastic duo and their copper-coated colt with his purple silks.

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Although Perry Martin had wanted to retire the colt in 2015, partner Steve Cobourn sold his share in the horse to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky and the whole game plan changed. When the Taylors joined Team Chrome, the colts silks turned from purple to chrome, literally. Too, following his loss in the 2015 Dubai World Cup, he was sent to Taylor Made after a stint spent in the UK before returning to the Shermans for the 2016 racing season. It was a joy to see him hanging out in Kentucky and I thought the idea a brilliant one: since Chrome would retire to Taylor Made, I wondered whether or not getting used to the place would ease the transition, when it came.

But in Taylor Made, the Champ found a new home. A family business where he was greeted with deep respect and love.

Chrome playing with Taylor Made Stallion Manager, Gilberto Terrazas (video produced in 2015 by Armando Reyes)

This superb Blood-Horse video features the story of post-UK Chrome (2015) right up to the Dubai World Cup win (2016) and gives viewers a great look at what Taylor Made is all about:

 

 

Leading up to California Chrome’s retirement, the new partnership busied themselves setting up a form of “super syndicate,” partners who will make a 4-year commitment to Chrome at stud and assure him great mares.

Through the final campaign in the Champion’s career, Taylor Made were there. And when he arrived at the farm, they found their own way to make it clear that they knew we Chromies were out there.

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Sales Agency Inc.)

 

 

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Stallions)

 

 

THANK YOU, TEAM CHROME.

Thank you for your warmth and kind generosity.

Thank you for reaching out and “seeing” me — and understanding what it is to love a horse.

And thank you, Chrome. You made my heart soar. You made me feel wonder.

And I will love you forever.

 

 

(Video by David Truhillo, Nov 2016)

 

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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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