2016: California Chrome Tops the Cal-Bred Earnings List
It had been the spring of 2015 since California Chrome last started in a race. It had been even longer since he competed in his native state.
After the Dubai World Cup, the original plan was to send the reigning Horse of the Year to Europe for a turf campaign and then retire to stud. But, a foot abscess caused California Chrome to miss his next planned start, and then he was discovered to have had a cannon bone bruise. That put him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season, and looked at first to be the conclusion of his career.
Originally, Chrome was to be retired after his four-year-old season and go to stud. For many, his time as an older horse was a disappointment. It consisted of two starts, both of them second place finishes. But, something happened that put his breeding plans on hold.
New ownership joined in the form of Taylor Made Farm after breeder and then co-owner Steve Coburn sold his interest in the popular chestnut. The group joined Perry Martin, who still retained a stake in Chrome, and it was decided the California-bred would return to the races at five.
The last time Southern California fans saw Chrome in action was almost a year earlier in the San Antonio Invitational at Santa Anita. Back then, it seemed like Chrome would never race again on the circuit. But, he was back home, and ready to have the campaign he never had at four.
First up was the Grade II San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita, a 1 1/16 mile event. With it came the opportunity to start the year off with a major accomplishment.
After the Dubai World Cup, Chrome was on the verge of becoming the leading California-bred racehorse in career earnings. The current record belonged to Tiznow, who had retired over fourteen years earlier.
Chrome seemed primed to take over the top spot, though. And if the San Pasqual went according to plan, his fans would see him do exactly that.
January 9, 2016, saw Chrome return to the races. He joined six horses in the starting gate for the San Pasqual, which included defending race winner Hoppertunity; the most recent Gold Cup at Santa Anita winner, Hard Aces; and 2014 Charles Town Classic Stakes champion Imperative. Chrome received the most support from the betting public, going off as odds-on to win. They expected, and certainly wanted, the popular horse to have a good race.
When the bell rang and the gates opened, Chrome was all business. Sporting new silks and blinkers (the original purple and green was traded for gray), and reunited with Victor Espinoza, he settled right into second after a perfect beginning. Alfa Bird took over the race lead while towards the inside. The two horses stayed in those positions in the clubhouse turn while Blingo was along the rail in third. Imperative was not far behind Chrome in fourth. Occupying fifth was Point Piper, and trailing in the back were Hoppertunity and Hard Aces, who were well known to rally from off the pace.
Alfa Bird was well in front as he began navigating the Santa Anita backstretch. He produced a slow quarter-mile, which was not far from 25 seconds flat. Chrome had the leader in his vision, not letting him get too far away. The field was not really all that strung out as they moved forward, getting even more closer together by the time they reached the far turn. There were some changes for position behind Chrome, but no one was making a move for the win yet. Meanwhile, Blingo was not picking up the pace, completing the first-half mile in 49 seconds. Blingo was moving closer to Chrome on the inside, but the race, and people's, favorite, still ran in second.
He spent the whole time down the backstretch slowly catching up to Alfa Bird without being asked. Chrome was looking good in the San Pasqual, moving firmly but in a relaxed rhythm. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner had not lost anything since the Dubai World Cup. Here he was, contending for the win just as he did many times before.
As Alfa Bird started around the far turn, Chrome was about a length behind. That was quickly trimmed to a half-length. Then, the sight so many fans wanted to see was presented to them.
Chrome moved into first place.
The next split was a little faster at 23 4/5 seconds. With the front straight just ahead, every other horse was being asked for more. Imperative and Mario Gutierrez sought the lead as they finished the far turn. But, Chrome and Espinoza were not going to give it up. The 2014 California-bred Horse of the Year was looking straight ahead, Espinoza seeking more from his mount. Chrome obilged as the duo neared the final sixteenth. Imperative tried to catch him, and Hoppertunity unleashed his customary rally from the back, but neither could match the power of Chrome.
Racing along the inner part of the track, he moved with a majestic stride. He announced his return, and did so with style. Approximately one hundred seconds after he left the gate, Chrome was once again a race winner, taking the San Pasqual for his tenth career victory and the first since November of 2014 at Del Mar. It was his eighth stakes victory and sixth at the graded level.
Along with the win came prize money. The San Pasqual carried a purse of $200,000. Of that amount, $120,000 went to Chrome. That was enough to send him past Tiznow in career earnings.
The Chromies saw their hero achieve another title on that winter afternoon. A Horse of the Year, Top Three-Year Old, and dual classic champion, he now stood alone in California racing as the state's richest horse.
When looking at that accolade, it is significant for a couple of reasons. First, Chrome came from humble origins. His sire was Lucky Pulpit, who never won a race routing. His dam, Love the Chase, was a one-time race winner, and that came at one mile in a maiden claiming contest. They came together to produce a son that won or placed in the sport's biggest stages, contended for a Triple Crown, and captured a pair of Eclipse Awards. He showed that success and dreams can come true, no matter where one comes from. Originally coming from a very small time partnership, Chrome had defied the odds as a quintessential underdog.
That endeared Chrome to the fans. Going by pedigree, he was not supposed to have the success that started in his two-year-old season. But, that was not going to prevent him from having such a terrific career.
The second reason was redemption. After a memorable 2014, Chrome was believed by many to continue that run into 2015. He never got the chance to really compete, save for the pair of starts. But, he was getting another chance to show what he could do as an older horse, and he wasted no time in doing so.
Chrome was simply not finished after Dubai, and he showed that in his comeback event.
Obtaining the earnings record for California-bred racehorses was only the beginning of a tremendous 2016 campaign for Chrome. He would go on to win multiple graded stakes the rest of the season, and deservedly collect some more Eclipse and California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association honors for his work.
But the year started in a big way for the much loved equine. He cemented his place in California racing history thanks to his stirring performance in the San Pasqual Stakes.
The Golden State is known as a place where success and fortune can be found. The perfect example of this is Califoria Chrome.
Balan, Jeremy. "Stylish Comeback Win for California Chrome in San Pasqual." America's Best Racing. 9 Jan 2016. https://www.americasbestracing.net/the-sport/2016-stylish-comeback-win-california-chrome-san-pasqual
Lintner, Jonathan. "California Chrome Wins San Pasqual in Return." Courier-Journal. 12 Jan 2016. https://www.courier-journal.com/story/sports/horses/2016/01/09/california-chrome-wins-san-pasqual-stakes-in-return-to-the-races/78567384/