If there is a story that horse racing loves, it is the story of an underdog. Starting from his two year old season to his retirement at the age of six, this California bred horse was the very definition of somebody who beat the odds.
A son of Lucky Pulpit out of Love the Chase, California Chrome began his racing career in the spring of 2013 at Hollywood Park, winning in his second start. On the whole, Chrome's juvenile campaign produced mixed results. There were wins, including the Graduation Stakes and the King Glorious Stakes (the latter of which giving Chrome the distinction of being the last stakes winner at Hollywood Park), and off the board finishes. However, there seemed to be potential.
Chrome's sophomore campaign began with a victory in the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita in January of 2014. From that point on, it was win after win for the first half of the year. Next came the San Felipe Stakes, then the Santa Anita Derby. Chrome emerged from the winter/spring meet undefeated and moved forward to Kentucky. As a California bred, he was reminding people of Swaps, the legendary horse from the Golden State. There was a link between the two equines, and that link was Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman. At the age of seventy-seven, Sherman had been a jockey and then trainer during his time in California. He had also known what it was like to ride Swaps, for he served as the champion's exercise rider. With his chestnut coat, like Swaps, and his run to the Kentucky Derby, like Swaps, and with Sherman guiding him, Chrome was making people remember the star of the 1950s. He was also becoming very popular in his home state.
Although he was the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Chrome was racing against history. The last California bred horse to win the Run For the Roses was Decidedly, who captured the 1962 edition. Distance had also been a question surrounding Chrome. His sire had not won a race at one mile or greater, just short sprints. Despite winning the Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles, would an extra furlong be too much for Chrome?
The answer was a resounding no. Chrome stayed close to the front in the Kentucky Derby, and pulled away in the stretch to join Swaps and Decidedly (and Morvich) as California bred winners of the Kentucky Derby. The Preakness followed two weeks later, and Chrome kept his Triple Crown bid going by winning the middle jewel of the series. Chrome made some history with the Preakness victory, too. The last Cal-bred to win at Pimlico was Snow Chief in 1986, and like Snow Chief, Chrome had achieved much more than his immediate pedigree seemed to indicate. Both had done well in their respective Kentucky Derby prep seasons, and both of them were blue collar horses when it came to race days. Also, the ownership of both Snow Chief and Chrome were small operations. Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who owned Chrome, were the opposites of Carl Grinstead and Ben Rochelle, who campaigned Snow Chief. However, the small barn of Coburn and Martin beating the odds with Chrome was like what Grinstead and Rochelle had done in the mid-1980s with Snow Chief.
Unfortunately, the Triple Crown escaped California Chrome's grasp. He was a gallant fourth, still trying at the conclusion of the Belmont Stakes despite sustaining an injury to his foot at the start of the race. Despite not getting the Crown, Chrome became the first California-bred to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. When it came to California racing history, Chrome had just added a page to the record book.
The remainder of 2014 saw Chrome take sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby, third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and first in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar, the latter being his first and only attempt on turf. That win helped net Chrome Horse of the Year honors at the Eclipse Awards, as well as Top Three Year Old.
The 2015 season for Chrome was largely non-existent. Two starts produced two runner up finishes at Santa Anita and the Dubai World Cup, but a leg bruise kept him out of action. Originally scheduled to be retired after his four year old season, Chrome was given the chance to compete at five. He made the most of that opportunity.
In eight starts during 2016, Chrome was virtually unstoppable, winning eight of nine races, among them the Dubai World Cup and Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He also set some records, becoming the highest earning Cal-bred of all time and the highest-earning Thoroughbred in North American racing history. His lone loss came in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but he rebounded with a win at his home track, Los Alamitos, in front of thousands of his fans, who were dubbed "Chromies." When the Eclipse Awards rolled around again, Chrome found himself a big winner like he had been two years earlier, taking Older Dirt Male honors along with another Horse of the Year trophy. He also became a decorated champion in his home state, winning multiple California Thoroughbred Breeders Association awards from 2014 to 2016, including Cal-bred Horse of the Year twice.
Chrome's final start came in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup in 2017, which saw him finish ninth, but that race does not define Chrome. A truly popular horse, Chrome gained support for a variety of reasons. First, he came from humble beginnings. A look at his sire and dam would not make anyone believe the success he was destined for. Chrome was an underdog who reached the top of Thoroughbred racing. Second, he was a horse who that made an effort when he was in action. Chrome gave it his all on the racetrack, and when it comes to sports, fans appreciate effort. Third, Chrome was from California. The fact that he was bred in the state made him endearing to fans. He was the state hero who won the biggest events in Thoroughbred racing, and those accomplishments were even more special because Chrome was from California. His name was catchy as well, and it could have added to the support he received from his fans.
Even in defeat, people loved Chrome. Although he was runner up to Shared Belief in the 2015 San Antonio Stakes, Chrome received applause as he returned to the frontstretch after the race. Fans cheered for him in the stretch of his races, and when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, the fans watching at Santa Anita loved it.
California Chrome was not a colorful horse, but he had appeal. There was a charisma he possessed that was not flashy, yet it drew people to him. With his bright chestnut coat, and green and purple blinkers (which later became gray), Chrome was easy to spot on the racetrack. Fans loved him, and he will go down as one of the greatest and most memorable California bred horses of all time.