There is no doubt America has a love affair with California Chrome, with his hardcore worshippers proudly calling themselves Chromies. They have formed what can best be described as a sub culture in the world of Thoroughbred racing. They love him in his victories and they love him every bit as much in his defeats, as rare as they have become. They post photos and videos of him by the hundreds on social media, and to make him even more appealing, he is trained by the kindly, affable 79-year-old Art Sherman, whose career in racing has been book-ended by the legendary Swaps and Chrome 60 years apart.
And like recent popular horses such as American Pharoah and Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, you won’t find a more engaging equine hero than California Chrome, with his flashy chestnut coat and blaze face and white feet, and his overall handsome appearance and good-natured disposition.
He has graced racetracks all over Southern California, as well as New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Dubai twice, and now Florida. He even had a near start at Royal Ascot that was thwarted by a last-minute minor injury, and later became a star attraction on the Newmarket gallops.
On January 28, those who can afford to attend the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Invitational and those watching on TV will be cheering for their hero with even more fervor than in the past, for they know this will be his curtain call. The rags to riches fairy tale sadly is coming to its conclusion and the only appropriate ending would be a happy one, like all fairy tales.
So, with all this outpouring of love, especially since his early arrival at Gulfstream Park, where scores of fans gather each morning to watch him train, where does that leave his nemesis, Arrogate?
Lurking far away from the action and waiting to deal another blow to the beloved Chrome, is his Breeders’ Cup Classic conqueror, trained by powerhouse Bob Baffert. Has Arrogate, a phenom unlike anything we’ve seen before, and who is on the verge of superstardom, taken on the role of villain in this fairy tale? Is this gray whirlwind who took racing by storm last year going to deprive California Chrome of his grand farewell, just as he deprived him of an undefeated season by snatching the Classic away from him in the closing strides?
With California Chrome headed to Taylor Made Farm for stud duty following the Pegasus, racing fans in general have to be torn just who to root for. Of course, there is no way the Chromies and other admirers of the horse are going to root against him. But looking at it in a broader sense, this is the last we will see of California Chrome, his legacy pretty much secured, regardless of the outcome. But with racing lacking a male superstar, at least in the older horse division, and Arrogate on the threshold of greatness, wouldn’t the sport benefit more having the big gray win again, confirming his otherworldly performances from last year and catapulting him to superstardom?
If Arrogate defeats California Chrome again, as well as classy grade 1 winners such as Gun Runner, Keen Ice, Noble Bird, and Shaman Ghost, wouldn’t it be safe to say that no horse in memory has ever made a more auspicious and spectacular introduction to the sport?
So, while both horses will have their loyal legion of fans rooting for them, I have to admit I am torn. Having followed and admired California Chrome since his early days winning the Cal Cup Derby and his early addition to the Derby Dozen and meteoric climb to No. 1, I would love nothing more than to see him go out a winner and avenge his loss to Arrogate.
But it is only January, and with Chrome gone, where do we go from there?
On the other hand, you’re always looking for that one horse who is capable of taking on legendary proportions; who does things other horses, even the great ones, have never done. So far, Arrogate looks like he could be that horse. There is no way a horse with such little experience and zero stakes appearances should have been able to do what he did in the Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic. In winning those two races, only the fifth and sixth of his career, in the manner he did, Arrogate ventured into uncharted waters, going where no horse had ever gone before at this stage of his career.
It’s not so much a question of who to root for, but who to bring yourself to root against. It’s like rooting against Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year honors in 2009. The bottom line is I want to see both horses win and don’t want to see either one lose, for different reasons. Of course, there is always the unlikely chance of a dead-heat. And, it is a horse race, which means an equally unlikely chance of an upset; but a chance nonetheless.
When push comes to shove, I guess I do have a sentimental pick, but for the record I am rooting for a great race. Let both horses have a perfect trip and put in their best effort, and have the authors of the history books write the ending.