California Chrome will always have his huge legion of fans,
who call themselves Chromies and worship the handsome chestnut with the same
kind of fervor we saw with Zenyatta and Barbaro fans. But his place in history
may have even escaped many of his fans.
When he was sold to Japanese interests this past week,
America lost more than one of the most popular horses of the modern era. It
lost a horse who has firmly secured his place in the record books.
How many people are aware that California Chrome is the only
Kentucky Derby winner in history to be voted Horse of the Year at age 5 or
older? That makes him even more than a throwback, because not even the tough
iron horses of yesteryear who ran well past their 3-year-old year have
But that is not the extent of Chrome's impact on history. He
also is the first Kentucky Derby winner to win multiple stakes after the age of
4 since Citation, who did not race at all at 4, and was dominated by Noor at
age 5, but kept in training at age 6 in an attempt to become racing's first
California Chrome also was the first horse to be voted Horse
of the Year in non-consecutive years since John Henry in 1981 and '84 and the
first non-gelding in history to accomplish it (based on the nationally
recognized Daily Racing Form/Morning Telegraph poll).
Chrome also became the first California-bred to win the
Kentucky Derby in 52 years.
He is the only Kentucky Derby winner along with Secretariat
to win a grade 1 stakes on grass.
He is the only horse ever to win or place in two Breeders'
Cup Classics and two Dubai World Cups and the only Kentucky Derby winner to
place in two Breeders' Cup Classics. (In his two placings in the Breeders' Cup
Classic he was beaten a total of three-quarters of a length).
His five victories in million-dollar races are second only
to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and he is the only Kentucky Derby
winner to win two million-dollar races at age 5.
Chrome also proved to be a consistently fast horse. He ran
the fastest Santa Anita Derby in the past 21 years and the second fastest in
the past 46 years. He ran the second fastest San Felipe Stakes in the 67 years
it has been run at 1 1/16 miles and the fastest in the past 12 years. He ran
the second fastest Preakness in the past 12 years and the third fastest Pacific
Classic in the past 16 years. And he set a new track record for 1 1/16 miles at
A feat that may never be duplicated is California Chrome
winning two legs of the Triple Crown and then winning six stakes as a
He is one of the most international horses of all time,
having either raced, trained, or resided in the United States, England, Dubai,
Chile, and now Japan, encompassing four continents.
It's not every day that you have a horse who can win at
seven different distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles.
So, the U.S. is losing more than one of its most popular
horses ever and one of its great Cinderella stories; it is losing a major part
of its history.
One of the main complaints today is that racing doesn't have
any throwbacks from years ago when classic horses were durable and stayed in
training and actually enhanced their reputation with their heroics at ages 4
and 5. Well, here was that throwback, who drew throngs of visitors to Taylor
Made Farm. But popularity doesn't equate to profits.
No one is to blame. Horse racing simply is a microcosm of
the world we live in, and California Chrome is an example of that, and some
would say a victim. It seems as if there is more competition among the super
stud farms for stallion rights than there is on the racetrack.
It is a shame that a horse who has stamped his name in so
many pages of the history book wasn't allowed to at least get his first crop to
the racetrack. But that is the decision that was made.
So, all we can hope for now is that California Chrome has a
good and productive life in Japan and that 15 or so years from now we can be
reunited with him at Old Friends or another home. He no longer will look like
the Chrome we remembered on the racetrack or at Taylor Made Farm, but at least
we will be able to see those flashy markings and reminisce about his brilliant
career, his burnished coat that shined like copper, and the amiable way he
welcomed visitors. But most of all we will remember all the joy he brought to