One of my greatest regrets about the 2015 season was that the brave plans to run California Chrome in Britain had to be abandoned. The Lockinge was bypassed when it was felt that he needed more time to recover from his exertions in Dubai. Then the Prince of Wales’s Stakes had to be ruled out when the colt developed pus in a foot.
Another turf race, the Arlington Million, was chosen as the next target for California Chrome after his return to his native USA, but once again he was thwarted, this time by cannon bone inflammation, which required three months’ rest.
While it was very disappointing for all concerned that his four-year-old season was effectively ruined, the enforced rest has proved to be highly beneficial to a horse who had packed 16 starts into his first two seasons. Alan Sherman, assistant to his veteran father Art, reported: “He missed a lot of last year, but he returned to training a far bigger, stronger, horse. We could not be more happy with him.”
Sherman was right to be happy. California Chrome has been unbeaten since his return, winning a Grade 2 at Santa Anita in January, a handicap at Meydan in February and then the Group 1 Dubai World Cup a month later, when he overcame a wide draw and a slipping saddle to win easily. Now the biggest earner in American racing history, California Chrome has thoroughly justified the decision by the Taylor Made Farm team to invest in the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner.
It isn’t just his racing ability which sets California Chrome apart. He thoroughly enjoys what he does and his enthusiasm is matched by his versatility
And it isn’t just his racing ability which sets California Chrome apart. He thoroughly enjoys what he does and his enthusiasm is matched by his versatility. Art Sherman had him ready to race early in his first season, with his first victory coming over four and a half furlongs at Hollywood Park on May 18, on his second start. By the end of the year he had added a couple of stakes victories, one over five and a half furlongs, the other over seven. Not bad going for a horse who has gone on to win two of the world’s most sought after dirt races over a mile and a quarter.
Racing surface not an issue
California Chrome moves so well, and covers so much ground with every stride, that all surfaces seem to come alike to him. At two he won over Cushion Track and Polytrack. In winning his first five starts at three, he scored over three different dirt tracks – at Santa Anita, Churchill Downs and Pimlico – and he was given his chance to try turf in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar at the end of November. As this race came just under four weeks after his gallant third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, many owners would have considered it a step too far. However, California Chrome was up to the task and won again, giving rise to the idea of a European campaign – and giving an incentive for European breeders to consider using him.
So here we have a horse who scores full marks for precocity, durability, enthusiasm and versatility, both on the score of ground and distance. So is there a drawback? The answer, unfortunately, is yes. His pedigree is unlikely to please the purists, even though his great-grandsires include those outstanding sires AP Indy and Mr Prospector.
A positive slant can also be put on the fact that his sire, Lucky Pulpit, shares the same sire – Pulpit – as Tapit, the champion sire of 2014 and 2015 who is comfortably the highest-priced stallion in Kentucky. But Lucky Pulpit isn’t based in Kentucky. His services were available for as little as $2,500 at Harris Farms in California in the run up to California’s Triple Crown triumphs in 2014
To the end of 2013, Lucky Pulpit had four crops racing and these numbered only 28, 23, 19 and 26 named foals. That’s a total of just 96, with California Chrome being one of the 26 foals in crop number four.
We will never know how California Chrome would have fared had he been able to pursue his European turf targets. Parts of his pedigree support the view he could have made his mark
Fortunately, Lucky Pulpit’s breeders, Larry and Marianne Williams, retained plenty of faith in him, even though he had won only three of his 22 starts. One of those wins had come in the Smile Stakes over five furlongs on turf as a four-year-old, and Lucky Pulpit had earlier been Graded-placed at around a mile both at two and three. He won on dirt and turf and had the added attraction of being out of a three-parts-sister to the dam of that highly successful stallion Unbridled’s Song. Another stallion from this female line – the French and American top-flight winner Seattle Song – sired the dam of Tiznow, another with enormous earnings.
Lucky Pulpit has repaid his breeders’ faith. His first crop contained a pair of stakes winners bred by Mr and Mrs Larry Williams. They did even better with Rousing Sermon, a colt from Lucky Pulpit’s second crop. Rousing Sermon did so well as a juvenile in 2011 that he was rated only 7lb inferior to the co-top weights Hansen and Union Rags on the Experimental Free Handicap. Rousing Sermon even contested the 2012 Kentucky Derby, finishing seventh. These early successes helped stimulate support for Lucky Pulpit and there were 63 foals in his 2012 crop. He has 81 three-year-olds, 54 two-year-olds and 94 yearlings in 2016, with the yearlings conceived around the time of California Chrome’s first three-year-old wins.
Of course we will never know how California Chrome would have fared had he been able to pursue his European turf targets. Parts of his pedigree support the view he could have made his mark, even though the AP Indy male line has yet to make a major impression in Europe. His third, fourth and fifth dams were daughters of Sir Ivor, Vaguely Noble and Ribot, three outstandingly good European-raced middle-distance horses. This female line can also take credit for the fact that California Chrome stays better than quite a lot of his other antecedents.
In a European industry where outcrosses are hard to find, perhaps California Chrome will have something to offer breeders who share this wonderful horse’s boldness and commitment. Northern Dancer is no closer than the fourth generation of his pedigree.