Tag Archives: California Chrome

Two Races

Before the Kentucky Derby 2015 preps really get serious, I want to take a moment to talk about the two races in 2014 that I will never forget.

3-8-2014

Game On Dude – Santa Anita Handicap

Game On Dude is one of the best horses to never win a year-end championship. He also never won a Triple Crown race or a Breeders’ Cup. But he absolutely owned one of the most storied races in America – the Big Cap. Look at the history of the race: how Seabiscuit tried 3 times over four years to even win it once; how the legendary John Henry won it on a DQ to get his second victory; how Triple Crown winner Affirmed set the original speed record back in 1979.

Then take a look at the Dude’s contributions: Chantal Sutherland became the first female jockey to win the Big Cap when she rode the Dude to victory in 2011; how he became the first horse to win the race in non-consecutive years in 2013; and finally, the third victory, in stakes-record time, at the ripe, old age of 7.

The Dude has a lot of fans, but many “experienced handicappers” had written him off as an over-the-hill, fading frontrunner. It wasn’t hard to get that impression after his poor performance in the San Antonio the month before. The Dude was also facing Champion Will Take Charge, 3 yrs his junior, and BC Classic winner, Mucho Macho Man, two worthy rivals. I watched the race from HRN HQ and cried when he flashed under the wire 2 lengths ahead of Will Take Charge.

He would not win again, but he always gave his all, and when he retired to Old Friends in November, I made sure to visit him as soon as I could. One day, he will stand among the other immortals in bronze at Santa Anita.

 

5-3-2014

California Chrome – Kentucky Derby

Early last year, I heard a song on the radio, and a few of the lyrics stuck out as particularly suited to describe what it means when you have a really good, potentially life-changing horse. I looked up the complete song, and as I read over the words, more of them seemed to fit the mood of the Derby trail. The song was Counting Stars. The very first few lines are what got me – “I’ve been losing sleep/dreaming about the things that we could be/… no more counting dollars/we’ll be counting stars…”

Horse owners invest countless hours of time and vast fortunes to get to the Derby. When a young horse has that breakthrough win, that eye-popping workout, that’s when the Derby fever sets in and the counting stars begins.

No horse since Smarty Jones a decade prior has embodied this feeling more perfectly than California Chrome.

I was standing at the rail on Derby day at Churchill Downs, directly in front of the winners’c circle, surrounded by 150,000+ racing fans under a fantastic, blue sky on an instagram-worthy spring day as California Chrome galloped to victory. I had taken video of the stretch drive, but by the time he thundered by me I had completely forgotten the camera was running.

 

 

 

 

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End of the World as We Know It

About a week ago, I started referring to it as “the end of the world.” Today — Belmont Day, June 7, 2014 — the End of the World.

As a racing fan and participant, I can’t help but think of today as a kind of fulcrum, and no matter who wins, things will never be the same as they were yesterday. Waking up tomorrow, I will have a hangover, and the world, at least the tiny fraction of it where horse racing resides, will have shifted.

If California Chrome wins today, the world will once again know what it’s like to have a Triple Crown winner. Racing fans will be elated (even those who never bet a dime on Chrome), and all of us who have lived in the dark ages will finally have seen the light.

What’s more, should California Chrome win today, the powers that be in racing need to take a long, hard look at what they’ve been doing over these last 36-odd years. Nobody in 1979 would have believed that a Triple Crown hopeful was a Cal-Bred who started his career on synthetic surfaces and ran sans Lasix in his first 3 starts. Heads will be exploding in Lexington, for sure.

But if he loses, things won’t exactly be the status quo, either. Even now, there are those who would use their power to change the Triple Crown as it stands, add an extra week between the Derby and Preakness, even shorten the Belmont distance. Should he lose today, they will have another arrow in their quiver to strike on a heartbroken fan base.

All of this is just a distraction from the real issues in racing that won’t be solved with a Triple Crown winner. And those who have the keys don’t have the will or the backbone to make actual progress. So instead, they’ll fiddle with the superficial aspects that they do have control over, and smile and stand for photos when they push these changes through. But it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

I’ve been a California Chrome fan all along, even wore purple to the Derby. There is no question I’m rooting for him today. After all, it’s the end of the world as we know it. Whether we wake up at the top of the see-saw or sitting in the dirt is up to California Chrome. But hey, I feel fine.

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