Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Alex Evers
Just a few days out from Christmas, citizens across the
nation prepared for the holiday, reuniting with family, watching classic
holiday movies, embellishing homes with festive decorations, wrapping gifts,
and preparing traditional meals. The air was full of joy and anticipation;
after all, it was “the most wonderful time of the year.” But on the evening of
December 22, 2014, racing fans felt anything but joy.
It was the final day of racing at Hollywood Park, a track that had housed the
names of an abundance of great Thoroughbreds, including Affirmed, Citation,
Seabiscuit, and Zenyatta. Despite the seventy-five years of fine racing that
had taken place at Hollywood Park, the doors would forever close to the
Inglewood, California track. Hundreds of stakes races had been held at the
track in its rich history, including the inaugural Breeders’ Cup World
Championships and seventy-four editions of the Hollywood Gold Cup, but at 5:39 PM on December 22, California Chrome – a stunning
chestnut colt conditioned by veteran trainer Art Sherman – galloped to an
impressive victory in the final stakes race ever held at Hollywood, the King
Glorious Stakes. Now, a month out from the Kentucky Derby, the colt that
captured Hollywood’s final stakes race looks to conquer America’s greatest
Coincidentally, California Chrome’s career began at Hollywood
Park when he finished a good second in a four and one-half-furlong California-bred
maiden special weight in late April. Three weeks later, he returned in a race
of the same conditions, pressing the pace before drawing off to win by 2 ¾
This victory gave his connections enough confidence to enter him in stakes
company a month later when he took on open company for the first time in the
five and one-half-furlong William L. Proctor Memorial Stakes at Hollywood.
Dueling for the lead throughout, California Chrome could not keep up with his
competition and faded to fifth.
The colt returned to his winning ways in his next start, which came at Del Mar
at the end of July. Returning to state-bred company but remaining in a
black-type race, California Chrome would yet again be traveling five and
one-half furlongs in the Graduation Stakes. After sitting off the pace, the
flashy chestnut drew clear down the lane to score by a margin of 2 ¾ lengths.
California Chrome then reached the toughest test of his career. Making a
significant jump from state-bred stakes to grade one company, California Chrome
stretched out to seven furlongs in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) in early
September. With a slightly rough trip, Steven Coburn and Perry Martin’s
homebred could manage no better than sixth, but was only beaten by just over
On Breeders’ Cup Friday, California Chrome made his dirt debut and a return to
state-bred company when he competed in the Golden State Juvenile Stakes going
one mile at Santa Anita. But after a poor start, California Chrome never showed
the kick he needed and again finished sixth, this time beaten by a little over
Between November 1 and December 22, California Chrome became a different horse.
On the final day of racing at Hollywood Park, California Chrome went to post in
the racetrack’s last stakes race ever run, the King Glorious Stakes for
Cal-breds. Going seven furlongs on Hollywood’s cushion track, California Chrome
raced just off the leaders, maintaining a position in fourth while remaining a
few paths off the rail. Around the far turn, he inched closer to the
pacesetters while taking the outside route. Suddenly, he engulfed the leaders
and swept to the lead outside the quarter pole, kicking clear at the top of the
stretch as he galloped down the lane in a breathtakingly powerful manner to
score by 6 ¼ lengths.
California Chrome returned to Santa Anita a month later for his sophomore
debut, again taking on state-bred adversaries in the California Cup Derby.
Traveling a mile and one-sixteenth for the first time, the blaze-faced chestnut
sat off the pace to the outside, racing in third throughout. As the leader,
longshot Better Bet, faded around the far turn, California Chrome took the
chance to swoop to the lead, swallowing his remaining rivals in the same manner
he had in the King Glorious. In what appeared to be nearly identical to his
previous race, California Chrome strode away effortlessly en route to a powerful
5 ½-length victory.
This quickly became a trademark for California Chrome. Returning to not only
open company, but graded stakes company next out in the San Felipe Stakes (gr.
II) at Santa Anita, California Chrome was sent off as the favorite, but faced
the likes of Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Midnight Hawk and Sham runner-up Kristo.
This proved to be no issue for him, however. Breaking like a rocket out of the
gate, California Chrome contested the pace with Midnight Hawk and those two
remained rather even throughout until – in typical California Chrome fashion –
the Art Sherman trainee began to draw away around the far turn before kicking
clear at the top of the stretch as he powered home to a 7 ¼-length triumph.
But the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) a month later would be the true test of the
colt’s ability to be one of the top Derby contenders. The nine-furlong distance
of the historic prep race would be the longest California Chrome had yet
competed at, and he was facing the talented Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II)
winner Candy Boy and the promising
Rebel Stakes (gr. II) winner Hoppertunity.
However, neither of these factors proved to be even the slightest problem. Although
he broke more slowly than normal and thus found himself in close quarters in
the early stages of the race, he easily found a stalking position in second,
where he remained no more than one length behind longshot Dublin Up at any
point. As usual, California Chrome seized the lead around the far turn and
accelerated powerfully as he led the field into the homestretch, drawing off to
win by 5 ¼ lengths. The final time of 1:47.52 made it the fastest running of the Santa Anita Derby since Indian Charlie in 1998.
No California-bred has won the Kentucky Derby since Decidedly
in 1962, but California Chrome will look to put an end to that trend. But it is
not only history running against him; his pedigree appears to be more focused
on speed and short distances than stamina and classic distances.
California Chrome’s sire, Lucky Pulpit, never won beyond five and one-half
furlongs and as a sire, he has produced primarily sprinters like himself. He is
the sire of Rousing Sermon, a
multiple stakes winner who has won up to a mile and one-sixteenth. Rousing
Sermon finished eighth in the 2012 Kentucky Derby, but made a good rally and
galloped out well, outrunning his odds and pedigree. However, Lucky Pulpit’s
other stakes winners – Gatheratthealter and Luckarack – are sprinters. Nonetheless, Rousing
Sermon and another one of Lucky Pulpit’s sons, Woodmans Luck (who, ironically,
won the absolute final race at Hollywood Park), have placed in nine-furlong
Lucky Pulpit is a son of Pulpit, who produced many distance horses, including
the Russian group one winner Baletmeister, who won at 2,000 (ten furlongs) and 2,400 meters (twelve furlongs) on
several occasions; Ice Box, runner-up in 2010 Kentucky Derby; Pachattack, who
won at ten furlongs and twelve furlongs multiple times; and Church Service, a
graded stakes winner that placed in many routes, even up to thirteen furlongs.
Lucky Pulpit’s dam, Lucky Soph, raced in England, where she won just one race
from six starts, defeating two rivals over a distance of one mile. She is a
daughter of Cozzene, the sire of several horses that have won grade/group ones
at ten furlongs or longer, including Alphabet Soup, Star of Cozzene, Star Over
the Bay, and Tikkanen.
California Chrome is the first foal out of Love the Chase, a one-time winner
from six starts. That one win came at the distance of a mile. Love the Chase is
a daughter of Not For Love, a full brother to 1989 Champion Two-Year-Old Male
who won the 1990 Travers Stakes (gr. I) at the mile and one-quarter distance.
Not For Love has primarily sired horses successful at distances of nine
furlongs or longer, but is from the same La Troienne branch as the Kentucky
Derby winners Smarty Jones and Super Saver.
Love the Chase’s dam, Chase It Down, was also a one-time winner, capturing a
six and one-half-furlong maiden at Charles Town. She is a daughter of Polish
Numbers, a stakes-placed runner who set a track record for six and one-half
furlongs at Belmont Park.
While California Chrome’s pedigree certainly hinders the hope that the colt can
be victorious at classic distances, this colt appears to be the type that is
capable of outrunning his pedigree. This colt may just be the most utterly gifted
of all horses pointing towards the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Having won his past
four starts by a combined 24 ¼ lengths, he appears to have forgotten how to
lose. You can throw every excuse at him you want – he’s never raced outside of
California, his pedigree is suspect, there will be too much speed in the
Kentucky Derby – but he has displayed the most brilliance of any horse
targeting this year’s Run for the Roses and that is a difficult aspect to look