Photo: Melanie Martines
When American Pharoah galloped into history and, like the
first rainfall at the end of a long drought, became the first Triple Crown
winner in 37 years, racing fans got a taste of “the good ol’ days.” But when he
crossed the wire for the final time when he captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic
at Keeneland, fans had to wonder how long they would have to wait to witness
another all-time great.
It turns out that they would not have to wait long; in fact, they had already
witnessed the making of a couple greats at that very Breeders’ Cup. As American
Pharoah retired to stallion duty at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud, he left the door
open for a number of Thoroughbreds to continue what appears to be the modern
golden era of American horse racing.
Although American Pharoah accomplished the feat for which the racing world had
been waiting nearly 40 years, he was not the first all-time great the sport has
witnessed in recent years. The twelfth Triple Crown winner came on the heels of
the likes of Curlin, Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Wise Dan. Though all of
these horses, American Pharoah included, are now enjoying retirement, this new
golden age lives on.
Through the first eight months of 2016, a number of horses have contributed to
a brilliant year of racing already. In this brief, new series, I will feature
these horses individually and separately – the ones that have the potential to
be considered all-time greats, or that have even already reached that status.
Part Two: California Chrome
Before there was American Pharoah, there was California Chrome. The 2014
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is as good as ever, having become the
richest North American racehorse of all-time with a win in this year’s Dubai
World Cup (UAE-I). The California bred showed promise as a two-year-old,
winning a pair of state restricted stakes, but did not find his best stride
until he hit the age of three.
Prior to the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome won the first three races of his
sophomore season – including the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) – by a combined 18
lengths. He did not disappoint as the Derby favorite, taking the Run for the
Roses by 1 ¾ lengths, before taking the second leg of the Triple Crown in the
Preakness. He failed to sweep the Triple Crown in the Belmont with a fourth
place finish, and was again off the board in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II).
But after a solid third place effort – beaten less than a length – in the
Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), he returned to his winning ways with a win in
the Hollywood Derby (gr. I) on the turf. With that grade one victory at the end
of the year, California Chrome clinched the 2014 Eclipse Awards for Horse of
the Year and Three-Year-Old Male.
California Chrome returned as a four-year-old with a runner-up effort in the
San Antonio Invitational Stakes (gr. II) before shipping overseas to finish
second in the $10 million Dubai World Cup (gr. I). He was sent to England for a
chance to compete at Royal Ascot, but instead was sidelined for the remainder
of the year due to a bruised cannon bone. Shortly thereafter, the 30% share of
California Chrome that belonged to controversial owner Steve Coburn was
purchased by Taylor Made Farm, where the chestnut was sent for rest and
The 2014 Horse of the Year returned to the races in January of 2016 and has been
unstoppable ever since. After winning the San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) at Santa
Anita, California Chrome returned to Dubai, where he romped in a handicap in
preparation for the Dubai World Cup. Next out, in a career-defining race,
California Chrome easily won the Dubai World Cup in track record time against
international rivals despite a slipped saddle.
Mostly recently, California Chrome made his first U.S. start since his Dubai
win, taking on dual grade one winner Dortmund in the San Diego Handicap (gr.
II). Displaying every ounce of grit and heart he has, he battled Dortmund down
the stretch to win by a half-length in the fastest time since the 1999 edition
of the race.
California Chrome has now surpassed two-time Horse of the Year Curlin as the
richest North American racehorse of all-time, currently boasting earnings of
$12,652,650. He has won on every surface – dirt, turf, and synthetic – and is
a grade one winner on two (dirt and turf). Among his five grade one wins are
three of the world’s most important races: two Triple Crown races and the Dubai
World Cup. With the way California Chrome has been performing, he is sure to
only add to his historic credentials.