California Chrome's legacy grows through lifelong racing fans

By Mary Dixon Reynolds
October 14, 2019 11:20am
Unbeknownst to her, when Amy Helen Tremper typed out 14 words on her Facebook page years ago, her life changed forever. A flashy California-bred chestnut had caught her eye as well as her heart. Amy and her husband, Steve, had recently retired from positions as ranch managers, working with horses their entire lives, and they missed the equine connections. Racing sparked it again.

For Amy's birthday, Steve presented her with a ticket to see California Chrome run against perhaps the best thoroughbred in America, Shared Belief, in the 2015 San Antonio Stakes (G2) run Feb. 7 at Santa Anita Park.

That night she typed, ”Going to see California Chrome race in the San Antonio. Want to come?" Two of Amy's longtime friends, also lifelong horsewomen, were in.

The trio drove to Santa Anita to watch their favorite horse take on eight others, including a small bay with a big heart. Shared Belief had only lost one race in the prior season’s Breeders’ Cup Classic when interfered with leaving the gate.

At the quarter pole, California Chrome led, but only until Shared Belief made his move to win by 1 1/2 lengths in an early season showdown. But the women were only mildly disappointed. While new to racing, they recognized the talent of both winner and runner-up.

Amy and her friends found many others at Santa Anita there just to see California Chrome. And some of them remain in contact today, more than four years later.

From his humble beginnings to a breakout start — winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes — California Chrome developed a unique following of “Chromies,” bringing people into the sport and together in a new way.

Ten years before him, there was another state-bred, Smarty Jones, who won two legs of the Triple Crown and similarly fascinated the none-racing public. But that was before social media, primarily Facebook, where “Chromies” shared in their passion together, then stuck around with the sport after his retirement.

Here are a few of those stories.

Amy Helen Tremper

Every race that Chrome entered from then on, Amy Helen Tremper attended. She even flew across the world to see Chrome's 2016 Dubai World Cup (G1) victory. 

After attending the 2015 Breeders' Cup, in which Triple Crown winner American Pharoah capped his career in the Classic, the ladies launched a website, "Paddock Chronicles,” to not only follow California Chrome but also other popular thoroughbreds. The platform seeks to share their stories from race day experience with those unable to make it. Amy also got to know California Chrome’s connections on the way, describing his trainer, Art Sherman, as handling the champion with love and wit.

Amy and one of her friends, Pamela Davis-Lumley, in return wanted to do something to recognize connections’ generosity with California Chrome. Pamela edited more than 100 stories about “How California Chrome Changed My Life” previously published by Paddock Chronicles. A book by the same title is out now.

Racing grew into such a passion that in April of 2017, Amy and her husband, Steve, decided to move from Boulder, Colo., to Lexington, Ky., for a year. Amy worked at KatieRich Farm in Midway, Ky., where she cared for broodmares whose foals had just been weaned. She described a sense of fulfillment, then went on to work in the breeding shed at Three Chimneys as well as in the foaling barn with the broodmares. Amy also donned a green coat at Keeneland working in the paddock.

When safety concerns arose earlier this spring at Santa Anita Park, Amy created the Facebook page "We Are Horse Racing" to complement industry-produced “I Am Horse Racing” videos. She was in touch with the founders of I Am Horse Racing movement, who were delighted with her project. To this day they share the stories she collects on Twitter. One of her next stories is by Dana Gibbs Barnes, a well-known former exercise rider for the Bob Baffert barn.

All this activity began with the love of one extraordinary thoroughbred and the support of her husband, Steve. The fun continues this month when they return to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup. Amy will be working with Eclipse Sportswire, the championships’ official photographer, running memory cards for the company at the far turn.

Eva Livingston

Born in Poland, Eva Livingston moved to Canada in 1990 and continues to reside there today. Her most vivid memory of California Chrome is from May 3, 2014, the day he won the Kentucky Derby in a fashion that had spectators dreaming of a Triple Crown.

Passion for horses is deeply rooted in Eva's Polish ancestry. They were medieval knights that relied on horses to protect the nation’s borders. The sight of California Chrome either in his stall, breezing, or racing always brought a smile to her face. California Chrome also lifted her up when Cinnamon, her beloved 16-year-old cat passed away.

"Now, thanks to California Chrome, my life has taken a new path,” she said. “My interest in horse racing has substantially grown. I subscribe to thoroughbred magazines and constantly have a book about thoroughbreds in my hands. I just want to be around horses.”

Now happiest while at the race, Eva works as a dental hygienist. She plans on taking her skills to Dubai, where she can also work in the thoroughbred horse industry with mares and foals. Her long range plan is to move to Kentucky to continue her work with horses.

Eva looks back fondly on seeing California Chrome’s winning days in California.

"To be able to see fans who were also overjoyed for Chrome's success gave me a sense of how well loved he was,” she said. “On a visit to Santa Anita, I met an amazing and welcoming group of ‘Chromie’ fans whom I had only known on Facebook. I would see them each time California Chrome ran.”

Now another big chestnut, Gunnevera, has entered her heart. Eva attends almost all of his races and has become close to his connections. Asked which horse she loves more, Eva couldn’t take a side “because both are rags to riches stories.”

Cindy Morton

The trip from Ocala, Fla., to Gulfstream Park seemed to take longer than usual. Perhaps anticipation was the real culprit.

Cindy Morton was driving to the racetrack to see her favorite horse for the first time. While the morning was still blanketed by darkness, Cindy pulled into a parking space and quickly walked to the track, where she leaned on the rail with a couple of photographers. She could make out a horse running toward her. One of the photographers remarked, "He's just breezing the big horse today."

California Chrome was slowing down as he approached the group. Cindy noticed that as the cameras clicked, the big horse would look at the photographers as if posing. When he arrived to Cindy, he stopped and made eye contact. One of the photographers called out to her: ”He's a smart one. He notices everything!"

Cindy had been around horses her whole life. But as a veterinarian tech, she received her first exposure to thoroughbreds and was struck by their beauty. Peterson and Smith Equine Hospital in Ocala is the Rood and Riddle of Northern Florida. Her first duty was a famous stakes mare who was there for surgery. Her foal, only a few days old, was with her. That foal became Stratford Hill, a stakes winner for trainer Todd Pletcher.

Cindy was slowly learning about thoroughbreds, but in 2014, she watched the Kentucky Derby and became another fan of California Chrome. When Cindy read that California Chrome would run in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup near her home, she knew there wasn’t a way she’d miss it.

Of course, a victory wasn’t to be in his career finale. But during Cindy's visit to Gulfstream, she met two gentlemen from England and three from Dubai also there to see California Chrome. She realized the reach of this charming stallion's popularity. Today, she still watches and supports thoroughbred horse racing and anticipates Chrome's progeny hitting the track.

Karen Gentry Norton

Karen Gentry Norton, from Pasadena, Calif., was having a bad day when a friend invited her out to Santa Anita. She had not paid much attention to horses or racing before then. That changed in an afternoon.

She first saw California Chrome in the paddock. It’s another story of eye contact. She remembers hairs on her arms standing up. She immediately felt a strong connection with the horse and continued attending his races.

Karen is another who went on to know California Chrome’s connections, starting with exercise rider Willie Delgado. The owners invited her to join them at the 2014 Eclipse Awards, which she attended and witnessed California Chrome being named Horse of the Year for the first time.

While Chrome took off most of 2015, Karen purchased three retired racehorses and watched as American Pharoah won the Triple Crown. Now, she’s always at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, plus makes sure to visit California Chrome while in Kentucky.

The experience with Chrome and then her retired thoroughbreds inspired Karen to become a part owner in a filly named Princess Karen, who competed in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The horse ran a respectable fifth.

This year, with racing cast in a more negative spotlight due to the events at Santa Anita, Karen wanted to help. A friend came up with the idea of sending wristbands etched with "We Support Horse Racing.” Other “Chromies” joined in the effort. So far, they’ve shipped to 35 racetracks.

California Chrome hasn’t raced in more than two years, yet he continues to provide a boost to racing.


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Meet Mary Dixon Reynolds

Mary Dixon Reynolds’ passion for horses began at an early age. She grew up riding, showing and training Arabians. The great Curlin brought her into horse racing and the celebrated filly, Rachel Alexandra, solidified her love of the sport. The amateur handicapper found beginner's luck during her first outing to a racetrack at Colonial Downs near Richmond, Va.

From a small town in the the Tar Heel state, Mary Dixon studied English literature and journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for three years before graduating at Guilford College. She shares a passion for F. Scott Fitzgerald with her favorite writer, the late William L. Nack, whose books she possesses and are well worn from rereading.

Mary Dixon first appeared on Horse Racing Nation as a guest columnist, writing articles about California Chrome, his fan base, and the great filly Songbird. She aspires to bring new people into our sport and to promote thoroughbred aftercare, recognizing that for our sport to thrive, we must take care of our athletes after they leave the track

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