Curtis: Dealing with California Chrome's untimely departure

November 21, 2019 11:00am

"Sayonara, California Chrome.”

They’re words this Chromie never wanted to write.

Like some of you, my heart broke when I heard the news that 2014 Kentucky Derby winner and two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome is heading to stud in Japan.

Like some of you, I felt a hot rush of anger rise up in my chest, because it seemed too soon for this type of move.

And you know what? That’s OK. It is fine to feel sadness, heartbreak and anger. It’s totally fine to cry.

But my fellow Chromies, please: It is not OK to attack farms and connections on social media. As self-appointed Chromie Queen, I command you to stop.

There are better ways to express ourselves. After all, we have the best role model.

California Chrome is a magnificent ambassador for horse racing. Though some didn't care for his owners, Chrome himself outshone any of their antics both on the track and off.

His record backed the hype. Eclipse Award champion. Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Dubai World Cup winner. Sixteen victories from 27 starts and more than $14 Million in earnings.

He was a stakes winner on dirt, synthetic and turf. Of course the Japanese would love to add him to their breeding programs.

He has been breathlessly reported on throughout his stud career, from the first mares bred to the first blaze-faced foals on the ground. I get it. He is leaving us at the dawn of his influence as a sire. His 2-year-olds haven't even hit the track yet. This all seems so premature, like the air has been sucked out of the room. It's fine to feel that way. At the same time, Chrome got the chance to stand at stud in Kentucky. Many good racehorses never do. 

Chrome is one of a kind, and in the end, that made him much more likely to go abroad. His dam hasn't produced any other stakes winners, and his two younger brothers struggled to even visit the winner's circle. His sales horses haven't been lighting up the auction block. I haven't heard much about his coming 2-year-olds in training.

The Japanese are taking a big risk bringing him over, but it is not the first time they've gambled on a young sire from an unpopular line.

They will give Chrome the best of care. He will never feel discomfort in his new digs, and who knows? He may come to prefer the cherry-blossom scented air of a Hokkaido spring.

He also won't be alone. Breeders' Cup winner and probable Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar is headed to Japan for 2020, and they will be met by Shanghai Bobby and Lani, who have settled in over the years at Arrow Stud. There's also the chance — albeit small — that Chrome could return to the U.S. like fellow Derby winner I'll Have Another. The “California Chrome” syndicate maintains first right of refusal if the Japanese chose to sell, and upon retirement, he can head back to Taylor Made in Kentucky.

Distance is the most difficult part of this deal to accept. We've grown accustomed to seeing California Chrome updates on Facebook and booking a visit when on vacation in Kentucky. The idea that Chromies can regularly reach out and touch his velvety nose and feed him Mrs. Pastures cookies whenever we'd like binds us tighter, even for those who might not actually get to do so in person. Chrome was in the US, and therefore, he was in our collective backyard.

We have to remember, though, that the shared experience of being a Chromie crosses all international borders. Now the horse himself will get to spread his magic to another part of the world.

I look forward to seeing photos of California Chrome gallop across the emerald green pastures of Japan, and I hope his sons and daughters will add to the legacy.

Instead of “sayonara,” I suggest we embrace another Japanese word, one that has no straightforward English translation. The word is “natsukashii,” it means “bringing back happy memories of the past.”

My favorite memories are of screaming my head off as California Chrome charged down the stretch in the Kentucky Derby. Chuckling as Chrome pulled assistant trainer Alan Sherman's hat off his head, or when he flashed his toothy smile during his baths. Feeling goosebumps watching Chrome dart across his paddock at Taylor Made. As long as we have our natsukashii, Chrome will never be that far away.


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