The stage was set at the Santa Anita Derby to determine which horse would be the west coast’s best shot to wear roses on the first Saturday of May. In the end, the race proved to be not much of a contest at all. California Chrome absolutely dominated the field, drawing off to win by more than five lengths and jockey Victor Espinoza was gearing down at the wire.
The performance was another exclamation point on the series of sensational efforts. The colt is undefeated since turning three years old, and every race he has won as a three-year-old has been by more than five lengths over the competition.
The story of California Chrome and his connections is a fairy-tale. The jockey, who galloped famed Derby-winner, Swaps, turned trainer; first time owners who turn down a pot of gold and refuse to sell him, and continue a campaign on their own; the first foal out of a mare with no claim to fame, and then a flashy-colored chestnut colt with four white feet? How could this story be true? Yet, I’m not only dreaming of the Kentucky Derby, but I’ve even allowed the fantasy of the Triple Crown.
Let me explain about a couple of these aforementioned “horse truths” that make California Chrome’s story such a fluke. I was taught by seasoned horsemen, vets and grooms during my 10,000 hours of horsemanship that some things about horses are absolutes. Even nature and the horses I have cared for all my life, as well as in multiple breeds other than thoroughbreds, have proven these tenants to be true.
1. A First Foal
They are smaller, typically take more time to mature, and do not start racing/performing until they are older. I’ve been witness to this personally and I’ve seen the statistics, and yet here is a colt who made his first start as a two-year-old in April 2013, and has a total of 10 life time starts – that’s almost once a month!
2. Four White Feet
The only other horse that ANYONE ever refers to as successful race horse with four white feet and legs is Secretariat. There is even a whimsical horseman’s poem about white feet that suggests that if a horse has four white feet they should be “fed to the crows.” Systematically, I eliminate horses at the sales with even one white foot. White feet are too soft, not strong and flake away. It’s hard to keep shoes on them because the nails simply pull through hoof and typically the wall of the hoof is thin. And yet, here is California Chrome who is overcoming and thriving.
California Chrome is Kentucky Derby Focused
The series of races that this colt has dominated is resume-enough to crown him the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. However, what I find even more impressive is what I’m seeing before and after the race. Everything that I have described before for physicality handicapping in the paddock and before the race, this horse is displaying.
One ear remained focused on the groom while the other stayed pricked forward with an occasional scan of noises from the crowd. The horse’s head was bowed, pulling the groom forward, but in control. His eyes were bright and wide, full of adrenaline and muscles taught, but not sweating except between his back legs. His tail was arched with an occasional swish in an up/down pattern. With the rider up, he began to warm-up in place and he continued his focus in the post parade.
Throughout the body of the race, California Chrome’s ears were back, listening to the rider and waiting for his cue. Once he passed all the horses at the top of the stretch, his ears pricked forward with an occasional scan to listen for horses approaching him – there were none.
What happened after the race is what allowed me to jump on the bandwagon in earnest.
Entering the winner’s circle California Chrome was not just led in, he presented himself. He looked like a great knight approaching the king’s throne. He stood proudly as if someone were already taking a cast of him for a bronze statue bearing his name for the ages. This look, this attitude, this warrior stance – it cannot be taught or manufactured – this is nature’s coronation. This may be the real deal and the horse we’ve been dreaming about - please don’t wake me up!
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