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2014 Year in Review: California Chrome shines in both racing world and mainstream
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Whether it was the stewards ruling to let the result stand in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, jockey Rosie Napravnik’s impromptu announcement moments after the Breeders’ Cup Distaff that she was retiring, or a Massachusetts state gaming commission vote on a casino that now threatens to close Suffolk Downs – the last remaining major track in New England – choices were made in 2014 that reverberated through the sport.
The great race caller Tom Durkin decided to retire. Del Mar and Keeneland decided to do away with the synthetic surface Polytrack. Frank Stronach took over the lease of Calder – now Gulfstream Park West – from Churchill Downs. Every one marked a significant turning point.
But nothing crossed over to the mainstream quite like the decisions of those connected with California Chrome – ranging from choices on where, when, and how to train the colt, to how to act after losing the Triple Crown – or those of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose undercover video on trainer Steve Asmussen and his top assistant, Scott Blasi, caused a temporary tempest but has ultimately been exposed as a deceitfully edited piece of propaganda.
California Chrome became the most popular horse in training owing to his win streak, his eye-catching paint job – chestnut with generous streaks of white on his face and legs – and his breeders and owners, newcomers who lived the dream of every person connected to the sport.
Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred California Chrome from plebeian bloodlines, had faith from the beginning that the colt they nicknamed “Junior” was destined for greatness, and saw him develop into the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
His trainer, Art Sherman, was questioned over decisions to train California Chrome primarily at Los Alamitos, to not travel to Churchill Downs until the week of the Derby, and whether a scratchy throat the week of the Preakness would compromise his chances. Sherman proved that the 60 years he has spent on the racetrack – as an exercise rider, jockey, and trainer – had left him quite capable of making the right choices.
Sherman was proven correct yet again last month when he called an audible and ran California Chrome one last time in 2014, on turf, and watched him win the Hollywood Derby, a victory that may prove pivotal in voting for Eclipse Awards for champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year.
California Chrome failed to win the Belmont, after which Coburn had the meltdown heard ’round the world, saying those connected with the victorious Tonalist had taken “the coward’s way out” in the final leg of the Triple Crown. After doubling down the next morning, Coburn finally made a sober, tearful apology on “Good Morning America.”
The 3-year-old division provided much of the racing highlights of the year. California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid, combined with an outstanding supporting card at Belmont Park, produced a blockbuster handle of $150 million on that day’s card.
The Travers Stakes saw trainer Jimmy Jerkens finish one-two with V. E. Day and Wicked Strong, beating Tonalist.
Tonalist later won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, one of many fall races – like the Pacific Classic and Awesome Again – in which 3-year-olds stepped up and beat their elders.
No race was more emblematic of the strength of this year’s 3-year-olds than the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which 3-year-olds took the first six spots. The race was controversial from the first jump, when Bayern turned left and caused a chain-reaction bumping incident that most notably impacted the previously unbeaten Shared Belief – the champion 2-year-old male of 2013 – who was bothered anew a furlong later when Toast of New York swerved left.
Bayern did hold off Toast of New York and California Chrome – neither involved in the incident at the start – and the three stewards at Santa Anita subsequently voted unanimously to let the result stand, giving Bayern another important victory in an ambitious campaign that also saw him win the Haskell, Woody Stephens, and Pennsylvania Derby.
Untapable struck a blow for 3-year-old fillies in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and provided a dramatic surprise when Napravnik minutes later announced she was pregnant and thus retiring. Untapable earlier in the year had won the Kentucky Oaks, an emotional win for Asmussen just weeks after the PETA tape was released. Blasi had been relieved of his duties prior to the Oaks, but was back in the fold for the Distaff.
Older horses come and go
There was no controversy about the best turf horse in the country, as Main Sequence won all four of his starts, all in Grade 1 races, concluding with the Breeders’ Cup Turf, to make him a serious candidate for Horse of the Year.
Wise Dan, the Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013, provided one of the great comeback stories of the year when he returned from surgery in May and picked up right where he left off, winning races. A late-season injury kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup and likely short-circuited his chances of winning year-end titles for a third straight year.
Another oldie but goodie, Game On Dude, captured the Santa Anita Handicap for a record third time. Later in the year, he retired to Old Friends in Kentucky. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, in the midst of his comeback, had to step aside for knee-replacement surgery, then amazed everyone yet again by returning months later.
Jockey Alex Solis, trainer Gary Jones, the filly Ashado, and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin became the latest members of the Hall of Fame. Asmussen, Curlin’s trainer, was an original finalist, but was pulled from the ballot by the Hall of Fame owing to the PETA video controversy.
There was no better dirt horse the first half of the year than Palace Malice, the 2013 Belmont winner, whose best race was the Metropolitan Handicap on the Belmont undercard, in which he beat the brilliant Goldencents, who later won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for the second straight year.
In Canada, the filly Lexie Lou won the Queen’s Plate, giving perennial Canadian training champ Mark Casse his first win in that prestigious race.
Casse later in the year decamped to Del Mar, which had a tumultuous summer meeting punctuated by equine deaths and a suspension of racing on turf. Del Mar came back with a fall meeting that was a success on all levels, from safety (no deaths) to great turf racing topped by California Chrome’s victory in the Hollywood Derby.
A previous Kentucky Derby winner, Silver Charm, was repatriated from Japan and retired to Old Friends, joining other newcomers like Game On Dude and Amazombie. Michael Blowen, who founded and runs Old Friends, was given overdue recognition earlier this month when it was announced Old Friends would receive a Special Eclipse Award for his efforts.
The bloodstock market continued its powerful resurgence, with broodmares, yearlings, and 2-year-olds in training all doing robust business.
The sport lost numerous significant figures this year, none more tragically than apprentice jockey Juan Saez, who was killed in an accident at Indiana Grand. Former jockeys Joe Aitcheson Jr. and Pete Moreno; owners Nelson Bunker Hunt, Aaron Jones, Herman Sarkowsky, Clarence Scharbauer Jr., James Tafel, and Ralph Wilson; trainers Bill Currin, Jacque Fulton, Dominic Galluscio, Richard Small, and Tom Voss; veterinarians Dr. Doug Byars and Dr. Jack Robbins; linemaker Chuck Streva; journalists Dale Austin, Art Grace, Don Grisham, Dan Johnson, and Vic Zast; prominent horseplayers Mike Mayo and Ron Rippey; and fans like actor Mickey Rooney were among the many who also sadly passed.
Owner and horseplayer Dan Borislow, who ran as hard as his horses, hit the Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream for $6 million, and two months later died of a heart attack.
|Date||Name||Age||Description||Place of death||Cause|
|January||13-Jan||Bill Bork||80||racing executive||Reading, Pa.|
|21-Jan||Thomas H. Voss||63||trainer||Monkton, Md.|
|February||3-Feb||Joy Gilbert||54||equine photographer||Lexington, Ky.|
|7-Feb||J. Mack Robinson||90||owner/breeder||Alzheimer’s disease|
|11-Feb||Don Everett||70||owner/breeder||Lincoln, Neb.||Alzheimer’s disease|
|11-Feb||William Currin||77||owner/trainer/breeder||Solano Beach, Calif.||heart-related causes|
|20-Feb||Melanie Walters||37||trainer||Langley, British Columbia||training accident|
|21-Feb||Clarence Scharbauer Jr.||88||owner/breeder||Midland, Texas||complications from stomach surgery|
|25-Feb||Norton “Norm” Schmitt||77||jockey agent||Westlake, Ohio|
|March||11-Mar||Richard Bomze||76||New York breeder||Hollywood, Fla.|
|13-Mar||Arnold Heft||94||owner||Bethesda, Md.|
|17-Mar||Dominic Galluscio||55||trainer||New York|
|25-Mar||Ralph Wilson||95||breeder||New York|
|28-Mar||Harry Hubbard Johnson Jr.||27||shed foreman||Kentucky|
|7-Apr||Barbara LaCroix||82||farm owner||Florida|
|8-Apr||Dr. Charles Fager||90||namesake of Dr. Fager||Massachusetts|
|9-Apr||Joe Aquilino||76||trainer||New York|
|16-Apr||Joey DiAngelo||69||jockeys’ agent||New Jersey|
|20-Apr||Bobby Abbo||70||owner||Washington, D.C.|
|24-Apr||Jerry Meaux||74||chairman of the Louisiana Racing Commission||Louisiana|
|24-Jun||Mourad Boudraa||41||Morrocan exercise rider||Etobicoke, Ontario||Training accident|
|25-Jun||James Tafel||90||Owner and Breeder||Village of Golf, Fla.|
|25-Jun||Jacques Dumas||74||Trainer||Montreal, CAN||Natural causes|
|July||2-Jul||Victor Heerman Jr.||89||Bloodstock agent||Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.|
|6-Jul||Fred Grossman||86||Editor-in-chief of DRF during heyday in 70's and 80s||Monroe Township, N.J.|
|7-Jul||T. Douglas Byars||70||Equine vet||Georgetown, Ky.|
|21-Jul||Dan Borislow||52||Owner and Entrepreneur||West Palm Beach, Fla.||Heart attack|
|28-Jul||George M. Baker||83||Trainer||Louisville, Ky.|
|August||11-Aug||Seth Van Dyke||43||Jockey||Florida||Suicide|
|15-Aug||Chuck Streva||56||Chart caller||Miami||Illness|
|26-Aug||Ron Rippey||70||National Handicapping Championship winner||Philadelphia||Illness|
|21-Aug||David P. Holloway||83||Owner, breeder||Kentucky||Illness|
|21-Aug||Sir Eric Parker||81||Owner, breeder||England||Cancer|
|September||3-Sep||Sandy Lovato||Therapeutic riding instructor||Car accident|
|5-Sep||Juan Vasquez||39||Exercise rider, part-time trainer||Elmont, N.Y.||Training accident|
|18-Sep||Mike Mayo||59||National Handicapping Championshop committee chairman||Texas||Cancer|
|22-Sep||Aaron Jones||92||Owner, breeder||Natural causes|
|25-Sep||Gaston Galjour||84||Racetrack video, sound pioneer||Metairie, La.|
|October||13-Oct||Carly-Mae Pye||26||Jockey||Australia||Training accident|
|14-Oct||Juan Saez||17||Apprentice rider||Indianappolis||Racing accident|
|15-Oct||Caitlin Forrest||19||Apprentice rider||Australia||Racing accident|
|19-Oct||Larry Uelman||66||Trainer, breeder, jockey's agent||Michigan|
|21-Oct||Nelson Bunker Hunt||88||Owner-breeder||Dallas||Alzheimer's disease|
|November||4-Nov||Jacque Fulton||60||Trainer||Phonex, Ariz.||Alzheimer's disease|
|29-Nov||Jack Robbins||93||Veterinarian||Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.||Pulmonary disease|
|December||1-Dec||Sam Lato Sr.||71||Steward||Houston, Texas||Cancer|
Among the equines who passed were two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, as well as fellow Breeders’ Cup winners My Flag, Prized, Safely Kept, and St Nicholas Abbey; champion Sunshine Forever; Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry; Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando; Belmont winners Commendable and Jazil; the great steeplechaser Flatterer; and, elegiacally, both High Chaparral and Johar, who finished in a dead heat for the win in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Racehorses who perished while still in training this year included Bond Holder, Caixa Eletronica, Dance With Fate, Delegation, Intense Holiday, Onlyforyou, and Vagabond Shoes.
|Date||Horse Name||Age||Place of death||Cause|
|2-Jan||Uncle Smokey||6||Ozone Park, N.Y.||Euthanized|
|4-Jan||Caixa Eletronica||9||Elmont, N.Y.||fractured skull|
|4-Jan||Six Drivers||4||Elmont, N.Y.||fractured neck|
|7-Jan||Sunshine Forever||29||Georgetown, Ky.|
|14-Jan||St Nicholas Abbey||7||County Tripperary, Ireland||euthanized|
|16-Jan||Tiger Ridge||18||South Africa||heart attack|
|22-Jan||Wando||14||Nobleton, Ontario||heart attack|
|February||4-Feb||General Challenge||18||Ramona, Calif.||euthanized|
|17-Feb||He’s Not too Shaby||4||Arcadia, Calif.||euthanized|
|February||The Usual Q. T.||8||California||euthanized|
|February||Unbridled Belle||11||Japan||foaling complications|
|March||7-Mar||The Name’s Jimmy||25||Kentucky||euthanized|
|15-Mar||Itsagoodtendollars||8||New York||cardiovascular collapse|
|31-Mar||Willow Woodman||23||old age|
|April||1-Apr||Mutakddim||23||Buenos Aires||old age|
|4-Apr||Bull Inthe Heather||24||Kentucky||euthanized, old age|
|12-Apr||My Flag||21||Kentucky||euthanized, foaling complications|
|22-Apr||Safely Kept||28||Kentucky||euthanized, old age|
|24-Apr||Flatterer||35||Pennsylvania||euthanized, old age|
|May||1-May||Tribal Rule||18||California||heart attack|
|June||2-Jun||Wekiva Springs||23||Ocala, Fla.||Euthanized|
|12-Jun||Intense Holiday||3||Cream Ridge, NJ||Euthanized|
|24-Jun||Tawney's Wish||3||Etobicoke, Ontario||Heart attack|
|25-Jun||Roses for Romney||4||Elmont, Ny.||Euthanized|
|28-Jun||Apropos||5||Arlington Heights, Ill.||Reared in stall|
|July||5-Jul||Secret Heart||15||Paris, Ky.||Found dead in stall|
|6-Jul||Lammtarra||22||Newmarket, England||Old age|
|12-Jul||Chief Barker||3||Arlington Heights, Ill.||Euthanized|
|13-Jul||Corlett Drive||4||Del Mar, Calif.||Heart attack|
|25-Jul||Yes She's Unusual||4||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|25-Jul||Longview Drive||5||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|25-Jul||Beau Genius||29||Ramona, Calif.||Euthanized|
|26-Jul||Dance With Fate||3||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|26-Jul||J Kat||3||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|26-Jul||Lil Swiss Echo||5||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|27-Jul||Chilled Mouse||2||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|August||14-Aug||Serious||4||Del Mar, Calif.||Euthanized|
|October||7-Oct||Cigar||24||Lexington, Ky.||Surgery complications|
|11-Oct||Jazil||11||Lexington, Ky.||Paddock accident|
|December||2-Dec||Fast Bullet||6||Versailles, Ky.||Euthanized|
|3-Dec||Princes On Thelake||4||New York, NY||Racing breakdown|
|21-Dec||A.P. Slew||15||Lexington, Ky.||Euthanized following colic surgery|
|22-Dec||Kiri's Clown||25||Lexington, Ky.||Euthanized due to colic surgery complications|
Don Zimmer died in 2014, as well
Pretty sad to see the listed dead horses knowing half of them would be alive if the trainers never doped them up. God Bless this sport it need's it.
Terrific statue of Cigar at Gulf Stream near the fountain. Wonderful service for him at the Kentucky Horse Park. You can take the walk of champions on the ground floor of Gulf Stream and read the bronze plaques of the many late great horses and then engage in discussions with others doing the same. Of course some of the plaques represent horses still with us, too. By the way the huge structure being built at the entrance is a sculpture of Pegasus killing a dragon.
Hey Jay: Read Ellen Parker's, an expert pedigree analyst, commentary on California Chrome's pedigree in her latest issue of Pedlines. He isn't as plebeian as you think. Let's try to keep this one in the USA and support him as a stud rather than see him depart to a distant country such as Sunday Silence and I'll Have Another. Their gain will be US breeders loss.
Rest in peace my human and equine friends. So thankful to have known of you and for enriching my life's journey.
Nice article and spot on about everything. Here is hoping that California Chrome wins HOTY.
Also passing this year was former trainer Rosmary "Pinky" Henderson-Hutchison. Pinky trained Proud Birdie in Florida & California. She had retired and was married to Bob Hutchison and livid on Bainbridge Island in Washington. Bob passed in 2003. Pinky passed in Palm Springs in April after a bout with pneumonia.