12/23/2014 12:05PM

2014 Year in Review: California Chrome shines in both racing world and mainstream

Justin N. Lane
Three-year-olds dominate the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with Bayern holding off Toast of New York and California Chrome.

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.

:: VIDEO: Barbara D. Livingston's best photos and year in review

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.”

3-year-olds dominate

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.

Notable passings

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  
April 2-Apr Lathrop Hoffman 89 owner California  
  4-Apr Dickie Small 68 trainer Maryland  
  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  
  17-Apr Art Grace 88 reporter Florida  
  20-Apr Bobby Abbo 70 owner Washington, D.C.  
  24-Apr Jerry Meaux 74 chairman of the Louisiana Racing Commission Louisiana  
June 12-Jun Jerrold Schwartz 79 Owner/Breeder    
  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
  12-Dec Derek Ball 65 Owner Canada  

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
January 2-Jan Shand 4 Arcadia, Calif. Euthanized
  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
  6-Jan Patton 23 Lexington, Ky. euthanized
  7-Jan Sunshine Forever 29 Georgetown, Ky.  
  7-Jan Laughing 6 New Jersey colic
  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
  22-Jan Afleet 30 Japan  
February 4-Feb General Challenge 18 Ramona, Calif. euthanized
  7-Feb Chriselliam 3 Newmarket, England euthanized
  17-Feb He’s Not too Shaby 4 Arcadia, Calif. euthanized
  25-Feb Urbane 22    
  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
  15-Mar Onlyforyou 3 Florida euthanized
  22-Mar Vagabond Shoes 7 California euthanized
  March Bertrando 25 California old age
  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
  5-Apr Azamour 13 Ireland injured
  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 Prized 28 Georgetown, Ky. 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
  20-Aug Russian Rhythm 14   Euthanized
September   Street Cry 16   Euthanized
October 7-Oct Cigar 24 Lexington, Ky. Surgery complications
  11-Oct Jazil 11 Lexington, Ky. Paddock accident
  14-Oct Platitude 4 Indianappolis Euthanized
  14-Oct Masaru 4 Indianappolis Euthanized
December 2-Dec Fast Bullet 6 Versailles, Ky. Euthanized
  3-Dec Princes On Thelake 4 New York, NY Racing breakdown
  4-Dec Hurta 11 Cicero, Ill. Euthanized
  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