06/19/2014 3:34PM

Hovdey: California Chrome learns to wind down on his summer vacation

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Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome arrived Wednesday at Harris Farms in California's Central Valley and will spend the summer winding down after his long Triple Crown pursuit.

The sights along Interstate 5 in California’s Central Valley near Fresno include almond orchards, cow pastures, and acres upon acres of barren agricultural ground, rendered fallow by the West’s terrible drought. There are hidden treasures, to be sure – a reservoir here, a winery there – but for the next month and a half, travelers on that stretch of highway will be oblivious to the real main attraction, with America’s most famous race horse living the life of Riley just a few miles off the main road.

California Chrome arrived Wednesday at the horse division of Harris Farms. The occasion marked one year, three months, and 13 days after General Manager Dave McGlothlin, farm trainer Per Antonsen, and the rest of the John Harris crew bade farewell to the white-trimmed chestnut with the wide blaze as a 2-year-old March 5, 2013, bound for the Hollywood Park stable of Art and Alan Sherman. McGlothlin recalls they had high hopes for the colt, but as it turned out, they were aiming low.

With victories in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness for owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, California Chrome became the toast of the racing world, and he lost no respect going for the Triple Crown but finishing in a dead heat for fourth in the Belmont Stakes, less than two lengths behind the winning Tonalist. While fair-weather fans might have jumped ship, California Chrome remains the most popular West Coast-based racehorse since Zenyatta.

Sherman and the owners had a brief holiday in mind for California Chrome, even before he entered the starting gate for the June 7 Belmont. The fact that he emerged from the race a tired horse with a nasty cut on his right front heel had nothing to do with Sherman’s judgment a break away from the track was in order. After all, California Chrome had been in nothing but steady training and racing for 15 solid months.

Alan Sherman, who made the trip Wednesday to Harris, was reluctant to let go of California Chrome’s shank. They had been through a lot together, navigating the tricky waters of a Triple Crown played out far from their Los Alamitos home.

“I’m sure I’ll be up here looking in on him more than a few times,” the younger Sherman promised.

In the meantime, McGlothlin’s team will be doting on California Chrome as they would a visitation of royalty.

“He’s grown up quite a bit since we last had him here, but he looks great,” McGlothlin said.

The “letting down” of a Thoroughbred racehorse such as California Chrome requires a step-by-step process designed to wean him from the pressures of the racetrack.

“At first, he’ll be hand-walked a couple of times a day,” McGlothlin said Thursday. “We took him out into one of the stallion paddocks this morning and let him graze on the shank for a few minutes before putting him back in his stall. We’ll do it again this afternoon and then every day for the next week or so. When it looks like he is finally relaxed enough and not overly concerned about the activity or lack of activity going on around him, then we’ll move him out to a paddock where he can be out most of the day.”

California Chrome is a thinker, possessed of a heightened awareness that can be found in many top competitors. In a horse of questionable emotional stability, such traits can lead to fretful behaviors. They sense threats in every new sight, sound, and smell. By contrast, California Chrome has displayed an admirable ability to treat the world around him as curiously entertaining. He should love summer camp.

Still, he won’t be thrown into the deep end. A horse set free after a year and a half of close confinement can do himself harm. McGlothlin said before he is turned loose, California Chrome will be given regular walking tours of his paddock to find the fences, the water, and the best patches of grass. On the day the shank comes off, he will be given a dose of a sedative under the supervision of Harris Farms resident vet Jeanne Bowers.

“He’ll probably just stand in place,” McGlothlin said. “Then, as the sedation wears off, he’ll move about more and more and finally come to the party. Hopefully it will only take a couple of times before he’s comfortable with his new environment and not agitated at all. He’ll realize it is very relaxing, that there’s nothing going on he needs to be concerned about.”

So let California Chrome be a regular horse for a while – a highly pampered, multi-million-dollar asset of a horse – and let the trainer do the worrying.

“You always hesitate a little turning them out like that,” Art Sherman said. “A trainer never likes to lose sight of his horse for very long, but that’s just trainers, I guess. There’s always a chance something could happen at the farm, though.”

Just like there’s always a chance something could happen at the track?

“You got that right,” Sherman replied.

So let’s stipulate that there is always a chance something could happen to a Thoroughbred anywhere you put him. Such is the nature of the breed. Sherman hopes the month and a half at Harris will clear the competitive residue from California Chrome’s head and he will return to training in August a happy, healthy warrior, ready to pick up where he left off.

sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
If Breeders Cup is the target, he'd better have two preps under his belt that result in him rounding back into form.
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
This doesn't really make sense if goal is BC. I think they will claim he is hurt and retire and sell him.
mike More than 1 year ago
What doesn't make sense? He's a tired horse.
David Voelker More than 1 year ago
I just love the fact that a cheaply breed horse dominates the Millionare's horses & top trainer's horses.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
This comment has been deleted
mike More than 1 year ago
Why run a major race prior to the Classic? Makes no sense.
mike More than 1 year ago
You're correct he's not a superstar,rather a tour de force.
Dee R. Eff More than 1 year ago
He will run once prior to the Classic. Most likely they will write a race for him, or Art will find a Cal bred race that fits. He will run off and hide in that race, and the bandwagon will line up behind him. In the Classic we'll find out if he is or isn't a superstar, and if he can rise to that status in the races following the Classic.
mike More than 1 year ago
Agreed,good point!
David Voelker More than 1 year ago
He is a superstar. He only lost by less than 2 lengths in Belmont. After rested he will lose no more. BC Classic. Go Chrome!!!
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
If a horse wins the Derby and the Preakness, he's a superstar. Deal with it.
Meydan Rocks More than 1 year ago
Russell - You may be right but reality is, no one cares what you think UNLESS of course, you own a thoroughbred horse that we may have heard of? AKA skin in the game... ;-)
Dee R. Eff More than 1 year ago
Oh come on Meydan, now people can only have an opinion on here if they own a race horse? Wait, you can't reply with an opinion can you?
Kelly Keenan Vaccarezza More than 1 year ago
Hey Russell, I guess I must be easily impressed huh? The superstar lies in the eye of the beholder. Hmm,where hav I heard that name before? Maybe you need to take6 or 7 minutes and watch those silly three races again. Make sure to take a nap and pay attention this time..
Walter More than 1 year ago
Possibility that they bring him to Los Al for a publicity parade? Maybe on Los Al Derby day? It would certainly increase attendance for his home track. And next year, we can look forward to the race being renamed "The California Chrome"
Mark More than 1 year ago
California Chrome would make a good PR move distancing himself from Steve Coburn-lol.A good horse in a mediocre crop of 3YO's.Can't wait to see him get inhaled come Breeders Cup time
Gregory More than 1 year ago
Dont see it that way. I think CC set himself apart from his crop and may be outstanding when he comes back. Matter of fact I'll be betting accordingly. Love to see him go against older and whip 'em.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Let's guess: Mike is from the East Coast
mike More than 1 year ago
Gayle,I'm certainly not from the east coast. Don't care for the eight months of winter. lol
mike More than 1 year ago
You're living in fantasy land!
David Voelker More than 1 year ago
CC Rules
mike More than 1 year ago
There you go!!!
Jackson Jackson More than 1 year ago
If he runs I'll bet money he finishes better than Palace Malice did last year pletcherboy !
Larry Stevens More than 1 year ago
What is your problem Mark? Do you have some kind of vendetta against CC, Art Sherman, owners, well I could understand against Coburn, but even he deserves forgiveness. I'm a friend Of Dave McGlothlin and he will see that Chrome is well taken care of. Can accidents happen? Yes they can, coming from one that managed breeding farms for nearly 50 years. I for one, hopes that he comes back. He gave a big boost to TB racing.
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Thanks Jay for the update on C.C. no question he was very exciting to watch race and to see him improve the way he did. Look forward to his return and I hope he continues to improve more and make for an exciting last half of the yr
Pam Shewan More than 1 year ago
Oh this is so cool!! Love Chrome!!!!
Juliet Nyholt More than 1 year ago
Very very cool..all his connections care about Him...he did his very best & then some...he deserves to have a peaceful, healing, time off...vaca Chrome!!!!!
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Hay Hovdey, I'd like to echo Anons sentiments. Thanks very much for the wonderful stories and updates that you have given us all. I realized I was watching a budding superstar during and after the SA Derby and I really liked the tweets you posted of Chrome after the SA Derby, he didn't turn a hair when he got back to Los Al, and I thought what kind of horse is this :) I have several books (by a guy with a name similar to yours :) and maybe one day we'll have one entitled, "CC, Americas Horse" :) Thanks again!