Updated on 12/15/2016 10:25AM

Hovdey: Stinsons have makings of a perfect match

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The announcement this week that Love the Chase, dam of California Chrome, will be bred next year to American Pharoah’s sire Pioneerof the Nile set the imagination alight. North America’s richest racehorse would now be step-brother to racing’s most recent Triple Crown winner. Or something like that.

Breeding news abounds at this time of year. High-priced racemares have been changing hands like hot stocks. Broodmares in foal are counting the days. Young stallions are sniffing the air, getting in the mood for their first rites of spring.

And then there is California Chrome.

Any other year, California Chrome would be winding down from four seasons of competition to be dealing with his first Kentucky winter, in his case at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville.

But no, the 5-year-old chestnut with the road-stripe blaze is still hard at work at Los Alamitos, exercising each morning under the lights, giving Dihigi Gladney all he can handle in the irons as the father-son training team of Art and Alan Sherman looks on, calculating each stride as a step toward the $12 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28.

To that end, California Chrome will be turned loose Saturday afternoon for a practice session in full pads around the Los Alamitos oval he knows so well. Management has cobbled together a $100,000 stakes race and named it the Winter Challenge, even though it looks more like the Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals.

Normally, it would be all hands on deck with the California Chrome syndicate whenever its hero/ATM goes postward. The bitter taste of his noble loss to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic still lingers, and the Winter Challenge figures to be a good way to at least partially cleanse the palate. Unfortunately, certain Christmas plans were set in stone long before the Sherman brain trust and Dr. Ed Allred of Los Alamitos put the race in play, so it will be Chrome and several thousand of his closest friends and fans gathered in Orange County on Saturday for carols and hot toddies.

Mike and Linda Stinson are sick at heart over missing the race in person. Since becoming part of the California Chrome ownership group a year ago, they have been loyal camp followers, traveling far and wide from their Fort Worth, Texas, home to fly the flag.

“Our annual family Christmas function is on Saturday,” Linda Stinson said this week. “It’s about to kill us to miss the race. But the party will stop to gather around the television to watch the race, count on that.”

The Stinsons have been married going on 44 years and racing fans together for just as long. Mike Stinson’s career in banking and financial services has allowed them to own racehorses of all creeds and colors, and one of them is Peppers Pride, the most famous Thoroughbred ever produced in the state of New Mexico. She won all 19 of her races, the climax coming on Dec. 14, 2008, at Sunland Park. Upon her retirement, the Stinsons bought into her broodmare career with owner-breeder Joe Allen.

Peppers Pride took up residence at Taylor Made, which is why it made perfect sense that Mike Stinson was on the shortlist of potential partners when the farm bought an interest in California Chrome. He confessed to being a Chromie from the start.

“First of all, I always thought there was more to this horse’s pedigree than people were willing to acknowledge up front,” Stinson said. “But before I even got to the pedigree, his 2-year-old races showed me a tactical high cruising speed, almost push-button style. And I just love that in a horse. When you’ve got speed, you’ve got options.

“When he turned 3, it just looked like as you stretched him out, that speed would be even more effective,” Stinson added. “I remember telling Frank Taylor before California Chrome ran in the Belmont, ‘If there was any opportunity to do anything with the horse, count us in.’ ”

Partnering with owner and co-breeder Perry Martin, the Taylors of Taylor Made formed a syndicate of investors who would be able to bring quality mares to the court of California Chrome. Certainly, the Stinsons qualified on that count with Peppers Pride, whose second foal, by Distorted Humor, named Punctuate, impressively won a Del Mar maiden race for Arnold and Ellen Zetcher.

As a bonus, the new partners got a racing season to remember, with victories in the Dubai World Cup and Pacific Classic, three other major stakes, and that dramatic second in the Breeders’ Cup.

It was assumed that Peppers Pride would be among the first group of mares bred to California Chrome next year – once he has dealt with the Pegasus World Cup – but recent events have put that decision on hold.

“She lost her foal about three weeks ago,” Stinson said. “It was a twisted umbilical chord, one of those odd things that happens. Fortunately, she will be healthy enough to breed next year.”

The foal was by American Pharoah.

“Whether she goes to him or Chrome, we don’t know yet,” Stinson said. “We’re guaranteed in the deal to go back to American Pharoah, so we’d have to work that out.”

In the meantime, there is still work to be done on the racetrack.

“It’s bittersweet, these last two races for Chrome,” Linda Stinson said. “But we could never have imagined the year he’s given us.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly named the sire covering Love the Chase in 2017. It is Pioneerof the Nile, not Frankel.