01/07/2016 1:44PM

Hovdey: Time off hasn't dulled California Chrome

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Once upon a time, there was a horse named California Chrome … and here we go again.

Apologies to the memory of Joe Hirsch for that lead, which he deployed with the original punch line “… but only once” in tribute to five-time Horse of the Year Kelso. California Chrome, a one-time Horse of the Year, is no Kelso. But he is the only Horse of the Year in action right now, and he has a loyal and passionate following, which makes his return to the races Saturday in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita a cause for celebration.

It is going on 10 months since California Chrome raced and nearly 14 months since he won. Not since Citation disappeared from view at the end of his 3-year-old season has a Horse of the Year attempted such a resurrection at age 5. Big Cy, the winner of the 1948 Triple Crown, spent a year nursing an injured tendon before returning to the wars at Santa Anita as a 5-year-old on Jan. 11, 1950, with a win in an allowance race. It was his 16th straight victory.

The rest of 1950 didn’t go so well for Citation, who was clearly a shade below his younger form. He won only one stakes that year and spent most of his time finishing second to Noor, a serious racehorse who ended up alongside Citation in the Hall of Fame.

“He was still very good, but he wasn’t the horse he was as a 3-year-old,” said the late Dr. Jack Robbins, who counted Citation among his patients in the Calumet Farm stable out West that year. “He had a low bow, and Jimmy Jones managed him pretty well. Dealing with that bow, all he could do was keep him in ice packs and be careful how many times he ran.”

Art Sherman was but a Brooklyn lad of 13 when Citation campaigned as a 5-year-old. Soon, Sherman would be chasing the racetrack rainbow as a jockey and then a trainer through a career that reached a technicolor climax in 2014, when California Chrome’s Horse of the Year campaign included a near miss in the Triple Crown. His 4-year-old season ended with a second-place finish in the Dubai World Cup and a failed attempt to make a race at Royal Ascot.

Sherman negotiated the first 18 starts of California Chrome’s career with a set of enthusiastic, novice owners who never really understood how or why their homebred princeling ever could lose a race. They learned the hard way, in public, and now things have changed.

Perry and Denise Martin, the majority owners, appear to be solidly on the same page as their trainer this time around – which includes another trip to Dubai but no British adventure – while Steve and Carolyn Coburn sold their piece of the champion last summer to Taylor Made Farm of Nicholasville, Ky. Goodbye, Dumb Ass Partners and those donkey silks; hello, California Chrome LLC.

“After we bought into the horse, we talked to Perry about selling off a few of our shares and a few of his to select breeders who would support the horse,” said Frank Taylor, who operates Taylor Made with his brothers Duncan, Ben, and Mark. “There’s a lot of them who will be out there for the race, so we’re looking to have a good time.”

California Chrome will enter stud at Taylor Made in 2017.

“He reminds me a lot of Tiznow in that when we bought into him, everybody said, ‘Aw, he’s just a Cal-bred, off-bred horse who won’t amount to anything at stud,’ ” Taylor said. “Well, Tiznow turned out to be a super stallion. On top of that, California Chrome is a very sound horse. From when he was at 2 until the Dubai World Cup last year, he had a hell of a campaign.”

Unlike Citation, California Chrome did not suffer an injury that would necessarily compromise his intrinsic abilities.

“He just had bruised feet, and then we found a little wear and tear with some bone issues,” Sherman said. “I guarantee if you go back years, every horse had that to some degree if they raced any. Time off repairs all that, and that’s what he finally got.”

Sherman fiddled with California Chrome’s training as his comeback approached, removing his customary blinkers for a couple of key works. The blinkers went back on for a sharp public exercise last weekend, and he will be wearing them as usual for the San Pasqual. Sherman explained his thinking.

“I took them off because I didn’t want him to go any faster than he was going,” Sherman said. “The fitter he got, the faster he wanted to run, and that wouldn’t have done him any good. Without them, he relaxed a lot more, which made it easier to get him to the point he’s at now.”

And where, pray tell, is that?

“Well, he hasn’t run in more than nine months, and you always think, ‘Do I have him fit enough?’ ” Sherman said. “Then I’m wondering if he needs to be a hundred percent fit anyway for this. He’s coming into the race like a bull. You know he’s going to show speed. And physically, he’s just such a different horse than when he came back to the races a year ago as a 4-year-old.

“So, I’m going into this race thinking I’ve got the best horse,” Sherman added. “In fact, I think he might be five lengths better than I’ve ever had him. He’s been going up on his back legs a lot like he wants everybody to know he’s here, and now he’s bigger and stronger and maybe don’t even know his own strength.”

With California Chrome missing three-quarters of the 2015 season, Sherman found himself twiddling his thumbs. Since the San Pasqual was announced as the return race, though, things have picked up. Sherman won’t have too many days like he had at Santa Anita last week, when he sent a horse postward in a minor race and then lingered in the paddock.

“I was by myself, nobody else around,” Sherman said. “A guy on the rail calls out, ‘Are you lonesome, Art?’ I thought to myself, ‘Just wait a week. You won’t know what lonesome is anymore.’ ”

Honnimae More than 1 year ago
Seattle Slew had so called Mutt pedigree and he is the Grand Sire of most of the High Priced Sires now.. and oh yeah Chrome is from that line...Maybe one of his Offspring will produce a Champion ... as for Tapits there like Hyundais
Lynne Veitch More than 1 year ago
I love Art Sherman. So "Old School" like Jimmy Jones, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, & all the others of a bygone era. So happy he got a horse who can successfully compete in classic races after being so dedicated for so many decades.
Janette Sexton More than 1 year ago
Sending positive thoughts and best wishes to California Chrome as he makes his comeback in the San Pasqual Stakes. His injuries and owner missteps have not diminished his copper penny shine to us, his devoted fans. He is and will be a force to be reckoned with in 2016. I am proud to be a Chromie! Go, Chrome!
Beverly Bonneau More than 1 year ago
SO, this article starts off right away comparing Kelso and Chrome. Can't Chrome have his own identify? NO two horses are alike whether you think so or not. duh If this is about CC....make it about CC. If this article is to make fun of Chrome, then don't bother writing an article. We've had enough of you negative jerks. AMEN
Chuck Seddio More than 1 year ago
probably the most mismanaged grade 1 horse ever,leaving out slew in his california trip,slew only was erred upon that one time,cal chrome,well i do not have to list. who knows how this horse will come back?? at least he is in the hands of sherman this time. so now headed for his final campaign we can start to diminish his feats or laud them,never ever should he be compared to the great ones,kelso,slew,big red et al as was done after he won first 2 legs of the triple crown. im inclined to believe he will not impress as he is a real nice horse but not a great horse. the racing gods have spoken when he lost the belmont,how would he look like a triple crown winner now? he hasnt won on the dirt since his preakness,and to compare him with american pharoah a deserved triple crown winner would be a gross injustice.ok lets see now,his first race should be a walkover,hopportunity doesnt like to win and the rest of the field is an allowance field.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
So ... is Mshawish even MORE "mismanaged"?
Rob Talstra More than 1 year ago
Once again..What does being injured have to do with management? is it the owners fault that he got injured? Happens every day to anyone. The horse earned approx 2.6 million last year.. That is the equivalent of winning 4 million dollar races..He got an unforeseen injury before he had a chance to run on turf in England so NOBODY knows what would have happened.. How on earth is that the most mismanaged G1 horse ever? Exaggerate much?
Beverly Bonneau More than 1 year ago
did you not read Chrome trained and raced 23 months straight with no rest?? hell ya, after Dubai he needed a rest. NOT more training right away doing the newmarket gallops. LOL He finally had a rest when rescued by Taylor made. You SAW how lethargic he was in UK. AND might I add skinny. WHO can race in that condition. ?? Do you know horses at all?
Rob Talstra More than 1 year ago
So you just assume everything right? Assumption is NOT fact. The trainer in England, Rea Guest said he arrived to him a little underweight but once he acclimated he filled out very nicely., He is one of the top trainers in all of Europe. I do know horses very well but i will take his word over yours.. CC got injured before he could race so NOBODY knows what would have happened last year. Rea Guest would not run him unless he looked good..So i will reiterate that he was not mismanaged. Unforeseen injury is not mismanagement..Plus the surfaces in England are for a fact much kinder on the legs than the hard dirt surfaces in the states..Link below is a pic of CC at Newmarket. Not skinny, not lethargic.. Do you know horses at all?? LOL Give me a break.. https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/43/4f/f2/434ff252145d93124a0771542e4dd20a.jpg
minor_daria More than 1 year ago
Once upon a time, there was a horse named California Chrome …and that line is an insult to Kelso.
Honnimae More than 1 year ago
Kelso was a Gelding.. as was Shared Belief. no Stud value ... No Legacy to leave Behind... Maybe they both can be Cloned.. But Chrome has more Fame than Pharoah and Will be the Next Tapit in the Breeding Shed after he Breaks the Money record.... No insult at all...
Laura Hicks More than 1 year ago
Key note here that Big Cy carried 128 (2xs), 130 (3xs) and 132 lbs, giving weight (6 to 22 lbs) away to Noor on 4 of those occasions. Long gone are the true handicaps of old that separated the good from the great and highly unlikely Chrome will have to race under those types of Handicap Weights as Citation faced. Looking forward to big things from CC this year.
Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
If California Chrome gets a good mile work out of the San Pasqual that's all he'll need to move forward. Of course, a good mile work for him just might win it. Safe trips to all.