04/11/2014 3:18PM

Sparkman: Another California comet emerges

Benoit & Associates
California Chrome romped in the Santa Anita Derby to establish himself as the probably Kentucky Derby favorite.

In 1955, a chestnut-coated “California comet” named Swaps streaked from Santa Anita to the finish line at Churchill Downs, beating the favored Nashua in the Kentucky Derby. Fifty-nine years later, Swaps’s then-18-year-old exercise rider, Art Sherman, is the trainer of the latest chestnut California comet, the appropriately named California Chrome, the smashing winner of the Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

California Chrome also sports an important pedigree connection to Swaps. His dam, Love the Chase, by Not For Love, is inbred to champion Numbered Account, by Buckpasser out of Intriguing, whose sire was none other than Swaps. Thus, there are two crosses of Swaps in the sixth generation of California Chrome’s pedigree, and that is far from the only fascinating facet of a very, well, intriguing pedigree.

Bred in California by his owners, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, California Chrome is the first foal out of Love the Chase, a Maryland-bred daughter of leading Maryland sire Not For Love, by Mr. Prospector. Not For Love, a full brother to champion Rhythm and to Grade 3 winner and great broodmare Get Lucky, was a stakes-placed son of Grade 1 winner Dance Number, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and top sire Private Account as well as another top Maryland sire, Polish Numbers, by Danzig.

Polish Numbers is the sire of Love the Chase’s dam, Chase It Down, a minor winner who produced nothing of note, but since Numbered Account is the dam of both Not For Love’s dam, Dance Number, and of Chase It Down’s sire, Polish Numbers, that produces the 3x3 inbreeding to Numbered Account in Love the Chase’s pedigree. And, in fact, the relationship is even closer than usual, since Polish Numbers’s sire, Danzig, is a son of Dance Number’s sire, Northern Dancer, meaning Love the Chase is also inbred 3x4 to that great sire.

Close inbreeding in the dam has been noted as a particularly effective way to produce top racehorses since the primordial days of the Thoroughbred in the 18th century, and California Chrome is simply the latest exemplar of a tried and trusted technique.

But the connections to Swaps do not end there. Chase It Down won only a maiden race but was a half-sister to stakes winner Amourette, by El Gran Senor, out of multiple stakes winner Chase the Dream, by Sir Ivor. Chase the Dream was the only stakes winner among seven winners out of California Chrome’s fourth dam, La Belle Fleur, by Vaguely Noble, but the unraced La Belle Fleur was a half-sister to champion older female Cascapedia, Grade 3 winner Tappahannock, and stakes winner Chieftains Prince, all by Chieftain, and to stakes winner East Royalty, by Far Out East. The family traces to the famous taproot mare Betty Derr, by Sir Gallahad III, who is also the second dam of 1957 Kentucky Derby winner Iron Liege, by Bull Lea, and the third dam of – you guessed it – 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, by Khaled.

Trainer Greg Gilchrist purchased Love the Chase for $30,000 at the 2008 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training on behalf of Blinkers On Racing Stable and partners, and she ran fourth in her only start at 2 at Golden Gate Fields in a $32,000 maiden claimer at 5 1/2 furlongs. She ran once more at that level early at 3 before dropping down to the $8,000 level, where she won her fourth career start at a mile at Golden Gate. Love the Chase was acquired by Perry and Coburn, the breeders of California Chrome, before her last two starts and raced in their colors but showed nothing. Love the Chase did not conceive to Redattore in her first season as a broodmare but produced California Chrome, a big, flashy chestnut colt by Lucky Pulpit, as her first foal in 2011. Barren in 2012, she produced full sisters to California Chrome in 2013 and 2014.

California Chrome is from the fourth crop of Lucky Pulpit, one of 73 stakes winners from 862 foals ages 3 and up (8.5 percent) sired by the late Pulpit, the best sire son of dual leading sire A.P. Indy. Bred and raced by Larry and Marianne Williams, Lucky Pulpit was a tough, sound, consistent racehorse who was good enough to run in top races but not quite good enough to win them.

Lucky Pulpit won his second and third starts at 2, both over 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park and Del Mar, but was well beaten in the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes in his fourth start. Switched to turf, he was blocked twice in the stretch of the one-mile Pinjara Stakes at Santa Anita and still just missed catching Rush Into Heaven by a nose. Lucky Pulpit ran well again in his final start at 2, finishing third, two lengths behind Castledale, in the Grade 3 Generous Stakes.

Lucky Pulpit began his second season in training with another graded placing, finishing second by 1 1/2 lengths behind St Averil in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes, but he was well beaten in both the Grade 2 San Rafael Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby. After a 3 1/2-month break, he picked up another stakes placing in the Oceanside at Del Mar.

After failing to stay the trip in the Del Mar Derby, however, Lucky Pulpit was never again asked to run farther than 6 1/2 furlongs, and the only other race he ever won was the Smile Stakes, a five-furlong turf sprint at Arlington Park, as a 4-year-old. He retired to stud in 2007 with a record of three wins in 22 starts and earnings of $209,928, a respectable enough record but not one likely to attract many high-quality mares.

Lucky Pulpit is a half-brother to the stakes-placed Drewman, by Unbridled. His second dam, multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Lucky Spell, by Lucky Mel, is also the second dam of top sire Unbridled’s Song, by Unbridled. Lucky Pulpit is also closely related to Grade 1 winner and successful sire Seattle Song, by A.P. Indy’s sire, Seattle Slew, out of Lucky Pulpit’s third dam, Incantation, by Prince Blessed.

Lucky Pulpit has done his share to add to Pulpit’s growing reputation as a sire of sires. His first small crop of 26 foals included stakes winners Luckarack (out of Tamarack Bay, by Dehere) and Gatheratthealter (Gather the Group, by Nashwan). His second crop was headed by Rousing Sermon (Rousing Again, by Awesome Again), Lucky Pulpit’s best offspring before California Chrome came along. The winner of the California Cup Juvenile Stakes in 2011 and the On Trust Stakes last year, Rousing Sermon finished second in the 2011 Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, beaten only a neck by Liaison.

California Chrome is Lucky Pulpit’s first graded stakes winner and first Grade 1 winner, but if the flashy chestnut’s current success attracts the better mares that Lucky Pulpit clearly merits, he is unlikely to be his last. California Chrome is his fourth stakes winner from 99 foals ages 3 and up, a respectable number considering the quality of his mates. The average earnings index of Lucky Pulpit’s foals is 1.74, while the average earnings index of foals by other sires out of his mates is only 1.25.

There is simply no getting around the fact that Love the Chase, like most of Lucky Pulpit’s mates, did not possess much racing ability. Thus, it is reasonable to credit much of California Chrome’s top-class ability to Lucky Pulpit and to the intriguing inbreeding in his pedigree. In addition to his dam’s close inbreeding to Numbered Account, California Chrome himself is inbred 4x3 to Mr. Prospector through Pulpit’s dam, Preach, on the top side and Not For Love on the bottom side for an inbreeding coefficient of 2.05 percent through the first six generations.

Since Swaps won at Churchill Downs in 1955, only one California-bred, Decidedly in 1962, has won the Kentucky Derby. Since Swaps earned Horse of the Year honors in 1956, only one California-bred, Tiznow in 2000, has also earned that honor.

California Chrome has a genuine chance to join that elite company.