01/20/2017 11:10AM

Taylor Made preparing to put California Chrome on fast track

Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome is expected to make his final start in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28 before shipping from Florida to Kentucky. Breeding sheds open in mid-February.

The big gray colt had just served notice that he was sitting on a big season. Against just two rivals who cared to challenge him in the Olympic Handicap, he coasted by four lengths. He was expected to be a favorite in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

But then bad luck struck again for the multiple Grade 1 winner, who had been injury-plagued the prior season. The colt came back from a routine gallop Feb. 1, 1997, with a fracture in his right foreleg, forcing him into retirement. He was to be the first stallion at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. – and with about two weeks until breeding season began in Kentucky, the nascent stud operation was under the gun.

“He was our first horse,” said Mark Taylor, vice president of marketing and public sales operations, who runs Taylor Made with his brothers Duncan, Ben, and Frank. “He ran down there at Gulfstream, set a track record. We thought he was going to run all year – and all of a sudden, bam! Here he comes, and we didn’t even have a breeding shed up until this point.”

But things turned out all right for Unbridled’s Song.

The stallion covered 84 mares in that 1997 season at stud, according to The Jockey Club’s Report of Mares Bred. From that first crop emerged Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine. Unbridled’s Song went on to put Taylor Made on the map as a prominent commercial and racetrack sire, with his exploits in both arenas continuing even after his death in 2013 – most recently with Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate, who will likely become the late sire’s third Eclipse Award champion.

Now, the Taylor brothers’ operation faces another challenge in a similar time frame. California Chrome, the 2014 Horse of the Year and favored to take the title again for his 2016 season, is set to make his final career start in the world’s richest race, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream. A victory would enhance his already-staggering bankroll; the dual classic-winning California-bred is North America’s all-time leading money winner, with earnings of $14,502,650.

But win or lose, California Chrome will head to Taylor Made following the Pegasus with just more than two weeks until Kentucky breeding sheds begin accepting mares on or about Feb. 14. Taylor Made bought into the horse in the summer of 2015 and campaigns him as California Chrome LLC with co-breeder Perry Martin and other partners. He has already richly rewarded that investment on the racetrack and now embarks on his next career as part of a rebuilding roster for Taylor Made, still seeking its next cornerstone sire after the loss of Unbridled’s Song.

“It’s going to challenge all of our respective horsemanship,” Mark Taylor said. “That’s what it’s going to be, is horsemanship.”

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The Taylor Made Stallions team is headed by vice president of stallions Ben Taylor and stallion manager Gilberto Terrazas. The staff also includes stallion nominations manager Travis White, stallion administrative assistant Wendy Upton, and sales assistant Brooks Taylor, Ben’s son. That team will have its hands full this season with four new stallions – more than doubling the size of the farm’s 2016 roster. The other newcomers are Mshawish (by Medaglia d’Oro), a Grade 1 winner on both dirt and turf; multiple graded stakes winner Protonico (Giant’s Causeway); and Not This Time (Giant’s Causeway), an Eclipse Award finalist for champion juvenile whose promising career was cut short by injury.

While those young stallions have had several months to acclimate to life at Taylor Made, California Chrome will have a sharper learning curve.

“He’s going to have like two weeks to go from the playing field to the penthouse,” Mark Taylor said with a laugh. “I think he’s going to do great. We’ve got such a great team that handles our stallions, and they’re just thrilled for the challenge.

“He’s obviously a very, very smart horse. He’s so adaptable. You look at how this horse adapts to whatever you put him in. How he ships, any new thing he’s ever been exposed to in his life he has just taken to it and done great.”

New stallions must settle into farm life, which is more sedate than the racetrack. Some also are being turned out in paddocks for the first time in a long while, while others who have been training in warmer climates face Kentucky’s winter weather. Newcomers also are test-bred, both to check their fertility and to teach them the mechanics of the breeding shed. Overly enthusiastic stallions, or, at the other end of the spectrum, shy or reluctant breeders, require special attention.

“I know he’s got a very strong libido, because he’s hollering at every filly on the backside and he’s on his hind legs all the time,” Mark Taylor said. “But there’s still a learning process. You’ve got to acclimate him to the weather, too. He’s coming in here, and it’s going to be kind of shell-shock.”

While the next few weeks will be a carefully scheduled flurry of preparations, the wheels have actually been turning on California Chrome’s second career for several months now. Last year, California Chrome LLC was joined by several new shareholders, most notably China Horse Club, who have lined up mares for his first book. On the open market, California Chrome’s stud fee has been set at $40,000, making him the co-second-highest-priced newcomer of 2017.

“We think that’s a very reasonable stud fee, and we’re hoping to get some really good mares and that breeders will make money and we can make him a great stallion,” Taylor Made president and CEO Duncan Taylor said.

California Chrome’s pedigree played a big factor in setting that fee. He is by far the most accomplished runner on his page. That hasn’t daunted the Taylors – who invested in another accomplished California-bred with a pedigree some were skeptical of in Tiznow, now a perennial sire of top horses at WinStar Farm.

“Even though I think he has a very good pedigree, it’s not an obvious pedigree,” Duncan Taylor said of California Chrome. “I think it’s going to take some explaining, and I think, hopefully, with the price where it is, people will want to learn more.”

California Chrome is by Lucky Pulpit, who comes from the same sire line as reigning leading sire Tapit and is from the female family of Unbridled’s Song. The Taylors also became familiar with California Chrome’s dam, the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, when boarding her for Martin.

Mark Taylor points out that Love the Chase is line-bred to Dance Number, the Phipps family broodmare whose offspring include 2-year-old champion Rhythm and Not For Love.

“We’ve studied her pedigree, and everyone has their own stigma they place on California Chrome because he’s by a stallion that was not a household name in Kentucky before he came along,” Mark Taylor said. “If you look at the way Love the Chase is bred, there’s no mystery why she’s a great broodmare.

“The pedigree is there, which is great to talk to people about, and it’s a fun platform to do it. The production is there, but if you look behind just California Chrome, there’s a reason why that happened. The genetics are there.”

Martin elected to sell Love the Chase to raise additional capital for the purchase of broodmares to support California Chrome. The mare fetched $1.95 million at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall selected mixed sale. At the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, which began the following day, California Chrome LLC purchased nine mares – five as agent for Martin – for a combined $2.79 million. That group was led by $560,000 Theworldweknow, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and multiple stakes producer Marylebone. Other purchases included Roughing, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Diplomat Lady and Grade 2 winner Dream Play, for $500,000; and Uchitel, dam of Grade 3 winner Suddenbreakingnews and also a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and stakes producer Composure, for $420,000.

Other mares booked to California Chrome include Champagne Royale, dam of Grade 1 winners Danza and Majestic Harbor; Beholden, dam of Grade 3 winner Brazen Persuasion; Grade 2 winners Mamma Kimbo and Warbling; and Grade 2-placed stakes winner You Bought Her. Duncan Taylor believes the young stallion will be a good physical match for a variety of mares.

“He’s a medium-sized horse with great balance and a great neck,” he said. “I don’t really think he’s going to be difficult to match up. He’s got a great hip, and with his body shape and type, he’s right in the middle. So I think he’s just naturally going to match with a lot of mares.”

When farms are within days of breeding sheds opening, dance cards for the stallions will begin to fill as owners schedule covering appointments for their mares when they are about to come into season. Busier stallions may breed up to three times a day, but farms take special care in the scheduling of new stallions who are still learning the ropes and also are developing new muscles for the physical process of covering mares and building stamina.

“We’re just going to have to take care of him,” Mark Taylor said. “We’ve talked to all the people who have been booking mares and are lined up to breed to him, and we’ve told them we’re going to try to get him launched as close to the start of the breeding season as possible. But we’re going to do the right thing by the horse and ease him into it. We’ve tried not to load up his book with so many maiden [mares], where he was going to have 45 mares staring at the front gate on Valentine’s Day. We’ve tried to be a little bit conscious of that.

“It’s not going to be easy, but it’s a good problem to have. I’m glad we have the problem.”