California Chrome


California Chrome with Victor Espinoza up wins the 2014 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, MD 5.17.2014


Ellen Parker

Over and over again, for years now we have heard owners, breeders, jockeys, commentators, fans, etc. talk about what’s wrong with racing.  Some even had ideas about how to put it right.

But the real truth is that, as with many things in this world, what’s really wrong is greed.  It’s greed that pushes young horses to race a furlong in :10 and change at sales even though their bones are not yet able to handle the stress.  It’s greed of course that has caused the gene pool to devolve into basically a handful of ‘commercial’ sire lines, all with Native Dancer blood.

Naturally, soundness doesn’t figure into any of this.  The only thing many breeders care about is the sale dollar.  Now we have nothing against high-priced horses or breeding to the best.  But we have a whole lot against breeding to sell instead of race at the expense of common sense.

And now we have a two-pronged greed situation that is so offensive and downright wrong that we are literally changing our position on AI.  It is time for the Thoroughbred industry to allow artificial insemination simply because it saves lives.

The two lives we are most concerned about are those of American Pharoah and California Chrome who, it has been announced, will shuttle to Australia and Chile respectively.  This makes us want to take something and throw it as hard as we can at something else that will make an extremely loud noise.

Because DNA testing is available, there is no danger to the integrity of the stud book.  And because there are already too many of these same bloodlines, that doesn’t matter either, though it should.  But it does matter if these horses die young because of the stress of constant change.

Horses are creatures of habit.  They like the same stall, the same groom, and the same water bucket – in other words, the same routine.  They do not like to go to foreign countries when they should be naturally resting from big books in the Northern Hemisphere which involves quarantines, long flights, strange food and water and a different schedule, only to have their schedule switched yet again in a few months.

Two names:  Harlan’s Holiday and Scat Daddy, both successful sires who shuttled and died young.  We have already lost California Chrome’s sire, Lucky Pulpit – are we going to lose him early, too?

Further, American Pharoah’s Fappiano/Unbridled sire line isn’t the soul of longevity, either.  So why risk this?

These horses are SO important to racing…. they have given us back a reason to hope that the best is not behind us.  It took us 38 years to get American Pharoah.  Why would anyone even consider doing something that might harm him?  No, indeed.  AI would get the semen to the waiting girls in Oz, load up the wallets of the connections and still not hurt him.  Lacking a change of policy then let the bloody girls come to him!  That’s one trip for them and he can stay in his own comfortable stall.

As for Chrome he is the horse of a lifetime for small breeders everywhere.  Sending him to Chile makes no sense at all given that his sire and his grandsire Pulpit also died young.  Chrome has already done his share of traveling.  Do the AI or let the mares come to him.  The farm could even offer a special deal for the best mares – say a 25% fee reduction for G1 winners or producers.  Anything at all is better than seeing him die because of greed.

Never once has risk been mentioned by those who are making these decisions.  That tells us they just don’t care.  They want the money, they want the extra foals to ‘make’ the horse, and they want the publicity that double books bring.

We love both these horses and have had the honor to watch them run, to stroke their velvety noses, to have chosen them before they won their Kentucky Derbies.  These are horses of a lifetime and we want them to live into their 30’s or beyond.  God willing, that might happen if they stay in one place and follow a routine they enjoy.

This is a plea to put the horse first.  Not doing so is what is really wrong with racing.  Taking something precious like the first Triple Crown winner in 38 years and a double classic winner who became the worlds’ richest runner and treating them like King Tut’s road show is not only wrong, it is cruel.

As Bob Baffert said, “American Pharoah will always be my favorite horse.”  One wonders what he thinks.  And Art Sherman, who toiled on the smaller Northern California circuit for years, never expecting to get close to a horse like Chrome, what does he think?

We can’t tell you exactly of course.  But we can tell you one thing they are not thinking and that is that this is a wonderful idea.  It’s been a long time since something so disgusted us that we were willing to give racing a black eye in print, but this is the exception.

AI saves lives.  These are the finest, most noble lives we have seen in decades.  Make the change, oh ye of Jockey Club rules – make the change and save these horses from weeks or months of stress and strain.  Keep them in Kentucky and let the fans come visit them.  Not doing so is what is really wrong with racing.

Reprinted from Pedlines #179, April-June 2017