Thank You, California Chrome
by Christina Moore
|California Chrome and fans before the Pegasus World Cup. (Christina Moore)|
I didn’t want to write this. It’s not that I’m distraught he lost, it’s that the ending to California Chrome’s racing career was not the finale he deserved.
When Arrogate crossed the Gulfstream Park finish line 4 ¾ lengths ahead of his nearest competitor in yet another brilliant victory, it should have brought rousing applause and admiration from the thousands assembled at the South Florida track. But instead it felt like the air had left the building. The energy in the grandstand was like an overinflated balloon, and in an instant it popped.
Arrogate was an impressive victor and very deserving of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational’s $7 million winner’s share. Still, thousands of fans can’t help but wonder what might have been. As California Chrome was eased in the homestretch, some in the crowd expressed concern aloud. They cheered for Arrogate, all right, but it was a distracted kind of cheering. His greatness was applauded, yet his foe’s inexplicably poor performance was the focus.
Arrogate may well be the best racehorse of recent times, but the fans were there for California Chrome, the richest racehorse on the continent and a two-time Horse of the Year. They packed the walking ring three stories high, and when he entered, every camera, phone and iPad in the place was raised with dead aim on California Chrome. It was unlike anything I’ve experienced in racing, or for that matter, my life. The wave of applause and hollering followed him around the ring. It brought chills.
|Victor Espinoza acknowledges the fans aboard California Chrome. (Christina Moore)|
When California Chrome left the ring it seemed sure he was headed for destiny, welcomed onto a racetrack for the final time with deafening applause.
The rider aboard Chrome’s equine escort wiped away tears as they stood alongside him while he surveyed his admiring public before heading to the starting gate. The scene was set for a fairytale ending.
Only it didn’t happen. Instead of being left with an indelible image of California Chrome’s copper coat flashing across the wire in front, fans witnessed him canter home ninth. Instead of the kind of ecstasy brought on by the triumphant finale of American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, fans were left with a hollow feeling like that when Zenyatta came up a head short in the 2010 edition.
But we’re also left with memories. Memories of a fantastic career spanning four years, a roller coaster ride where a modestly bred colt rose from obscurity as a 2-year-old to capture not only the Kentucky Derby, but also the Preakness, and then later the Dubai World Cup and Pacific Classic. Horses like him aren’t supposed to win races like that.
He drew crowds whenever he set foot on a track and created atmosphere racing hadn’t seen in years. The electricity California Chrome generated brought old ladies to tears and young men to the racetrack for the first time. He was transcendent.
The ride had its valleys, too. A grabbed quarter in his most important race. A few misplaced words on very public stages. A lousy Pennsylvania Derby. A season of regret marked by injury, layoffs and not a single win. And now a disappointment in his final career race, a minor injury later discovered.
Through it all, California Chrome remains an icon of hope. A symbol of dreams realized, a reminder that the impossible is, in fact, possible. From a $10,500 investment rose the $14.5 million horse. He took fans everywhere on an incomparable journey, and for that I am forever grateful.
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