California Chrome / The Baltimore Sun (p)

California Chrome / The Baltimore Sun (p)


by Dan Liebman

Sitting outside his barn one day many years ago during the Keeneland September sale, Bob Courtney said, “A good horse can come from anywhere.” Asked if he was speaking about the sales or the races and his answer was short and succinct. “Both.” Explaining further, the owner of Crestfield Farm said at the sales it didn’t matter what barn you were in, what day you sold on, or what the pedigree was. “You could tie a good horse to a tree in the paddock and they would find him,” Courtney said.

He was right, of course. He was always right. The same basic premise is true at the races as well. “They say a good horse is dangerous in any trainer’s hands,” Courtney said. “And they are right.” Of course Steven Coburn and Perry Martin didn’t just put California Chrome in any trainer’s hands. They sent their homebred colt to Art Sherman, a successful jockey who went on to become a successful trainer. A man who had ridden and trained more than his fair share of winners, but who had never started a horse in the Kentucky Derby - until May 3, 2014.

Yes, a good horse can come from anywhere, and it is that simple statement that makes Thoroughbred racing the sport it is.

A year ago, Dinny Phipps, Stuart Janney and Shug McGaughey were in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs following the 11th race the first Saturday in May. Phipps and Janney are as blue-blooded as the horses they breed. They are Jockey Club members who have a prized broodmare band and access to the world’s best stallions. They board their mares at one of the industry’s most storied places, Claiborne Farm.

Orb is by Malibu Moon, a top stallion who is a son of leading sire A.P. Indy. The 2013 Derby winner is out of the Unbridled mare Lady Liberty, a descendant from one of the great female lines for the Phipps and Janney families. Orb’s fifth dam, Shenanigans, produced the ill-fated champion Ruffian and the family is replete with such other names as Icecapade, Buckfinder, Coronado’s Quest, Private Terms and Mesabi Maiden.

McGaughey is a Kentucky native already enshrined in the sport’s Hall of Fame. But he had one thing missing on his resume: a Derby win. Orb stood his first season at stud this year at Claiborne for a fee of $25,000. If Orb is blue-blooded, then California Chrome is blue collar. California Chrome does have something in common with Orb and that link is the Hancock family’s Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky.

Orb was foaled and raised there. California Chrome is by Lucky Pulpit, whose sire, Pulpit, was a top Claiborne stallion until his death in late 2012. Lucky Pulpit, a homebred for Larry and Marianne Williams, won three races including a minor stakes sprinting on turf and earned more than $200,000. The Williams sent Lucky Pulpit to stand at John Harris’ Harris Farms in California, where he has been a useful stallion, but has sired just a few stakes winners in five crops (119 total foals of racing age). Siring California Chrome does not mean Lucky Pulpit is suddenly a good sire, but it does mean he can sire a good horse.

As was recounted many times prior to the Derby, Coburn and Martin paid $8,000 for the dam of California Chrome, the winning Not for Love mare Love The Chase was a $30,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile, who won for an $8,000 tag and was retired to stud by Coburn and Marin.

Prior to California Chrome, there was no black type in his family until his third dam, the stakes winner and stakes producer Chase the Dream, a daughter of Sir Ivor. Orb and California Chrome actually have something else in common besides the Claiborne Farm connection. As much as you could root for McGaughey to win the Derby, you could pull just as hard for Sherman, a delightful man who became the oldest trainer, at age 77, to win the race.

Yes, a good horse can come from anywhere.

It can come from the generations of breeding by the Phipps and Janney families. And it can come from mating an inexpensive mare to an inexpensive stallion. Phipps and Janney have put a great deal into the game. They, and McGaughey, deserved to win the Derby. Art Sherman galloped Derby winner Swaps and now has trained a Derby winner. His owners took a shot and were richly rewarded.

They, too, deserved to win the Derby. If Orb is gold-plated, well, then this year’s Derby winner is aptly named; he is chrome-plated. But they are both Derby winners. What keeps this game exciting, challenging and so rewarding is that a good horse can come from anywhere.

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News