Colt looks to overcome humble bloodlines that run through Charles Town
CHARLES TOWN – “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best.”
The old adage in horse racing is the most potent principle of thoroughbred breeding, dating back to the end of the 19th century.
Many millions of dollars are spent each year in such pursuits of greatness. Of course, it doesn’t always work – rarely does it in fact – but it can increase the odds of success. And everyone in horse racing likes the odds to be in their favor, except maybe those hoping to cash a big ticket at the window.
So when breeding between an unspectacular mare and an equally unheralded stallion produce the kind of storybook opportunity that may lead to racing immortality, as is the case with California Chrome, what should people make of it?
How about a freak of nature?
When California Chrome enters the starting gate Saturday in the Belmont Stakes with a shot at the Triple Crown on the line, the eyes of the world will be watching a horse bred in a state not known for producing Classic winners (California) and owned by two outsiders (Steve Coburn and Perry Martin) who have no connection to racing’s blueblood aristocracy in Kentucky.
California Chrome’s father Lucky Pulpit was a low-level stakes winner who never even sniffed the kind success enjoyed by his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winning son.
His mother, Love the Chase, came from strong Maryland roots, but only won once in six lifetime starts. His grandmother on the female side, Chase it Down, won just once in nine lifetime starts, breaking her maiden in November 2000 at Charles Town in her seventh career start.
Chase it Down, bred and owned by Dr. Thomas Bowman, had been offered twice at sale prior to her racing career, but garnered little interest.
“She just wasn’t very good,” Bowman told The Bloodhorse.
But such comments will never accompany California Chrome for time eternal. The 3-year-old chestnut has already defied odds that, even with bloodlines much more refined than his, sit smack in the way of attaining such accolades.
There are more than 20,000 thoroughbreds born each year and the numbers say that only about 3.5 percent are going to be good enough to run in a stakes race, to say nothing of a graded stakes race – which the Triple Crown races lie at the highest level of Grade 1.
Many of those slots are filled each year by the progeny of stallions and broodmares that garner six-figure stud fees and million-dollar acquisitions at auctions. Those figures are generated by winning on the racetrack at the highest levels, something for which Lucky Pulpit participated only on the periphery and earned a modicum of success. There is also the whole side industry whose business it is to scientifically analyze the genetic makeup of racehorses and discover which are best predisposed to produce the most favorable offspring.
Coburn and Martin bought an undistinguished filly Love the Chase for $8,000 and paid only a few thousand dollars to cover Lucky Pulpit’s lackluster stud fee.
But it is those largely mundane circumstances that make this possibility all the more intriguing. Sports fans everywhere, whether or not they know what a furlong is or know the meaning of the term “bug boy,” can grasp something that’s almost too good to be true as a victory for the little guy. That’s what this is.
California Chrome stands on the cusp of becoming the 12th horse in history and first since 1978 to win the Triple Crown if he can deliver Saturday in the “Test of the Champion.”
If someone were to have prophesied this scenario three years ago after first laying eyes on that newborn leggy foal most would have told him or her “not a chance in hell.”
After all, the odds were overwhelmingly stacked against it.
Jeff Brammer is sports editor of the Spirit of Jefferson