The team at Taylor Made Farm got more than its fair share of adrenaline this past weekend. Some of the boost came from the buzz and anticipation in the waning hours before the five-day Keeneland January sale started its run Monday. Otherwise it came as they watched, from wherever they were scattered around Central Kentucky, California Chrome make a winning comeback thousands of miles away.
California Chrome, Horse of the Year in 2014 and arguably one of the most popular horses of this century, was making his first start for the new partnership of Perry Martin and Taylor Made in the Grade 2 San Pasqual at Santa Anita Park.
The partners race as California Chrome LLC, a new name that got a familiar result when the now 5-year-old won the $200,500 stakes in his first start in more than nine months.
Some of the partners that make up Taylor Made's 30 percent ownership in California Chrome were on hand for the race, along with Frank Taylor, the farm's vice president of boarding operations. The rest of the Taylor Made team watched wherever they were.
"Frank was out there, we had four or five shareholders in the horse that were out there with him," said Travis White, Taylor Made's stallion nominations manager. "As far as here, we didn't have a watch party or anything. There was so much hype and everything about the race, we didn't want to get too hyped in case things don't go your way. I think everybody watched it on their own."
What they saw was a familiar sight, California Chrome winning for the 10th time in 19 career starts. He and regular jockey Victor Espinoza tracked the pace and raced second early before taking control around the far turn.
California Chrome opened up in the stretch, looking a lot like the colt that put himself on the doorstep of history when he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2014. Espinoza gave him a crack of the whip and hand rode the son of Lucky Pulpit to the wire, where he was 1 1/4 lengths clear of Imperative with the late-running Hoppertunity another length back in third.
"It was a really good race, about what we hoped for," White said. "He needed something he could get something out of. I think he accomplished what Art and those guys were looking for. ... Considering the circumstances, a nine-month layoff and everything, he ran a great race."
California Chrome holds a special place in the hearts of the Taylor Made team not only because he'll take up residence in the farm's stallion barn in 2017, but also because of the time he spent in Nicholasville, Kentucky last summer and fall.
California Chrome was sent to Taylor Made in late July to recover from a bruised cannon bone suffered as he prepared for the Arlington Million. The injury forced California Chrome to the sidelines for the rest of the season.
"Dr. (Larry) Bramlage said to just turn him out and as much as you can let him be a horse. That's what we did," White said. "The first week we kind of balanced it out as far as him being in and up and being out. He was out as much as possible after that. He ended up putting on 150, 160 pounds. He settled in really good. I think he enjoyed his time on the farm and hopefully it sets him up well for his 2016 campaign."
Taylor Made hosted what it called "Chrome Fan Days" in late September and hundreds of the horse's fans showed up for the six sold-out sessions Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
White said the farm didn't know what to expect before announcing the event, which also featured shows for the other stallions.
"People came from Kentucky, New York, California, South Carolina, Texas; they came from all over," White said. "It's amazing. He means a lot to these people so it was neat to see that kind of interaction. We'd never seen or dealt with anything like it in the past. Most of the time breeders will come out, want to look at the horse as far as getting ready for the breeding season."
White said Taylor Made never gave any serious consideration to retiring California Chrome, who would have added more star power to the first-year stallion class of 2016 led by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
"We wanted to keep the horse in training. That was our goal, to get involved in the horse and get him back going," White said. "We felt the horse could still accomplish a lot more, maybe win the Dubai World Cup, take another chance at the Breeders' Cup Classic. That was our intention the whole time.
"At no point did we consider retiring the horse, unless it was time to retire him. Once Bramlage gave him the go-ahead and he was good to go, we sent him out to Art (Sherman) and we kept getting good reports back. He didn't miss a beat from the time he left here to now. I don't think he's missed a day of training that I know of."
- Irish Thoroughbred Marketing should have sponsored the Grade 3 Marshua's River at Gulfstream Park Saturday. Irish-breds swept three out of the first four places as favorite Sandiva led A Little Bit Sassy and Irish-breds Tuttipaesi and Hope Cross. Owned by Al Shaqab Racing and trained by Todd Pletcher, Sandiva earned her third win since leaving England in 2014.
Al Shaqab and Pletcher teamed up three races later to take the Grade 3 Hal's Hope with Mshawish. After 19 starts on the turf, the son of Medaglia d'Oro switched to the dirt in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in November, finished fourth behind Tonalist. Kept to the surface, he wrestled a neck decision over favorite Valid.
Finishing off the stakes triple at Gulfstream, Heart To Heart wired eight rivals in the Grade 2 Ft. Lauderdale for Terry Hamilton, Brian Lynch and Julien Leparoux. The 5-year-old son of English Channel broke from the outside stall, cleared rivals like a checkout clerk and scored by a half-length for his eighth career victory. Bred in Ontario, Heart To Heart won three consecutive stakes in 2014 and won two stakes in 2015.
- Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert continued his scourge of California 3-year-old stakes, dominating the Grade 3 Sham with winner Collected and runner-up Let's Meet In Rio. The winner, a 3-year-old son of City Zip, improved his record to 2-for-3 while making his dirt debut for Speedway Stable. Juddmonte homebred Let's Meet In Rio rallied from last in his first start against winners.
- And that makes 16. La Verdad toyed with five rivals to win the Interborough, her 16th career victory. Owned by Lady Sheila Stable and trained by Linda Rice, the daughter of Yes It's True is scheduled to call it a career in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Feb. 13 at Laurel Park.
- Congratulations to Blane Servis, son of trainer John Servis, for a nifty win with Best Version. The Parx-based conditioner shipped the homebred son of Dublin to Aqueduct for a New York-bred maiden, scoring a $48.20 upset against 11 opponents. Best Version was one of three Parx shippers to win Saturday at Aqueduct.
- Fast Flying Rumor stood up for the home team at Tampa Bay Downs, turning back six invaders and three locals in the 12th running of the Turf Dash Stakes Saturday. Trained by Gerald Bennett for Winning Stable and Midnight Rider LLC, the 4-year-old gelded son of West Acre set the pace, deflected an arrow from Power Alert and drew off to win easily.
Claimed for $25,000 out of a maiden claimer in January, 2015, Fast Flying Rumor earned his second career stakes win and fifth career victory.