California Chrome to Try the Turf

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Molly Jo Rosen

November 13th, 2014

Kentucky Derby Winner to Try the Turf

What do you do with your superstar Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning racehorse to end his three-year-old season? If you're trainer Art Sherman, and owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin... you try him on the turf!

It was announced that California Chrome will likely contest the G1 Hollywood Derby on November 29th at Del Mar as his last start of 2014.

The traditional season-ending race for Breeders' Cup Classic also-rans has historically been the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, which is contested over the same dirt that California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby on.

Taking a page from the Jess Jackson School of Horse Management, it would seem the copper-colored colt's connections have him on the Curlin degree path: Curlin won the Preakness and the Breeders' Cup Classic as a 3yo then shipped to Dubai to romp in the Jaguar Trophy and Dubai World Cup before coming back stateside to win the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs before he switched surfaces and ran a very game second in the Man o' War at Belmont for his lone turf try.

With 'Chrome, his humans said even before the Classic that they were planning a Dubai World Cup run for their homebred. It's not surprising they would take one more shot at running him this year:

a) the season-ending awards that were a sure thing not two months ago are suddenly under threat from late blooming rivals

b) it's hard to win Horse of the Year when you've lost three straight since your last win back in May

c) he only faced older foes for the first time last out in the Breeders' Cup Classic (where the first six to cross the line were 3yos), so dropping him into a race restricted to his age group is potentially a chance to get some confidence back since the 3yo turf division isn't exactly the strongest.

Get off my lawn



But I'm going to pull the opposite of a Clint Eastwood here...



Given California Chrome's pedigree, why has it taken so long for him to get on the lawn?

Turn the clock back a good six months and I was the one beating the California Chrome's Family Tree Isn't That Bad drum as loudly as possible to anyone who would listen. Without rehashing my old argument, I'll simply say: so he's not the bluest of blooded, but there's more there than most have made it out to be. (one nerdy bit... the male horses on the Lucky Pulpit side of his pedigree tend to be awesome stallions: Chrome is directly related to Unbridled's Song, Drewman, and more)

Here's my logic:
  • Half of his sire Lucky Pulpit's 22 career starts came on the grass, including his lone stakes win in the Smile at Arlington Park back in 2005
  • His mother Love the Chase never tried the turf, but her six starts all came on the synthetic at Golden Gate which has typically lent itself to more turfy types
  • Under the third dam (Chrome's maternal great-grandmother) Chase the Dream is the phenomenal Amourette: a three-time stakes winner on the lawn who earned $212k of her $248k career earnings in her 20 turf starts
  • Chase the Dream also threw Chief's Dream: a very consistent turf runner in the UAE who was in the money 9 of his 15 turf starts, which was half of his career

Plus the testosterone in California Chrome's pedigree is chock-full of standout turf stallions:
  • In 5 crops of racing age, only 25% of Lucky Pulpit's progeny run on the grass (led by the standout Luckarack)
    • Average progeny's winning distance on turf: 7.19 furlongs
  • In 14 crops of racing age, Pulpit has thrown 43 graded stakes winners and 60% of his foals run on the lawn (led by the freakishly talented mare Rutherienne)
    • Average progeny's winning distance on turf: 8.76 furlongs

Looking at the broodmare sires:
  • Not for Love (who sired Chase the Dream) is one of the most consistent stallions year in, year out: of the 710 foals he is the grandfather of, 36% of them have tried the turf and 47 of them have won (led by Isn'tlovejustgrand, a consistent Allowance runner on the New York racing circuit)
    • Average winning distance on turf: 7.13 furlongs
  • Cozzene (who sired Lucky Pulpit's dam Lucky Soph) was one of the most popular turf stallions before his 2008 death; as a broodmare sire, there are two champions and 23 graded stakes winners to his credit, plus 52% turf runners, 22% winners and just under 8,900 starts between the 1,000 runners
    • Average winning distance on turf: 8.39 furlongs

Only time will tell if California Chrome goes on to become the next (non-gelded version of) John Henry or (hopefully a better stallion than the great) Secretariat... winning the world's best races on whatever surface he pleases. But more important for now: he has to pull an Animal Kingdom and break the curse of Kentucky Derby winners who can't win a race post-Triple Crown.

What do you think of Chrome's move to the turf? Tell us!