©2014 Calvin L. Carter. All rights reserved.
California Chrome is a talented horse who was victorious in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and many thought he would win the Triple Crown. However, despite his athletic talent, I thought that California Chrome had behavioral issues that would eventually trip him up on the trail to glory.
In my Kentucky Derby blog I wrote that it was "all or nothing" for California Chrome and when he's stuck in middle of herd, as he was in the Belmont Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby, that he would not win the race, and most likely finish off the board. Here’s what I wrote about California Chrome in my Derby blog:
CALIFORNIA CHROME (5-2) – A Chestnut colt by Lucky Pulpit out of Love the Chase by Not For Love was foaled February 18, 2011. He comes into the Kentucky Derby (G1) for the connections of Steven Coburn and Martin Perry with a 6-1-0 record in 10 starts. In his last race, California Chrome looked impressive winning the Santa Anita Derby (G3) by 5¼-lengths and a repeat of that performance could make him tough in the Derby. Here’s the chart call and video:
CALIFORNIA CHROME a bit slow into stride and slightly crowded early, pulled between horses to duel for the lead, continued outside a rival on the second turn, took command nearing the quarter pole, kicked clear, widened while being ridden along in midstretch and proved best under a long hold late.
Of all the horses entered in the Derby, California Chrome is one of the most interesting. Obviously, he’s very talented. He’s won his last four races by a combined win margin of 24¼-lengths. He has good speed and finishes his races with a lot of energy. His finish time of 1:47.52 in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) is racehorse time and it makes him very competitive in the Derby.
Indeed, the way California Chrome won his last four races gives the impression that he has no peers on the racetrack and he’s most likely the winner of Kentucky Derby 140. However, when you look at the past performances of California Chrome it appears that he’s “All or Nothing” when he runs. When he wins, he wins big. When he loses, he completely misses the board.
To investigate the source of this curious racing form, I previewed all the videos of California Chrome’s races and it appears that the biggest obstacle to him winning the Derby could be his own mind. In the three he lost, it is evident that behavioral issues prevented him from winning those races. In all those defeats, California Chrome was in between horses or behind in traffic and he did not know what to do: Should I go right, left or up the middle?
Here’s a look at chart call and video of California Chrome’s 7¼-length loss in the Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes last June at Betfair Hollywood Park:
CALIFORNIA CHROME went up between horses to duel for the lead, battled three deep between foes on the turn and into the stretch and weakened in the final furlong.
The chart notes that California Chrome, running between horses, weakened at the end of the race but, more likely, he didn’t have the mental aptitude to press through to victory. After that loss, trainer Art Sherman put blinkers on California Chrome but that did not help him overcome the mental barrier he faced when stuck behind horses in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) last September. Here’s the video and chart call:
CALIFORNIA CHROME chased between horses on the backstretch and turn, rallied between foes in deep stretch and was in a bit tight off heels late.
California Chrome had a hole, granted a small hole, in the final strides of the Del Mar Futurity but he could not press through the wall of horses to win the race.
Last December, in the Golden State Juvenile Stakes at Santa Anita Park, California Chrome raced free, and clear, of other horses along the rail in the stretch drive but he did not have that “heart” of a champion to press on to victory. Here’s the chart call and video:
CALIFORNIA CHROME hopped at the start and was off slowly, chased inside a rival on the backstretch, came around a tiring foe entering the stretch and lacked the needed rally on the rally through the final furlong.
A good mind, the ability of a horse to focus during the heat of a race is so important. And it appears that California Chrome has focus issues when stuck in the middle of a herd of horses.
In the book I co-authored with Kerry Thomas, Horse Profiling: The Secret to Motivating Equine Athletes, published in 2012 by Trafalgar Square Books, we note that good horse behavior is vitally important and it’s the final piece of the breeding puzzle necessary to produce equine champions.
Federico Tesio also knew about the importance of a horse possessing a good mind. Behavior is what Tesio looked for in the horses he bred or inspected at auction, and, during his lifetime, Tesio bred an incredible 21 Italiano Derby winners.
Franco Varola’s Dosage system (not the one commonly used today) consisted of five “aptitudinal” groups, and Varola was most interested in the behavioral traits and characteristics that each sire transmitted to his offspring.
In Typology of the Racehorse (JA Allen, 1974), Varola noted: “The differences between the five aptitudinal groups are of essence or character. It matters very little whether a racehorse is 16 hands or 16.2, or whether it is chestnut or brown; but it does matter a lot the way he behaves in actual racing, whether he is consistent or erratic, brilliant or slow, bellicose or resigned, in other words which pattern or mode of being is he expressing...It is of great utility to be able to distinguish between these various aptitudes, this being something that plays an effective part in mating.”
Yes, indeed, Signors Varola, Tesio.
The talented California Chrome doesn’t need the lead to win. But he has to be free and clear outside of horses, up near the front or a length off of the leaders.
If jockey Victor Espinoza can put California Chrome in that spot then he could, perhaps, be a threat to win the Kentucky Derby. If California Chrome is stuck in the middle of the herd, he could run close to his profile ranking or even worse.