JC / Railbird

California Chrome

Perry Martin’s HOTY Speech

Perry Martin, co-owner of California Chrome, took the podium to accept the 2016 Horse of the Year award at the Eclipse Awards ceremony at Gulfstream Park on January 21, 2017. His speech is transcribed below.

We only have a few of our group up here tonight, so it’s not quite as bad as our winner’s circle pictures.

We won the older horse of the year award earlier tonight and everybody told me I did a wonderful job, so I’d just like to say, “Ditto.”

Also, when I rented this tux, I looked in the pocket, and there was this little packet of stuff in there, and it had three lines of writing on it, and the first line said, “Desiccant.”

Guy over here doesn’t know what that is.

Excuse me, sir, do you do the Beyer numbers for the Daily Racing Form?

Let me help you, the second line says silica gel. Still no clue? Now I know what the third line was for.

The third line said, “Do not eat.”

So now we know why that third line was on there. I was thinking, you know, I know babies like to put stuff in their mouths, but babies don’t know how to read, so it would be ridiculous to put that on there for them, so we know, I knew there was some segment, some segment of the population that needed that on there, and now I know it’s turf writers.

Turf writers are great. I learn a lot about myself reading the articles about me. I read at least three articles that said I had a dry sense of humor, and that’s why I had to go with a desiccant joke.

Turf writers really care about me. I can tell they care about me because they’re always asking me how I feel.

“Perry, how does it feel to win the Kentucky Derby?”

“Wonderful.”

“Perry, how does it feel to lose the Pennsylvania Derby?”

“Terrible.”

“Perry, how does it feel to win the Dubai World Cup?”

“Wonderful.”

“Perry, how does it feel to lose the Breeders’ Cup Classic?”

“Which one?”

“You pick.”

“Terrible.”

Does anybody see a pattern developing? Before I go too far — I actually have, since — you said we had a lot of time, right? — turf writers, at least three articles I read recently said that Denise and I live in Yuba City, California.

We haven’t lived in Yuba City, California since September of 2014. We moved to the beautiful, picturesque town of Alpine, Wyoming. Every morning I get up, have a coffee, look out my kitchen window, and the elk just look at me. It’s a lovely place.

But Yuba City is a special place. People ask me why we left Yuba City. Basically, the answer is, because we could.

Let me tell you about Yuba City. In 2014, Denise, me, my son Perry, Jr., and my daughter Kelly, who’s up here, we took the train to Churchill Downs, to the Kentucky Derby. People say, “Why did you take the train?”

What I do is failure analysis for the Air Force, I did a lot of crash investigation, and every night at the dinner table, I’d tell the family stories about what goes wrong with planes. So for some reason, my son won’t fly. I don’t know why that is.

So we took the train. And we were on the train — it’s an interesting story — one of our coworkers texted us a message saying you have to go to this link, there’s a story about you that the local news did.

The local news — we lived in Yuba City at the time — the local news stations were in Sacramento, California, and a lot of people in Yuba City don’t breed and own Kentucky Derby winners, or favorites for the Kentucky Derby. I don’t know why that is. But this was a unique thing, so they sent a camera crew out.

We were on our way to the Derby, on the train, and we watched this video. And here’s a reporter standing in front of our house, interviewing our neighbor.

And first thing I did was look at Denise and said, “I knew I should have mowed the lawn. I knew it.”

But the next thing I said was, you know, “They don’t seem to be able to separate us from mass murderers. Because that’s what they do for mass murderers, they send reporters to their house and they interview their neighbors. Well, people who have the favorites for the Kentucky Derby are treated the same way.”

So they rounded up our neighbor. She came out, and a reporter said, “How does it feel to live next door to the owners of the favorite for the Kentucky Derby?”

And she said, “The city of Yuba City animal control just cited me for having chickens in my backyard. If I can’t have chickens in my backyard, why can these people have a horse? That’s what I want to know.”

[Music begins playing.]

Chrome never lived in our backyard. He was at Harris Farms the whole time.

But that wasn’t enough for the camera crew. They went on their phones and they found a local hot spot, it was the Happy Viking bar. And they took the crew to the Happy Viking and interviewed everybody on the bar.

Is that music for me to get off?

Emotional Distress

Call the Chromies the Grumpies:

… many of them were not happy [California Chrome] spent most of this year overseas. I have read, heard or been contacted about everything from wanting to know if it is possible to sue majority owner Perry Martin for animal abuse since he had the horse leave the country, to people thinking no one in England has ever cared for a champion racehorse before and that is why Chrome’s season has ended in injury.

The short answer to all of this is: “No. Just no. Please stop.”

My goodness, sue? I’ll cop to doubts about the Royal Ascot plan for Chrome because I worried he wasn’t a top-notch turf runner who could keep up with his likely competition. But I also understood majority owner Perry Martin’s desire to show off his very good horse, and I like to think that I’ve grown more empathetic to the push-pull owners feel when they have a horse like Chrome — the impulse to be conservative and keep a horse doing what you know they’re capable of, versus the sporting urge to go anywhere in the world they can take you. Sometimes you follow the second and it just doesn’t work out.

If there’s anyone who can feel glum about Chrome’s 2015 campaign, other than trainer Art Sherman, it’s the people who make up DAP Racing, which is a partnership that has very publicly broken down in recent months. Steve Andersen reported on Wednesday that Taylor Made bought out Steve and Carolyn Coburn’s minority interest in California Chrome (DRF+). The colt will recuperate from his minor injury at Taylor Made’s Kentucky farm.

Sidelined

Jay Privman on California Chrome and his connections (DRF+):

… what I do know, from having watched this horse for the better part of his career, is that Art Sherman always showed that he knew what was best for California Chrome. He ignored people who said the colt should have arrived sooner at Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby, and those who said he needed to work between the Derby and Preakness, and those who questioned why he was running on grass after the Breeders’ Cup.

Sherman was not down with going to the Pennsylvania Derby — a pure money grab that left him a race short for the BC Classic — nor going to England.

Sherman was right an all counts, and it’s a real shame his probity wasn’t fully appreciated by those whose interests he, ultimately, was trying to look out for.

Heft and Gleam

California Chrome returned to the U.S. on Tuesday, his international adventure over. Four Footed Fotos caught him looking ribby on arrival from Newmarket via Amsterdam, but Marcus Hersh reports that he’s now out of quarantine at Arlington Park and already making a better impression (DRF+):

The long trip home this week surely did not help his appearance, but even after just two days here, the colt appears to be headed the right direction. I saw him this morning as he was being hand-walked by groom Raul Rodriguez around the barn of trainer Chris Block, his new digs upon leaving quarantine, and it sure looked like California Chrome already had added a touch of heft and a bit of gleam to his chestnut coat.

The Coburns released a statement about Chrome’s condition on Facebook:

Many people on several different social media sites have concerns about Chrome’s weight. It is our belief that he needs to put on about 150 pounds. We appreciate all of your concerns and hope that you all know that he is in the best hands with Raul and Anna. His health and well-being is our top concern and we are confident that now that he is home and with people he is familiar with things will only get better.

He’s pointing to the Arlington Million, and jockey Victor Espinoza assures fans: “You better believe I will be riding Chromie in the race.”

The Million is a mere five weeks away, though, and Chrome did miss running at Royal Ascot because of a bruised hoof. “It’s going to be a very tough race,” trainer Art Sherman told Art Wilson last week: “He’s going to have all the Europeans coming for that race. It’s going to be a lot to ask of him, I think, personally. I’m just hoping I can get him fit enough.”

7/14/15 Update: California Chrome is done for the year and may be retired. While being vetted for a potential stud deal (which farm?), a cannon bone bruise was discovered in the 4-year-old colt. It’s a minor injury, but it means at least three months off. Retirement apparently isn’t certain. Per a comment on the DAP Facebook page, which is managed by co-owners Perry and Denise Martin, “No one really knows if Chromes Career is over except for Chrome.”

Chrome Turns Right

California Chrome continued his prep for an anticipated start in the June 17 Prince of Wales’s Stakes, getting acquainted with the right-handed Ascot turf on Thursday. Frankie Dettori on how the colt handled the training session:

“We did seven furlongs,” Dettori said. “The whole idea, because he has been turning left all his life, was to get him at full-on speed round the turn to make sure he gets on his right lead.

“He was a bit surprised going into the turn. He didn’t know what was going on. Then he got onto his right lead, he learned very quickly and in the straight I asked him to quicken to make sure he knew that after the turn he was going to carry on.”

Here’s a photo of Chrome and workmate Aktabantay at the turn, and here he is in slo-mo, galloping past the finish line.

Despite saying that he expects the Horse of the Year to “be very competitive,” the rider will likely be on Western Hymn in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.

Alan Sherman, in town to supervise for his father, trainer Art Sherman, wasn’t as positive (or diplomatic) about the American Horse of the Year’s chances:

“He’s running against the best turf horses in the world, so. Like I said, he’s a hard trier. If he’s not good enough, he’s not good enough.”

The elder Sherman is looking forward to Ascot for more than his horse — he’s hoping for an introduction to the Queen: “She loves California Chrome and the story behind him, so I’ve got a feeling we’ll get a chance to meet her.”

Chrome will return to the US after Ascot for planned starts in the Arlington Million, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup (race to be determined).

6/7/15 Update: William Buick has picked up the ride on California Chrome. “They wanted one of the good English or European jockeys and William beat them in Dubai so they know him and he’s available,” said trainer Rae Guest, overseeing Chrome while he’s in Newmarket.

Caution

Victor Espinoza sums up California Chrome’s 2014 Belmont Stakes effort:

“California Chrome was tired going into the race and his energy wasn’t quite what it was. Also, another horse stepped on his foot and that happens when a horse doesn’t have the energy it should. They do things in slow motion, and that’s what happened.”

The week before, California Chrome was “ready,” had “a perfect work,” was full of “tremendous energy,” and “seemed to have plenty left in the tank.” Pointing those quotes out is a reminder, mostly to myself, not to get too caught up in whatever hype there is about American Pharoah as he preps for the Belmont over the next two weeks. He “looks great,” but he also had to “recuperate” from winning the Preakness by walking for four days at Churchill, and his time exercising each morning is so far being reported in single-digit minutes.

Meanwhile, challengers such as Materiality, who skipped the Preakness, are training like the fresh horses they are. The son of 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex “solidified his status … as the major threat to American Pharoah,” working five furlongs in :59.87 at Belmont Park on Friday (video).

The Deal

Eric Crawford on how Calumet ended up buying Mr. Z for a Preakness run:

Working as the go-between, Lukas mediated a conversation between Calumet and Zayat. It began on 7 p.m. Tuesday night. By 8 o’clock Wednesday morning it resumed. Lukas not only was working with a couple of wealthy parties, but against the clock. By 10:10 on Wednesday, he had a deal, and then, with the help of some fast work by Justin Zayat, completed the deal in the 20-minute window he needed in order to get Mr. Z entered …

D. Wayne Lukas likes what he’s seeing from the Malibu Moon colt this week: “He is coming into the race beautifully, the same way Oxbow did.” (Oxbow derailed Orb’s Triple Crown chase with an upset in the 2013 Preakness.) If Mr. Z wins, and that’s a longshot, it’s easy to imagine the stunned reaction — he’s won but once in 13 starts. “We think he can be a pace factor in this race,” TimeformUS handicapper Mike Beer writes, echoing the consensus view. “We would be surprised were he to be more than that.” What wouldn’t surprise me is if he finishes third or fourth; he’s been competitive enough to make the trifecta in races previously won by American Pharoah and Dortmund.

The trainer, though, didn’t pull off this caper only for Saturday — he has a plan for Mr. Z that involves running a mile and maybe on the turf.

California Chrome’s next turn on the turf is coming up in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 17; from afar, trainer Art Sherman dreams of having him back. A hint, for fans, that he may return to run at Keeneland: “We’re sure looking at the Breeders’ Cup, hopefully the Classic.” I think that may be the first mention this year of a BC tilt — co-owner Perry Martin earlier sketched out a schedule mostly abroad. But then, who knows? The Chrome team seems disjointed, a state Dick Powell would have liked to see delved into during NBC’s Kentucky Derby coverage:

I was frustrated by the piece done on CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit)’s ownership problems. They implied that Perry Martin and Steve Coburn are not getting along due to a disagreement on where the horse is going to run but there was not enough depth to the coverage. They interviewed the loquacious Coburn but never asked him any specific questions about when and why did the relationship go wrong. It made Martin, who is anything but loquacious, seem like the villain but he does own 70 percent of California Chrome and, thus, calls the shots.

There was a brief mention of him racing at Royal Ascot next month but they never really got into trainer Art Sherman’s feeling of not having him back at his home base. Plus, no video of him training in Newmarket. They tried to re-visit last year’s feel good story but didn’t develop why the relationship went bad. Considering how long the show is, no real excuse not to answer why it went wrong.

Chrome’s first race back in the US will be the Arlington Million, says Martin.

Everything is hunky-dory in the American Pharoah camp. “AP best he ever been,” owner Ahmed Zayat tweeted at Ed DeRosa when he floated some “anti-American” buzz. “Just ask all … at Pimlico he is A BEAST.” Dave Grening confirms: “Baffert is indeed correct when he says Pharoah floats over the ground. Man, he is an impressive individual.”

But the whip issue has not gone away: “Whether you vilify Victor Espinoza’s Kentucky Derby ride or defend it, this much is clear,” writes Pat Forde, “all eyes in Baltimore will be on the jockey’s right arm, and how many times he brings his riding crop down on the flank of American Pharoah on Saturday …

Whether he wins the Preakness or not, says Bob Ford, he lost the Triple Crown in the Kentucky Derby:

From a tactical standpoint, Espinoza did what he thought necessary to get American Pharoah home and that is his job. It has also been said by jockeys and trainers that the lighter, softer whips used now often act as more of a metronome than a bludgeon, tapping out the stride and keeping the horse aware of the job at hand.

Unfortunately, Pharoah is not able to corroborate this theory and define whether that final stretch run was accompanied by an excited urging or something more terrifying. He arrived at the finish line spent, even though the Derby was the second-slowest running over a fast track and the third-slowest last two furlongs since 2000. American Pharoah really didn’t have it on Derby Day, but still won …

Jay Hovdey comes down on the side of what he calls the “rational” insider view: With today’s padded crops, whipping is no big deal. That Espinoza was so free with his stick (subscriber only):

… was an issue only because it was the Kentucky Derby, which 16 million people watched on NBC, although I’m guessing not many of them noticed or even pretended to care until the whip count was brought up in Derby postmortems.

The Churchill Downs stewards decided that the rider did nothing wrong, and Espinoza was unapologetic, which made sense because no apology was required. Jockeys are handed the whip and told to go win the race, only now it is in an atmosphere of ever-changing rules governing the use of the stick.

His column does highlight just how subjective it is, assessing whip use, referencing, as others have done, how many times rider Calvin Borel struck Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Woodward. Quantitatively, the 21 hits Borel gave the filly is closer to the approximately 20 Espinoza gave California Chrome in the 2014 Kentucky Derby. But those wins look nothing alike. Qualitatively, the 2009 Woodward and this year’s Derby do — both riders determined to win, both horses giving their all. Emotion influences perception. It’s enough to make what’s a 50% increase of one over the other seem equal.

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