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Cali Chrome's Not a Regular Horse, the Racing Gene and Monopoly ®

Good morning everyone! I hope y'all had a pleasant weekend.

The big news this weekend - excluding the Derby preps - was that California Chrome is off to jolly old England to race at the Ascot meet. This caused some major consternation on the twitter box; mainly, I think, due to the fact that trainer Art Sherman will not be handling the horse.

But it's more than that. Others think this decision - in a sport that tends to treat horses like this as some sort of managed 401k - is batty. For the record, I would not go to England with California Chrome, I would go back home. But 1) I don't own him and 2) Who cares what I think.

The handling of California Chrome was destined to be different in the first place. This is not an ownership crew whose main goal is to maximize stud value, or do what others before them were expected to do. They don't seem to care what the high foreheads say they should do, either. What they are doing, it seems, is taking advantage of what this cool horse allows them to take advantage of. They want to go to different places with him and see the world; experience other racetracks, people.

In the 1980's there was a cool horse named Cam Fella. He traveled from harness track to harness track as a four year old, taking on every horse who wanted to race. During his 28 race win streak he visited the east coast, the west coast and places in between. He raced match races; just about everything.

The owners were not your regular star horse harness owners either, just like Chrome's owners aren't. These folks traveled on a bus - the "Cam Fella Express" - and invited fans along for the ride. If you liked Cam Fella and wanted to watch him race, the owners were your tour guides, and chances are you were enjoying a post race beer with them and Cam while getting his bath. 

Really, isn't that what racing is supposed to be about? Isn't that the big tent racing needs to survive?

I realize that California Chrome could not command big value at stud last year. And I realize that the method of operation in horse racing dogma (MOOIHRD ®) when that happens says they should try and win as many grade I's without facing Shared Belief as a four year old. Trust me, I get it. But, isn't it refreshing they want to actually have fun with their horse, making memories that will last forever?

I hope California Chrome does well in England. I will be pulling for him.

 Notes:

Solid tweet today from Joe:
Notice that the drivers were upset about where the increased revenue would go. That's the thinking that permeated the sport, because it was a monopoly: When monopolies raise margins, it does mean more money. That's why they're regulated. However, it's not like that any longer, but that thinking is still here: Raise takeout, make more money. It fascinates me to no end that a lot in the sport still think they are playing on Baltic Avenue.

The thinking that drives that thinking, is the racing gene. Racing is guided by the lizard brain:

 "Racing doesn’t guide with rules based on principle, it molds rules to mollify. It doesn’t make
decisions, it delegates. It doesn’t lead - realizing there will be winners and losers with any new policy - it searches for consensus, until the new policy is so watered down it has nary any effect at all.

It’s why declining foal crops are still declining, despite purses at or near record levels. It’s why when handles crater, it’s the economy, or table games, or sports betting, or the lotteries fault. It’s why the words “we can’t” are not challenged inside the ropes of the tribe, they’re embraced like a warm blanket, or a hot cup of tea on a cold day."

To read the entire column, it's on page 6 pdf here. 

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Comments

Anonymous said…
You hit all the right notes with this story Dean.

Watching California Chrome come back at four is great for the sport. How he does this year at four and beyond will be the measuring stick to either confirm or deny his greatness. I have said it many times that no true fan of racing cares how any horse does against restricted company at two or three. There is nothing great about dominating races that are restricted to a certain group of horses that are slower than you are. How does the horse do against the very best of all ages? That is the measure of greatness.
Racing has a lot in common with football. The aged division is like the NFL. The three year old campaign of a horse is like college football. There are Heisman Trophy winners that went on to the Hall of Fame. On the other hand there are plenty of Heisman Trophy winners that could not play in the NFL because they were not good enough just like there are plenty of three year old champions that were never top level horses at four. College football and NFL football may look the same to the naked eye but the difference in the speed and talent level is subtle but there.
Horse racing has a different issue because many of the so called stars retire before they play in the NFL. The restricted races for three year olds during the slots era have really become a shell of what they were. Take a look at the list of accomplishments for the last 15 Kentucky Derby winners. It’s embarrassing. If Heisman winner Marcus Mariota didn’t play in the NFL, he would not rate in the top 10,000 players of all time.
It wasn’t always like this. Growing up we would go to Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park and watch the Gods. Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Koufax, Gibson, Clemente. In Chicago the last 40 years we had Michael Jordan and Walter Payton, two names that nobody will ever forget.
It was a different era because the athletes and the horses were revered. In the 70’s we had Forego, Every race secretary tried to beat him with weight but couldn’t do it. Won The Marlboro Cup carrying 137 pounds. 137 !!! Seattle Slew was I believe a $15,000 yearling buy, won the Triple Crown in 1977 and overcame a major illness at 4 before returning with some of the greatest races I have ever seen before becoming an incredible sire as well. John Henry in the 80’s and Cigar in the 90’s . Of course my favorite girl Zenyatta. These names will last forever.
Cam Fella. In my book the greatest harness horse and the greatest harness sire of all time. 35,000 people watched him come back to beat It’s Fritz on a Monday night at The Meadowlands on his way to 28 straight. Ten years after he retired from racing, Norm brought him to Sportsmans Park. Thousands of people came out just to see him stand in the paddock. Absolutely extraordinary.
When John Gaines had the vision of The Breeders Cup, I believe he knew that the last thing anyone wanted to see in November was another restricted race for three year olds. Instead he gave us the race the fans wanted to see, the race for three year olds and up. There is no doubt we need to do everything possible to keep these horses racing on the track past the age of three. If we don’t the greatness in this sport will be a thing of the past.

Michael A.


Anonymous said…

If you really want to see a glimpse of what greatness is and how it will always be remembered, go to You Tube and get on the link for...Last game at the Montreal Forum...Maurice Rocket Richard ovation.

One of the greatest tributes to a man and a sport ever. Ask yourself what would make the crowd at the Forum applaud non stop for a player that most of them never saw play hockey.

Michael A