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The good news is that California Chrome is still alive.
There is no bad news, thankfully, but there's a lot of sad news, all centering around a group of people - Dumb-Ass Partners Stable - who were and are ill-equipped to have been given a horse as magnificent as California Chrome. And a racetrack that I am glad did not get the chance to exploit this horse and the fans who would have come out to see him.
Our first concern is his health. Former co-owner Steve Coburn - yes, I said former - admitted that 'Chrome is about 150 pounds underweight and as that picture and this one illustrate, his ribs were clearly showing as he arrived at Arlington Park on July 7. This is not the look of a horse that was expected to conquer the Arlington Million on August 15.
In fact, California Chrome is out the rest of the year with what his connections called a cannon bone bruise on his right front leg. Near as I can tell, and I'm no expert on horse anatomy, it's like he got kicked in the shin. How would that happen, to a front leg? Just like the vows that he will run again next year, this announced reason sounds awfully shallow.
And just this week, Coburn, forever famous for his "cowards" rant after 'Chrome lost the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown in 2014, sold his minority interest in the horse to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky, 'Chrome's destination for rest and recuperation while his majority owner, Perry Martin, will try to figure ways to squeeze even more money out of the colt. Interesting that Coburn sold his share to a third party and not to Martin.
This is the same Martin who made the decision to hoodwink breeders, by his own admission, into thinking 'Chrome is or could be some wondrous turf monster. For breeding purposes only, to a colt who is widely considered to have questionable stud qualities.
He was even willing to throw 'Chrome to the wolves in the Arlington Million after hardly training since the Dubai World Cup, where he ran his guts out, and detouring to England where Martin expected him to take on all the Queen's horses and a couple of the Queen's races. He had a "foot problem" and missed two races on the olde sod.
So what happened? Is California Chrome ill? One forum commenter opined that maybe the horse got lonely in England, where trainer Art Sherman was replaced by a rent-a-trainer, along with strange grooms and other attendants. Plus three different nations of food since the beginning of the year. Seems plausible to me. They shipped him to Dubai too late to get acclimated to Meydan, if he ever would have, or even to run a race over the course. They shipped him to Arlington too late to get in a prep race for the Million, although it now seems he was never in good enough shape to even run in the Million.
California Chrome is not a soapbox derby racer. He's a living, breathing, intelligent animal who has to be wondering where he is, or where they might take him.
As for Arlington Park, with all of the bad karma it and its parent company Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) have been throwing around for years, there is no way in hell the track deserved to have a horse of 'Chrome's stature run there. There is no way California Chrome should ever have to be within a time zone of the PolyTrack travesty it calls the main track.
Arlington has started a war with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, cutting purses and reducing races to eight per card. For the time, distance, expense and the mismatched train schedules, eight races are not worth the bother of making the trip. Not that I have in several years. I'm late to the news, but I hear they are now charging 17 frickin' dollars for a picnic table under the "general admission" canopy. They used to be free, although you always had to fight the two people who guarded their conquest like territorial wolverines. And get a load of the target demographic in those pictures. Oh, lordy!
It'a always about money. We know the greenbacks drive the sport, nourish the wiseguys. But Ray Paulick of the Paulick Report succinctly describes the situation between the two battling factions, painting a picture of a corporation that does not care trying to squeeze the life out of the people who help make the sport.
Just as one example, 2-year-old maiden special weight races at Arlington are offering a $21,600 purse. That's less than tracks in neighboring states are putting into maiden races: Indiana Grand ($32,000), Prairie Meadows in Iowa ($30,000), Ellis Park in Kentucky ($29,000) and Canterbury Park in Minnesota ($28,000).
The operative baloney is that once the Illinois legislature approves slots at the racetracks, all will be well and Illinois racing will be saved.
The truth is that CDI has proven that it gives not one damn about horse racing, except for the two days of the Kentucky Derby, and would just as soon get out of the game. It got slots at Fair Grounds and had to be ordered by the State of Louisiana to maintain the place. It got slots at Calder, stopped keeping things up, and eventually farmed out racing operations to Frank Stronach's Gulfstream group, once their cold war enemies.
There is absolutely no guarantee CDI will keep Arlington open if it gets slots, unless they come with the stipulation that at least some racing must be held. Like a bad Steven Seagal movie, it's attitude is if it goes down, the entire Illinois racing industry must go down with it. And we all know what the lawyers and accountants see when they look at the Arlington real estate, besides their personal bonus skims.
I can only imagine how they would have pumped up ticket prices and lousy concessions - more than they already do - on Million Day if Chrome had been in the house.
This is true justice for Arlington Park and its overlords.
Now, let's turn to California Chrome and hope he gets the justice and health he deserves and gets to run again, just for fun.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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