Who else could it be? The horse who came from humble origins to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness becoming a mainstream superstar in the process was easily horse racing’s biggest story in 2014. The California Chrome story couldn’t have been any better had it been scripted and the public ‘ate it up’.
California Chrome was completely off the radar of the entire horse racing industry when the 2014 season started. You can’t blame them–a horse from a $10,000 broodmare, owned by what the industry perceived as ‘dilettantes’, trained by an octogenarian trainer who’s only previous trip to the Derby was as ‘walker’ for legendary California super-horse Swaps’ run in 1955. Everything was all wrong, or at least didn’t fit the profile of a ‘Derby winner’–only three California bred horses had *ever* won the Kentucky Derby, most recently in 1962. Chrome trains at Los Alamitos, considered a ‘second rate’ track.
Early in his three year old season, none of the racing experts wanted to ‘buy in’. Despite being the top ranked three year old in the country after an impressive showing in the San Felipe, the so called ‘experts’ dismissed his chances saying he’d need to perform impressively in the Santa Anita Derby to ‘earn’ his reputation. Chrome did just that, winning the Santa Anita emphatically while turning in a time that had been beaten only three times in history by legendary horses (Lucky Debonair in 1965, Sham in 1973 and Indian Charlie in 1998).
The racing world grudgingly started to acknowledge his skill but it was his win in the Kentucky Derby that made him a huge star. Mainstream media picked up on his unique ‘rags to riches’ story and the eclectic collection of characters like trainer Art Sherman and his outsider owners Perry Martin and particularly the irascible Steve Coburn. After his Preakness win and on the cusp of a Triple Crown ‘Crome-mania’ completely blew up. His loss in the Belmont may have diminished his popularity somewhat, but not by much. He added an impressive coda at the end of the year, following up a disappointing performance in the Pennsylvania Derby with a strong win in the Hollywood Derby–his first career race on turf.
Chrome defied his pedigree and proved his greatness on the track. His unusual backstory made him the biggest star in the sport during 2014