CALIFORNIA CHROME TO BRING MARYLAND BLOOD TO PIMLICO

Published By: 
Bob Fortus
Published: 
May 09, 2014

Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome should feel at home when he arrives Monday at Pimlico, where he'll be the center of attention throughout Preakness week.

Much has been made of how the first Derby victory by a California-bred in 52 years might boost California breeding. But keep in mind, Maryland blood is pumping through California Chrome.

The stars lined up to bring together Lucky Pulpit, a modestly priced stallion standing in California, and the Not For Love mare Love the Chase, a Maryland-bred whose only victory in six career starts came in $8,000 maiden claiming company at Golden Gate Fields. Who besides Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who bred and own California Chrome, would have thought that a Kentucky Derby winner would result from the mating?

"It's a really good story that came along at a great time,'' said retired Northern California trainer Greg Gilchrist. "You have to be happy for those people.''

Gilchrist, best known for his success with the champion sprinter Lost in the Fog and the brilliantly fast filly Soviet Problem, trained Not For Love for her first four races. At the Midlantic Sale of 2-year-olds in training in Timonium in May 2008, Gilchrist was looking for a horse in the $25,000 to $35,000 price range to buy for Scott Sherwood of Blinkers On Racing Stable. Coburn and Martin were involved with Blinkers On, racing partnerships run by Sherwood.

Gilchrist said it's hard to find the right horse to fit a given price. "This filly came along,'' he said. "She was very well balanced. Her conformation was good.'' He bought the filly, to be named Love the Chase, for $30,000.

She never developed, Gilchrist said. " I felt bad for her, because she tried every time,'' he said. "She just didn't have much talent.''

Love the Chase finished fourth sprinting against $32,000 maidens in December 2008 at Golden Gate in her debut. She was sixth in her next two starts, against $32,000 maidens and $8,000 maidens, before winning against $8,000 maidens – the bottom level – in a mile race run in 1:41.68 in early February 2009.

"Probably the slowest maiden race run at Golden Gate Fields that year,'' Gilchrist said. "She was just better than the other horses. Greg suggested to sell the horse.''

Coburn and Martin, who already had minor interests in her, bought her for $8,000 and sent her to trainer Monty Meier. Two last-place finishes later, with career earnings of $7,020, she was retired for breeding.

"And everybody lived happily ever after,'' Gilchrist said.

Lucky Pulpit, contributed his genes to the happy ending.

He had shown talent on the track, winning three of 22 starts, including the Smile Stakes at Arlington Park as a 4-year-old in 2005, and earning $209,028.

A Kentucky-bred son of Pulpit and the Cozzene mare Lucky Soph, Lucky Pulpit raced for his breeders – Larry and Marianne Williams. They own Tree Top Ranches farm in Parma, Idaho, and stand Lucky Pulpit at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif.

As a 2-year-old trained by Clifford Sise in 2003, Lucky Pulpit finished third in the Grade III Generous Stakes at a mile on turf at Hollywood Park, and at 3, he placed in the Grade II Santa Catalina at a mile and a sixteenth on dirt at Santa Anita.

"It was absolutely a two-turn pedigree,'' said Dan Kiser, the Williams' manager for racing an breeding. "The horse was firmly on the Derby trail. Never for a moment did we think distance would be a question.''

But a virus caused a breathing problem, and Lucky Pulpit eventually became a turf sprinter. His Smile victory, at five furlongs on turf, was a key to getting him to stud, Kiser said.

Grant Forster trained Lucky Pulpit for his entire season as a 4-year-old. "He was really kind of a flamboyant horse, tons of personality,'' Forster said. "We're very excited he went on to produce California Chrome. It was very exciting.''

Lucky Pulpit started once at 5 under trainer Todd Pletcher before being retired with a fractured ankle. Kiser said that in Lucky Pulpit's first few years at stud, the goal was to build the number of mares booked to the horse.

In 2007, his first year at stud, 28 mares were bred to Lucky Pulpit. Tree Top helped get his stallion career going by booking eight of its mares to him that year, Kiser said. In 2009, the 23 foals in Lucky Pulpit's second crop included Rousing Sermon, who has earned more than $700,000 and is still racing. After crops with 19 foals in 2010 and 24 in 2011, "all the next crops are big crops, more than 100,'' Kiser said.

Lucky Pulpit's stud fee started at $2,500 and stayed at that level until it was raised to $5,000 after California Chrome won the San Felipe this year, Kiser said. California Chrome's win in the Santa Anita Derby led to another raise, to $10,000. The $2,500 stud fee was in place for the breeding of all but a dozen of the 129 mares bred to Lucky Pulpit this year, Kiser said.

Also, he said, Martin and Coburn received a discount to $2,000 for the breeding that produced California Chrome.

Those guys are on quite a roll. After the Santa Anita Derby, they turned down a $6 million offer for 51 percent of California Chrome. Not only do they own 100 percent of a Kentucky Derby winner, they also own two full sisters – a filly born in 2013 and another born this year. A Preakness victory Saturday would add significant value to California Chrome, the babies and the mare. And a Triple Crown ... who knows what that would mean?

The people behind Lucky Pulpit will benefit, too. "I hope we can keep him in California,'' Kiser said.

Forster said, "I couldn't be happier for Mr. and Mrs. Williams.''

Gilchrist said he's happy for Art Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer of California Chrome. "I've been acquainted with Art Sherman and his famile,'' Gilchrist said. "I rode Art on horses in the early and middle '70s. I'm very, very happy for him. I'm very happy for his two boys (Alan and Steve), and he's got a very, very nice wife, Faye.''

The Preakness might set up better for California Chrome than the Derby did, but the Belmont might be another matter, Gilchrist said. "The mile and a half, I don't think any of them want to run a mile and a half,'' he said.

Kiser isn't assuming anything about the Preakness. "The two-week turnaround scares me to death, because they always run fresh horses at him,'' he said. "I'm hoping he can do it.''

No matter what happens, the Maryland-bred mare Love the Chase forever will be known as the mother of a Kentucky Derby winner.

"She's a lot better broodmare than she was a racehorse,'' Gilchrist said. "I can tell you that.''

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