Our old friend California Chrome was back in action this past weekend for the Breeders’ Cup but it was a case of “close but no cigar” as Chrome finished third, a half-length behind winner Bayern, who may take Horse of the Year honors away from Chrome as well. (There was some controversy about Bayern bumping against Shared Belief out of the starting gate. But hey, stuff happens. The winner is, in the end, the winner.)
So now it’s on to Chrome’s career as a 4-year-old. Will he get stronger or fizzle? His owners have said they’ll be choosy about the races he’ll run in his 2015 campaign. It used to be that racehorses had the speed and endurance for the Triple Crown, the Breeders’ Cup and any race you might throw at them. Now they’re bred for speed and stud fees. Nothing like the quick kill, though you could hardly accuse Chrome’s people of that as they continue to race him.
Who knows if Chrome will get better or if we’ll see a Triple Crown winner again. We may just have to wait for “Criterion,” the third novel in my series “The Games Men Play,” about a racehorse trying to win the Triple Crown.
It’s told in part from the viewpoint of the racehorse. Given the subject matter of the first two books in my series, people keep asking me, perhaps not entirely facetiously: Is the racehorse gay?
Actually, he’s smitten with his stable-mate, Belle. I’m basing the relationship on a story I couldn’t resist, that of Citation, winner of the Triple Crown in 1948 and one of the greatest racehorses ever.
Before that, however, he lost his only race as a 2-year-old (in the Washington Futurity) to his stablemate, Bewitch. Some sportswriters said it was love, and that Citation, ever the gentleman, said, “Ladies first.” (He wasn’t thinking that when he later beat her in a race.)
Citation would go on to become the first racehorse to win $1 million. For 25 years he was the last Triple Crown winner until a big chestnut colt named Secretariat came along in 1973, and he was quickly followed by Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978).
When I think of Citation, I think of the pictures of him in retirement, out to stud, lolling on his back in the paddock, legs up, reveling in the earth and a good back scratch.
"He was the best, a good sound horse who beat everyone with a smile on his face,” racing writer Joe Palmer once observed. “I haven't seen anyone like him. I don't think I ever will."