California Chrome is rapidly morphing from "California rock star" status to "worldwide brand" and, if he does his part in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) on March 28, his connections are ready to give him the stage that status would deserve.
Still, they admit they a little humbled and a little awed about it all.
For trainer Art Sherman, a former jockey and veteran of decades of day-in, day-out racing, California Chrome's victories in the 2014 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) were the fulfillment of a dream.
"It has definitely been a dream come true for us," Sherman said during a news conference at the plush, sprawling Meydan Racecourse complex shortly after arriving in Dubai. "You know, growing up in America, the one race you want to win is the Kentucky Derby and he did that. And everything else has kind of been a bonus.
"It has just been an amazing ride. We don't have all the high-priced, high-profile clients. We kinda got lightning in a bottle with this horse."
Now, said Sherman and part-owner Steve Coburn, it's time to let the lightning loose.
"We want to showcase this horse," Sherman said, citing intense interest not only on the part of California Chrome's fans—"Chromies"—but also from racetrack executives worldwide who would like nothing more than to let his brand burnish theirs.
"I call him the California rock star because he's got such a following," Sherman said. "I can't believe the following this horse has all over the world. I got off the airplane here and everybody says, 'Oh, there's California Chrome's trainer.' You know, I thought, well, nobody'll know me in Dubai."
While professing not to look beyond the World Cup itself —"$10 million has a nice ring to it," he noted—Sherman admits he is pondering the question, "What's next?"
"We'll take it one race at a time," he said. "We'll see what happens. It's so hard to plan when you're running these kinds of races all over the world. Everybody wants you. I've got Royal Ascot to look at. They've been coming. And Hong Kong, they want me there. All over the world, he's kind of like a drawing magnet for racing right now."
Coburn said part of that plan is to "showcase California Chrome on the grass," building on his victory in the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) at Nov. 29 last year. Going into the World Cup, that remains the colt's only victory in five starts since taking the Preakness last May.
When asked about the Arlington Million (gr. IT) in August, Coburn brightened up.
"That's the race we want," he said. "I have more cards from Arlington people than anywhere in the world. They all say the same thing: 'You just tell us you want to come and we'll take care of you.' "
Ultimately, though, he said the goal for the rest of the year "is to get back to the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and get him a fair run in that race. Definitely."
Sherman said travel is an issue, but one that California Chrome should handle well.
"We thought about it in the back of our mind," he said about early consideration of the Dubai trip. "It's a long way to go when you're stabled in Los Alamitos and Long Beach. We're next to the ocean there and it's a different change.
"But we've got a horse that can travel. He has been all over the United States and been in airplanes and different courses, so I don't think he has to take his racetrack with him."
As they talk about the "top hat and tails" atmosphere of Royal Ascot, the sweeping turf course at Sha Tin in Hong Kong or the premier turf race in America's upper Midwest, Coburn and Sherman occasionally pause to note how far they've come with their modestly bred, once-in-a-lifetime horse.
And they're grateful.
It's his first trip to Dubai, and Sherman said the experience "is almost like coming into Las Vegas when you're in the United States." Later, standing on the stage at the post-position draw, Sherman told the organizers and sponsors of the World Cup races: "Thank you."
And Coburn noted, in reference to the Burj Dubai, visible on the city skyline from behind the Meydan grandstand: "That big building over there, the tallest building in the world? Multiply that by 10 and that's the hospitality we've received here."
The interest isn't without its lighter moments, though. A local newspaper reported March 25 that Sherman is retiring from training—a plan that was news to him.
"I don't know where that guy got that," the conditioner chuckled. "I said something like, 'This is the culmination of a long career,' and he thought I meant something I didn't."