Stand on the Meydan surface and soak up the morning sun, and watch California Chrome stride out onto the racetrack. There's his signature ear prick, a turn of the head toward snapping cameras—the look of eagles.
It's looming, Chrome's chance at redemption, as these last few days to the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) count down. He comes in a fresher, stronger horse after his runner-up finish to Prince Bishop in the World Cup of 2015, but faces a slew of tough challengers including Godolphin's own grade I winner Frosted .
Anticipation is mounting, and at the center of it all stands this 2014 Horse of the Year, the one who charmed thousands through his Triple Crown campaign as a 3-year-old and somehow, in a world of brief campaigns and early stud deals, still races on at 5.
You've heard of "Chromies," those zealous folks who track the every move of the Art Sherman trainee. Mike Stinson is one, but he's also a partner in the new syndicate put together by Taylor Made Farm after the Kentucky operation bought out the 30% interest of co-breeder Steve Coburn.
You don't have to be "just" a racing fan to catch on to the charisma of California Chrome.
"Mike was the first guy to ever call me and say, 'You get that horse,' " Frank Taylor said March 24 after watching California Chrome gallop briskly through his morning drill.
"I said, 'Do you think there's any possibility you'd be able to do (a stud deal) with the horse?' " Stinson recalled. "He said, 'I don't know, I'll check it out.' Anyway, it took a while, but like a lot of folks, I've been a fan of the horse since his 2-year-old year. He's a very special horse. Whatever 'it' is, he has."
We'll call it "Chrome appeal," the same attraction that recently caused avid Saudi Arabian polo player Amr Zedan to join a Lexington-based investment group to obtain shares. Zedan will come to the track March 26 to watch California Chrome—the first racehorse he has ever purchased—compete on the world's biggest stage. He plans to support the horse at stud with mares selected by the Taylors, who are still adding a few partners to the syndicate.
"He's so sound, and he wants to run long, he's got high cruising speed—you make a list of all the things you want in a stallion and he checks all those boxes," Taylor said of California Chrome. "And we're lucky because in general people (in the stallion business) saw him as not having pedigree. He really checks that box, too, but a lot of people can't realize that. He's still got that blood. He's got everything you want."
"It's an opportunity to be involved in the last part of his racing career, and then to breed some mares to him as well; that's the long play," said Stinson, who also owns a portion of multiple stakes winner Peppers Pride and plans to breed her to California Chrome next year. She recently scanned in foal to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah .
Other industry members who think the same way include Louise Courtelis and her daughter Kiki of Town and Country Farms, Louis Brooks, Brian Kahn, Bob Naify and Jan Vandebos, George Saufley, and longtime Taylor Made client Marie Jones, who bred champions Ashado and Speightstown with her late husband, Aaron Jones. The couple also campaigned Forestry, who stood at Taylor Made until he was sold to stand at Haras Sao Jose da Serra in Brazil in 2014.
California Chrome offers a distinct resume to those who buy into the partnership known as California Chrome LLC. A son of Lucky Pulpit bred in California by Coburn and Perry Martin (who still retains ownership) out of the Not for Love mare Love the Chase, he is versatile, a grade I winner on dirt and turf. With a victory in the Dubai World Cup he would become the highest-earning racehorse of all time outside of Japan.
He already is the all-time leading earner from the A.P. Indy sire line and is the highest-earning California-bred of all time with $6,532,650 from an 11-3-1 record in 20 starts. His greatest accomplishments were back-to-back victories in the 2014 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I).
"You look back at his pedigree and he's got Seattle Slew in there, and deep down in his female family he's got a ton of good things," Taylor said. "I remember when I was a kid, Seattle Slew came along, and they said he didn't have any pedigree. You look at that A.P. Indy line, it's second to none, and he's right directly from Pulpit.
"When you're born in California, you always automatically get a knock that you're not (high-quality), and I battled that when we (invested in) Tiznow . Everybody said, 'He has no pedigree, he's Cal-bred,' and all that stuff, and look at what a stallion Tiznow has turned out to be. And they're both really courageous horses."
If Taylor sounds enthusiastic about the horse, it's not a sales pitch or a publicity stunt. The hole left in the Taylor family's stallion operation with the death of Unbridled's Song began to fill last fall, when California Chrome spent time at the Kentucky farm after a botched trip to England resulted in him missing multiple races due to cannon bone bruising.
With plenty of TLC, California Chrome got his mojo back, and everyone at Taylor Made bonded with the brilliant chestnut.
"He had been training since he was a 2-year-old, and he'd just run a lot of races and he was amazingly sound but it was just time for him to get a break," Taylor said. "He really needed it. He had shipped from Dubai to England and then back to Arlington, and all that shipping and all that racing just kind of got to him.
"We put him on a special program and he was there almost 100 days and gained 190 pounds and just thrived. We got him back to Art and (assistant trainer) Alan (Sherman) and he hasn't missed a beat; he has moved forward every day."
Prepping for the World Cup, California Chrome cruised to a sharp two-length victory Feb. 25 at Meydan. He added that score to a Jan. 9 San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) win to make his 2016 record two-for-two, with those his only starts since the runner-up finish in last year's World Cup.
Taylor Made has rooting interest in not just one, but two World Cup contenders, with Al Shaqab Racing's Mshawish secured to retire to stud there at the end of 2015. The Todd Pletcher trainee will leave from post 2 in the World Cup and comes in off of a victory in the Donn Handicap (gr. I).
"They're both great horses, they're both grade I winners on dirt and turf, and the great thing is, they have totally opposite pedigrees so they're not going to compete for the same mares," Taylor said. "Having two horses like this is really exciting. It kind of puts us back on the map."