For trainer Art Sherman, Jan. 27 marked one more early morning of welcoming a new day with his once-in-a-lifetime horse California Chrome .
He cherished the moment. Then again, he's cherished them all. Sherman is not one who needs reminding to stop and smell the roses.
"It's one more morning I got with him; it's hard to believe it's coming to an end," Sherman said. "But this time we've had to run the horse has just been unbelievable; a lot of good memories."
California Chrome has been a rare horse on many levels, a stakes winner at 2 and two-time classic winner at 3, he has come back as an older horse to win the former world's richest race in 2016, the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1). He will try to win the current world's richest race Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park: the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Stakes (G1).
In the early morning darkness Friday at Gulfstream, Sherman, California Chrome's connections, and fans were smelling the ocean air as the two-time Horse of the Year was prepared to exercise under his regular morning pilot Dihigi Gladney. Sherman had spotted some fans and welcomed the "Chromies" to join him at the barn.
Several walked to various positions on the track as California Chrome galloped in darkness aside from occasional flashing lights from behind the grandstand, part of the fountain and light show that runs in the paddock area after racing ends.
As Chrome exited the track with assistant trainer Alan Sherman guiding the way, one fan commented, "Chrome's last gallop," to which Sherman quickly replied, "until he gallops by five tomorrow," a comment he quickly followed with a chuckle that expressed, "if only it were that easy."
After cooling out, California Chrome was bathed with Frank Taylor, of co-owner Taylor Made, steadily feeding him treats. Art Sherman looked on with a smile as bright as the emerging Florida sunlight.
"He likes it in the early morning before the humidity comes out. It's cool and horses feel good. He's my first horse that goes to the track every day. That's the pattern we've had with him and it's been great," Sherman said. "He's a remarkable horse. We've taken him all over the country, all over the world, and it's the same routine we've always used."
Of course California Chrome's routine is about to change and while the routine of the mornings has the horse in his racing rhythm, his connections have planned his transition to stallion. Plans call for California Chrome to be flown to Kentucky Jan. 29 on his way to his new home at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky.
Taylor Made president Duncan Taylor said California Chrome will be given time to adjust to his new surroundings and career.
"We'll see how he adjusts," Taylor said. "If I was to guess a date, it would probably be around Valentine's Day. I think there will be enough transition time that he'll be fine. It's not like he'll have to go to the farm and breed tomorrow."
Taylor said the 2016 season and Pegasus World Cup start have provided Taylor Made a unique opportunity to promote the horse to interested breeders, and breeders who already have seasons. Taylor Made has been able to talk about California Chrome's line-breeding to Numbered Account, his similar breeding to Seattle Slew, his stalking running style that lends itself to American dirt racing, and his unique career as a stakes winner at 2, a classic winner at three, and champion older horse.
"When a horse is running, they want to hear about him and learn about him," Taylor said. "It's given us the opportunity to really delve into his pedigree and talk about his dam, who is line-bred to Numbered Account. That was Ogden Phipps's greatest broodmare, a champion 2-year-old, who produced Private Account and Polish Numbers. You have that power in the pedigree."
Taylor said the 2016 season and Pegasus have given Taylor Made a chance to get breeders more familiar with the two-time Horse of the Year.
"So just having time to talk about these things and educate people has been great," Taylor said. "He's run in the top races and been in the limelight. Top breeders have come in and wanted to come in. It's added a whole new dimension."
And California Chrome's life will enter a new dimension beginning Sunday, but first one more race.