By Stephen Alicknovic
December 22, 2013. The last card ever to be held at Hollywood Park. A track I don’t often pay too much attention to, but this night being the final night of racing at an historical track, I wanted to be part of it. I downloaded the card and settled in for a Sunday evening of ponies and reminiscing about the great days of the fabled track. After all, there would not be another chance to do it.
I remember the night. The sadness of many, and the fond memories of stories told of the all-time greats who raced there. From the great horses, jockeys, trainers and celebrities who made the track what is was.
The night went on–the stories kept coming. A tribute was played on the infield Jumbotron. Clips of Seabiscuit, Citation, Swaps, Dr. Fager, Affirmed, Ferdinand, Alysheba, Spectacular Bid, John Henry, Zenyatta—and the list goes on. Laffit Pincay. Bing Crosby. A sentimental night. Hollywood Park would soon be a gone.
The feature closed in. A race called the King Glorious Stakes. A two-year-old stakes race for California-bred colts. It would be the final stakes race ever at Hollywood Park. A ho-hum Cali-bred stakes race. There would be nothing ho-hum about the winner.
The camera panned around the paddock as it normally does before a race. A horse named Aotearoa was the morning line favorite. Then a muscular copper horse appeared. Shiny as can be. He stood out. He had a presence. He was chill. He was checking things out, like he always does. It was California Chrome.
He stopped the clock in a dazzling 1:22.12 for the 7 furlongs. An easy winner. But it was not the time that was impressive, it was the minimal effort he used in getting the job done. It was a brilliant effort. From that moment on I eagerly anticipated his next start. He was the real deal. A runner. A young horse who could only get better. I found a horse that excited the senses.
He was dazzling leading up to his Derby win. His wins were scintillating. His losses have been gallant and courageous. Always right there with determination. No shame in them. California Chrome has been a Champion in the true sense of the word. Art Sherman, Victor Espinoza and all of his connections that have been part of his racing career. He has given millions joy over the past few years.
He will enter the starting gate one last time tomorrow evening in a newly created race called the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park. A $12 Million race created by Frank Stronach. He will meet the big striding Arrogate, who went by California Chrome in the late stages of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Rematch. A clash of titans. The race of races. The big one. Oh boy.
It’s the final time we will get to see the magnificent son of Lucky Pulpit strut his stuff in competition. Doing what he does so well. There will be no more races for him on the track after tomorrow. No more dates to check off on the calendar in anticipation of his next race. Win, lose, or draw, tomorrow will be the last time we get to see California Chrome–throw down. Just like the last night everyone who was at Hollywood Park knew that, that night was the last night for the races at Hollywood Park.
Unlike Hollywood Park, California Chrome will start a brand new career in the Sport of Kings. He will become a sire. He’s not going anywhere.
But before he gets to that point, there is unsettled business to be handled. It will be under the lights. He will shine like he always does, like a copper penny. There will be sentiment in the air. Nerves will be on edge. Anticipation will be running high. It has been. A super tough out awaits in Arrogate, but who’s better to take on a tough out like him? California Chrome. The battled-tested Globe Trotter. California Chrome will once again fire off his best shot. And his very best shot could be yet to come, in his last race. He improves like a fine wine. His last hoorah against a horse that went by him in the final strides on the outside in his prior race. California Chrome will be on the outside this time. A race, to some that could define his legacy—depending on how he performs regardless if he wins. His legacy is already etched in stone as an all-time great goes for me.
I’m going to miss him. The last race. The last dance. California Chrome is a one-of-a kind thoroughbred. A California-bred from modest beginnings, to the top of the Horse Racing World. A great story. An inspirational story. He has given me thrills every time, as he has millions of others of his adoring fans.
Thanks for the memories California Chrome, and the ones yet to be made.