With so many people yelling from soapboxes or raiding their sheds for pitchforks, I feel like I should have a stronger (or, at least, more interesting) opinion about California Chrome being declared out of the Million.
I have a straightforward opinion about the decision itself. The bone bruise means they should stop pointing him toward the Arlington Million, and let him recover.
I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to seeing California Chrome in person this week at Arlington, even though it would have required getting up in the middle of the night to catch the early train. However, his health comes first, and his connections have done right to let him rest and heal.
Still, I am sad he will miss the Million for a much bigger reason than not getting pictures of his bright pink nose.
I talk to a lot of strangers about horse racing. It happens, being in a big city. Maybe the bartender sees that I have a pile of papers with numbers on it. They razz me for being That Square Working From The Bar. I explain that it’s not work, but rather I’m picking horse races. Maybe a Lyft driver asks me what I was doing that evening. Usually, my answer is that I am heading home far too late from writing somewhere, and I mention that I write about horse racing. Occasionally, they reminisce about trips to the track. More often, they find it strange that someone follows horse racing in this day and age. I explain that it’s still more alive than they thought, and that it goes on for most of the year in Chicago.
In these conversations, there was one horse who had instant name recognition whenever he came up in conversation: California Chrome. He was the one recent horse who gave me a surefire talking point about our sport. People who had rarely (or never!) been to the races at Arlington or Hawthorne enthusiastically asked for details about the Arlington Million as soon as they found out California Chrome would be running.
Will Chrome’s injury stop me from trying to convince people to give horse racing a try, or to give the Arlington Million a try? Of course not. There are still stories, and compelling ones, leading into Chicago’s biggest day. For those curious about the racing elite, I can talk about how serious turf horses fly in from overseas to run here, vying to face some of America’s top grass runners. For Illinois natives, The Pizza Man brings a delicious angle. For those who love a comeback, the riches-to-rags-to-riches tale of Quiet Force has everything.
I hope people will take the time to get to know these new horses. Their stories are just as worth knowing as California Chrome’s. However, with a limited amount of time, space, and mental energy, it is far easier for anyone who does not live and breathe horse racing to become reacquainted with a familiar name from the news than to get to know a new horse.
To state that California Chrome running in the Arlington Million would “save Illinois racing”, or anything similarly grandiose, would be naive. One day alone would not bring a sufficient deluge of handle and purse funding.
However, small steps help. In recent years the Triple Crown stands as most people’s main — and often only — reference point for horse racing. To lose such a clear and recognisable tie between horse racing in popular culture and horse racing in Chicago hurts.