With the July 12 announcement online that champion California Chrome has a bruise to his cannon bone and will require an extensive rest to recover, it appeared last week that the chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit might not be able to race again this year and that his racing career might be over.
Only July 17, however, a formal announcement by Taylor Made Farm told the world that the famed Kentucky operation had purchased the Coburn family’s interest in California Chrome, and information from that press release from both Taylor Made and from attending veterinarian Larry Bramlage offered considerable expectation that California Chrome could return to racing later this year or more probably in 2016.
Furthermore, comments from trainer Art Sherman over the weekend indicated that the colt will return to training after some rest and recuperation at Taylor Made Farm and will be pointed for a 5yo campaign next season.
Whether California Chrome enters stud in 2016 or in 2017, the prospects of California Chrome as a stallion prospect are better than average. For one thing, he has accomplished so much that he will attract mates of notably better than average quality. He is an athletic colt of high ability, he is quite good-looking, and he does not have a pedigree of high fashion.
That last consideration is one, however, that will limit his appeal to some breeders, despite the colt’s undisputed athletic ability. Even so, bad horses do not win the Kentucky Derby, let alone the Derby and Preakness, among other notable stakes, and California Chrome proved his athleticism and class very well.
As a racehorse, California Chrome is a class performer, and his value in that regard is quite high. Becoming a successful stallion is a different set of challenges than those that he faced at the racetrack, however, and unlike the challenges of a race, California Chrome will not be able to dig in and fight through the stretch to be a better sire.
Instead, stallion success is about genetic probability, transmission of the most compatible physical traits, and access to mares that fit the horse both for genotype and phenotype.
Those are not a small considerations, and more than a few stallions have floundered due to a lack of proper mates.
And here is where fashion comes in as a positive.
With the most popular bloodlines, breeders have general ideas about what will work well due to the evidence of other sons of a proven sire of stallions. These are familiar names, familiar successes, and breeders feel more at home with them than with the unknown.
With Lucky Pulpit, the sire of California Chrome, breeders generally would have a good sense of what to do. Lucky Pulpit is a son of the famous sire Pulpit (by A.P. Indy), and he is out of a mare by champion racer Cozzene, who had success both as a sire and a broodmare sire.
A middling sort of racehorse, Lucky Pulpit never quite made the top of the tree. He was second or third in a half-dozen stakes, most notably finishing second in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes at 3 and third in the G3 Generous Stakes at 2.
Lucky Pulpit’s only stakes victory came at 4 in the Smile Stakes at Arlington, winning at five furlongs over turf in the flaming time of :56.50 for the distance.
A good-looking horse like his famous sire, Lucky Pulpit has good length through the body, a powerful and nicely made hindleg, and plenty of substance in his shoulder and middle.
He switch-hit successfully on either turf or dirt, like many of the Pulpits, and showed high speed. Those are benefits for Lucky Pulpit, and his physical attractiveness, along with a good pedigree, attracted enough mares for him to average more than 40 live foals from his first six crops of racing age.
Lucky Pulpit is out of the winning mare Lucky Soph, a daughter of Eclipse champion turf horse Cozzene (Caro) and the major stakes winner Lucky Spell (Lucky Mel).
Lucky Spell was a good and very hardy racemare, winning 12 times in 69 starts. Among her victories were five stakes, including the G3 Las Palmas and Princess Stakes. A ruggedly made and rather plain mare, Lucky Spell was undeniably good on the racetrack, and she produced three stakes winners at stud: Torrey Pines winner Goldspell (Caro), G3 Jersey Stakes winner Merlins Charm (Bold Bidder), and minor stakes winner Elegiac (Nepal).
As an 11-year-old in 1982, Lucky Spell sold for $700,000 to Richard Eamer in foal to Caro. The mare’s first stakes winner, Merlins Charm, had already shown her class, and Goldspell was a foal of 1982. The foal that Lucky Spell was carrying was another filly by Caro. A winner in England, that filly was named Trolley Song.
As a broodmare, Trolley Song became famous as the dam of Unbridled’s Song, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and the first highly successful stallion son of champion Unbridled.
An out-sized horse of legendary speed, Unbridled’s Song became an important sire, but the closest that he came to siring a Kentucky Derby winner was his lovely daughter Eight Belles, who finished second to Big Brown.
One of the ironies of breeding is that the “great” grandson of Lucky Spell did not sire a Kentucky Derby but the relatively little-known Lucky Pulpit did. The uncertainties of breeding are always there to keep us humble.