Sports

California Chrome, his fans and his favorite cookies are ready for a Santa Anita comeback

The treats come in daily. The cost is about $20 for a five-pound bag of Mrs. Pastures Cookies for Horses.

In fact, there are so many cookies that those wanting to send this combination of oats, bran, barley, molasses and apples to this equine superstar are instead asked to address them to nearby horse rescue organizations.

"There are three 50-pound buckets of them sitting there and I'm afraid if we get any more they won't be very good to eat by the time he gets to them," California Chrome's co-owner Perry Martin said.

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FOR THE RECORD:

California Chrome: In the Jan. 9 Section A, an article about racehorse California Chrome's comeback referred to the San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 9. The race is Feb. 6. —
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It's common for horses to like cookies, but California Chrome will eat only this one brand.

Such idiosyncrasies do not make this former winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness all that different. It's everything else.

It's that such a champion horse came from such a humble breeding, a California-bred no less, and came within one race of winning the Triple Crown.

It's the troubled 4-year-old campaign Chrome suffered after he was shipped to England, to Chicago and then to Kentucky without ever running a race.

It's that Chrome is still running as a 5-year-old, a time when most champion horses have been sent to the breeding shed.

And, it's the legion of followers — called Chromies, more than 17,000 strong on Twitter — that show their support in any way possible.

"We had a lot of people wanting us to ship cookies to Dubai and England," said Stephanie Brown, co-owner of Mrs. Pastures. "Some even wanted a special cookie made for his fourth birthday. So, we made a special three-layer cookie for him."

The buckets of cookies sit outside a double-wide stall at Los Alamitos that Chrome's 78-year-old trainer Art Sherman calls a "suite.''

"The Chromies love to come by and see him," Sherman said.

Martin, owner of Martin Testing Laboratories in McClellan, Calif., says people drop by his office to shake his hand and talk about Chrome. "It's really enjoyable, we get Christmas cards and letters and people always want to send him cookies," Martin said.

Saturday, though, California Chrome will put the well wishers aside and get on the track at Santa Anita and run in his first race since March 28.

His comeback will be in the eighth race, the San Pasqual Stakes, run over 1 1/16 miles. A showdown with Dortmund, undefeated at Santa Anita, was scuttled when a less than satisfactory workout last weekend caused trainer Bob Baffert to possibly point him to the San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 6.

"This race, whether we win or lose it, isn't the goal," Martin said. "It's Dubai [World Cup]. Of course we would like to win them all."

If all goes well, California Chrome will head to the $10 million Dubai race to be run on March 26 and then look for at least one other race — maybe the Pacific Classic at Del Mar — before finishing his racing career in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

"I doubt England is on the agenda," Sherman said.

England is where things first went awry for Chrome last year. He finished a nice second in Dubai, earning $2 million, and was shipped to Royal Ascot to run in the Prince of Wales Stakes.

Sherman and former co-owner Steve Coburn thought Chrome needed a rest but Martin thought the opposite and he owned 70%. The day before the race, Chrome was scratched because of a bruised foot and abscess.

"I felt [going to England] was a pretty good plan, and I still do even knowing more now than I knew then," Martin said. "What they call a bone bruise is really a misnomer. It's actually caused by inactivity, which causes a loss of bone density. … The trip to England mitigated it."

Martin explained that in England, Chrome had a 45-minute walk to the galloping area, then the horse would run and follow with the same walk back to the barn and it was that exercise that kept the injury from being worse.

Chrome also lost a lot of weight, which Martin explained as being the English style of training because they can't use Lasix, a diuretic that flushes the system.

"They run them thinner there," Martin said.

Sherman saw the trip a different way.

"I wasn't saying I disagreed," Sherman said. "I just didn't think it was in the best interest of the horse to run in that race. He just needed some time off."

Things didn't improve from there as Chrome headed to Chicago to run in the Arlington Million.

"I remember the day of the flight to the states," Martin said. "I got five calls that he was nervous on the flight and not taking any water. I had to OK them giving him IV fluids but he still came out dehydrated."

As Chrome readied for the Million, a radiograph showed he had bruising on the foot. Sherman said he was being shut down for the year.

"The vet said we could run him in the Million if he were being retired at the end of the year, but we didn't do it," Martin said.

Then it was off to Kentucky for three months of R&R at Taylor Made Farm. In July, the farm had bought Coburn's stake in the horse and is set to be Chrome's new home when he retires from the track and is sent to stud.

"He came off [the rest] really strong," Sherman said. "He put on 120 pounds. … [The trouble] was a combination of his feet being bruised and that he wasn't happy. He missed his surroundings [in the U.S.]. Horses are funny that way. They enjoy the people they know. We spoil them a lot."

"I was disappointed in his 4-year-old year [season]," Martin said. "If we could get another year, I was in favor of it."

On this Martin and Sherman agree.

"I think because he missed almost all of last year we could bring him back," Sherman said. "If we can get lucky and win in Dubai he would be the richest thoroughbred ever. It's kind of a prestigious thing."

Chrome has won a little more than $6.3 million. The record holder is Curlin at around $10.5 million. First place in Dubai pays $6 million.

"It's a goal," Martin said. "But it wouldn't kill me if we didn't [get the record]."

Not a bad career for a horse that came from a $2,500 stud fee and an $8,000 mare. But has all this celebrity changed California Chrome?

"His personality has changed over the years. I miss the old days when he was a yearling and we would go to the pasture. He would recognize us and run over and all the other horses would follow him. He'd stick his nose in my chest. He was always playful," Martin said.

"Now that he's a grown up stallion, we have to respect each other's space. I don't want to get bit as he's trying to show everyone who's boss."

Martin may miss the old days but he and everyone else are embracing the new.

john.cherwa@latimes.com

Twitter: @jcherwa

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on January 09, 2016, in the News section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "California Chrome gets fans' love, and he just eats it up" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe

FOR THE RECORD

Jan. 11: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect date for the San Antonio Stakes. The race is Feb. 6, not Feb. 9. 

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