Meet 'The Chromies,' California Chrome's unprecedented fan base
As Maureen Pollock was rushed into heart surgery in May 2015, she thought of her children. And of California Chrome.
"Do the best job you can," she told the surgeons. "I want to see California Chrome race again."
At the time, no one knew whether the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner and American Horse of the Year would return to the racetrack. An ambitious plan for a triumph on the turf at the 2015 Royal Ascot in England would prove too much -- he withdrew with a bruised foot and returned to the United States.
But Pollock is a "Chromie," one of tens of thousands of fans who kept the faith. And this year, Chrome came back stronger than ever. On Aug. 20, Pollock watched from the grandstand at the Del Mar, California, racetrack for the TVG Pacific Classic. When the gates burst open, Chrome abandoned his usual stalking spot and leaped ahead of some of the nation's best horses. He sailed along on his own, with no further urging by jockey Victor Espinoza, and won the race.
"Praise the Lord," Pollock texted to a friend.
The Chromies, a large majority of whom are women, are a fan group unprecedented in modern-day horse racing. Many top racehorses, including Zenyatta (the first mare to win the Breeders' Cup Classic), Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and undefeated filly Songbird, have official Facebook pages, but Chrome's following surpasses that.
Chrome not only has an official page, but fans run many other pages -- "Everything California Chrome," "California Chrome - Up Close," "Paddock Chronicles," "Mucho Chrome," "Bring Chrome Home" and others -- all filled with joy for Chrome's amazing year of six-straight wins:
"It's amazing how this horse can bring us so much happiness, new friendships, and everything there is to be a Chromie."
"We love you Chrome. You lift our spirits in this crazy world today."
"He has worked so hard ... came from 'nothing' ... and now on the absolute top of his game ... HE IS THE AMERICAN DREAM ..."
The rare combination of a super horse, loving people, unprecedented access, a longer-than-usual racing career and social media has nurtured the nation of Chromies. They've even fallen in love with those around him, including trainer Art Sherman, 79, groom Raul Rodriguez and exercise rider Dihigi Gladney, who are always by his side. The Chromies also cheered jockey Espinoza when he won the Triple Crown atop American Pharoah last year.
"Can anyone say enough about you Raul Rodriquez? I do not think so!! The hard work, dedication, tireless days and nights grooming to keep the most famous horse on our planet today feeling Healthy, Happy, Safe, and Loved [sic]."
"Thank you so much for sharing all the videos and photos, I love watching him, he is perfection at its best!! What an awesome team he has behind him and thanks for taking such great care of him!!"
After Chrome returned from England last year, his former owner Steve Coburn sold his minority share to Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Founded by the late Joe Taylor and four of his sons, the farm is now the largest thoroughbred sales agent in the nation.
Though the Taylors had never been involved much in racing horses, they checked Chrome over, rested him and decided to have fun. And the owners of top-class mares, who will be bred to Chrome, joined the syndicate.
"I'd like to inspire people through Chrome," Taylor Made president Duncan Taylor said after a Chrome fan day last September.
During Chrome's time off last fall at the farm, about 500 fans were allowed to pet, hug and kiss their hero. (Another 500 visited him in April.) They met a kind and intelligent stallion that lives up to their idolization. Tours of the farm reassured Chromies that he will have a wonderful home for his stallion career.
"Aren't they just the answer to all our prayers...more than I could have ever expected."
"I can't thank you enough for your postings -- they really make a person feel like they were there and for those of us left on the outside looking in -- well, it makes you feel more a part of things!"
On Oct. 1, Duncan Taylor was at Santa Anita Park awaiting Chrome's race that afternoon, handing out "Vote Chrome for President" buttons. There there's now even a "California Chrome for President" Facebook page.
"Chrome is the only one who brings people together."
What does Chrome think of his Chromies? "He loves the attention," said his spokesman Alan Sherman. "When he starts hearing cameras click, he'll prick his ears and pose. He's the man."