This past weekend, Casey Cromer convinced two of her friends they should spend their fall break taking a 10-hour road trip. The three girls, all studying veterinary medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, loaded up a car and headed south. Their destination was not a beach or a major city, but rather, they were driving to Kentucky to visit with 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome.
"I pitched it pretty hard," said Cromer. "I followed Chrome since he was a 2-year-old. Who couldn't love a horse with four white stockings and a gorgeous blaze? When I heard he was coming to Taylor Made, I was really excited because it is a farm that is known to be incredibly open to the public. They really want to gain people's support for the sport. I got two friends, fellow horse girls, to go with me for fall break. They wanted to learn more about racehorses, so it was a win-win."
Cromer planned it all out, Sarah Hummel had a road-worthy car, and Alyssa Cornelius had equal enthusiasm for the trip. So, they spent the time off from their studies touring Taylor Made Farm during its California Chrome Fan Day Weekend.
"I knew of California Chrome, but Casey is one of my best friends, and I thought it would be an amazing opportunity to learn some more and get a hands on feel for the industry," said Cornelius. "Plus it is Lexington, so why not?"
Taylor Made bought out Steve Coburn's ownership in California Chrome earlier this year. The 4-year-old colt has been resting at the farm after bone bruising was discovered, but all parties involved wish to race him again in 2016 due to his abbreviated 2015 campaign. Duncan Taylor, the president of Taylor Made, reiterated over the weekend that the plan remains to X-ray the colt this week, and if all is well, he will return to Art Sherman's barn in mid-October.
Our stallion crew has done an awesome job," said Taylor. "He had the bone bruising, and we said while he is here let's make sure everything is right. Dr. Larry Bramlage has told us 95% of horses come back to normal after bone bruising. We are hoping for a good outcome, but we will let the horse tell us. We aren't going to force the horse to do something his body isn't ready for.
"Art's son Alan was just out here and liked everything about the way Chrome looked and how he is coming along. They are excited for this next year of racing. We think if he can come back to his previous form that he can win a lot more races, fans can enjoy him, we can earn some purse money, and everybody will be happy."
So why take the time to throw open the barn doors and invite any and all to the farm? Because Taylor Made, a family-run organization, sees the benefit of doing so.
"In Kentucky, we are changing our mindset," said Taylor. "We've started a thing called Horse Country, where 28 farms have gotten together, and we are inviting people in to see what we do and see behind the scenes. To have a horse like this, we just want to share him with people and let them be able to enjoy the horse."
For three days, Taylor Made hosted fans from across the country. Two different types of visits were offered: a tour of the stallion complex and a visit with California Chrome or a more involved tour that also allowed fans to see the barn where 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was raised and the mare/foal divisions.
Taylor Made also set up a tent with California Chrome souvenirs for sale and gave fans a free poster. The first tour option was completely free, while the second involved a small fee, but both required a ticket that could be requested online. They sold out quickly, leading the farm to add more visiting times.
"We didn't really know what to expect," said Taylor "Laura Donnell, who does public relations for us, has done a good job of organizing and getting this together. She said we ought to get it ticketed, even if we aren't going to charge for it, so we would know how many people are coming. We feel blessed we have this many people that love the horse, and we want to share him."
Around 500 people took advantage of the offer.
"I came out to see these beautiful Thoroughbreds," said Theresa Williams, who was visiting from nearby Versailles, Kentucky. "They are just unbelievable and awesome. I can't say enough. It is just such an opportunity and thrill to see them up close and in person. It was very, very nice Taylor Made made this happen. I have a lot of equine art in my gallery, so I love to see the racehorses. To see the horses up close is great, and I encourage others to come visit."
Sometimes the simplest things have the biggest impact. It is true that some of the people who visited with California Chrome were there simply to visit. They may never become breeders or owners or even bettors. That doesn't mean the weekend was without value.
In the case of Williams, art and horses go together very naturally. For Cromer, a trip like this confirmed what she already knew. When she graduates, her dream job is working with Thoroughbred mares and foals in Kentucky. For her friends, they got to understand the racing industry a little better and now have a crazy story to tell others about that time they drove to Kentucky to see a horse.
That kind of positive exposure is priceless.