Least-Likely: The California Chrome Movie
Screenplay by Alan Nafzger
California Chrome cost the racing equivalent of loose change and his owners still work day jobs. Under veteran trainer Art Sherman, California Chrome won the biggest prize of all. The owners named their stables “Dumb Ass Partners” because of the serious criticism.
The Hopes and Dreams Story
Before the Kentucky Derby, before the world even knew the horse’s name, racing people in California knew his potential.
One of the most memorable scene from this screenplay/movie is an incident at Los Alamitos racecourse. It was almost a disaster. The near-accident concerned two riderless horses who ran amok on Los Alamitos racecourse, while California Chrome was out for his routine exercise. In a move right out of a horror movie, one of the loose horses made a beeline for California Chrome, avoiding him by inches as he whizzed past on his flight back to his stable.
When the horses got loose, Art screams at the exercise jockey, “Get him off the track, get him off the track.” It is a scary scene. But Chrome just stood there saying, “Huh? What’s going on?” The horse is just so laid back, nothing bothers him.
Everyone who was there and saw it say, “The horse missed Chrome by that much,” and illustrate it with their hands a moderate-sized fish.
It looked like Chrome had a target on his back.
Dr Ed Allred, who owns Los Alamitos racecourse, ran down to the rail where Art Sherman was leaning over the rail. Allred said, “I’m so sorry. I can’t let anything happen to this horse. They would run me out of the state if this horse is injured.”
So, they took the decision to close the track when Chrome trains. Allred decides not to take a chance. Allred clears the track.
The problem was that hundreds of other racehorses descend upon Los Alamitos every morning during a narrow four-and-a-half hour training window, and some trainers would rather you take their first-born than take 20 minutes from their military-tight work schedule.
“I know a lot of people are going to whine and cry about this,” Sherman tells Allred.
Mike Harrington, one of those aggrieved trainers, rides up to the rail and leans over – stately, dark and glowering, as though Sergio Leone is sitting behind the camera directing him. “Well, Art,” he drawls. “My training schedule’s all screwed up ‘cos o’ you.”
There’s a momentary silence before Harrington grins broadly, the pretending over. He rides off, wholly unconcerned about the disruption.
Given the respect and sheer affection that Sherman and the horse are afforded, the scene clearly establishes the hopes of the California racing community for the team.
The Story of Old School Gentile Experience
At 77, Sherman has been a mainstay of the California racing circuit for more than 60 years, first as an exercise rider, then as a jockey, then as a trainer. In all his years as a trainer – 35 in total – he has had talented horses, but none nearly as gifted as California Chrome. Nor had he trained a starter in the Derby before.
But the septuagenarian with only 15 horses in his barn is only a part of why California Chrome is one of the unlikeliest and one of the most compelling major Derby contenders to emerge in years. Art doesn’t want 200 horses, never did. He runs a hands-on and personal operation. He is surrounded by “corporate trainers”, businessmen with an army of assistants that actually do the work.
While Art Sherman wasn’t born into a racing family, his family now is involved in some capacity or other: Sherman’s other son, Steve, is a successful trainer in Northern California while Sherman’s wife, Faye, used to run a race-track gift shop. The stable is very much a small family affair. And although he’s 77, he travels between barn and track as though he is battery operated. Behind his spectacles, his eyes seem never to rest – he may be amiable but he’s as alert as a Fox Terrier on a country walk.
It’s easy to like Sherman. Much has been written about how as a 15-year-old he used to exercise Swaps, who won the Derby in 1955.
Sherman was pretty illustrious as a jockey, too. He rode at tracks all around the country in a career that spanned 21 years. His album of memories is full of the weird and strangely wonderful – like the time President Nixon presented the trophy after he won a big race at Maryland. “I was surrounded by the FBI and the secret services. It turns out that we had gone to the same high school and the headlines the next day were, ‘Old Neighbors Meet.’”
This is a working class horse handled by working class men.
The Story of Two Dumb-Ass Partners
His owners, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn of the self-proclaimed Dumb Ass Partnership. They brought Love the Chase, California Chrome’s dam, for $8,000. They bred Love the Chase to an unproven California-based stallion called Lucky Pulpit for $2,500. The result is a millionaire horse, California Chrome.
To put that into some kind of perspective, Constitution, one of trainer Todd Pletcher’s former leading Derby hopes, cost $400,000 as a yearling at the sales. Constitution’s sire, Tapit, stands at stud for $150,000.
Co-owners Coburn and Martin Perry are simple “working-class folk” who commute hours every day to work – Coburn for a company that puts magnetic strips on credit cards, Perry for a consumer safety firm. Love the Chase was the first horse they owned outright, and her former owners were the inspiration behind the name of their partnership: “When we brought the filly for eight grand, they said to us that we were real dumbasses for doing it.”
The Story of Historic Race Track
Then you have the not-inconsiderable matter of where California Chrome is trained. Until the start of this year, Los Alamitos was a Quarter Horse track (some of the less equitable racing folk would say Quarter Horses are to Thoroughbreds what the National Enquirer is to National Geographic).
While most of Hollywood Park’s horsemen and women decamped to Santa Anita when the track closed in February, a good portion of the diaspora migrated to Los Alamitos – including Sherman. The track was widened in the winter to accommodate the refugees. A third of the centre-field still resembles a building site. And while Los Alamitos is not without its charms, it’s not the first place you would go scouting for a winner of one of the world’s richest and most recognizable races.
A Horse Race Story
The California Chrome story began a whisker off a year ago, when Sherman ran him in one of last season’s earliest two-year-old races, finishing second.
Most trainers don’t race two-year-olds early in the season. But Chrome thrived on running. He reminds everyone of the good horses from the old days, like Seabiscuit. This story will doing things that are kinda spooky for our oldest generation.
A brace of wins followed, but California Chrome looked vulnerable to higher-calibre horses each time Sherman upped him in class, util the King Glorious Stakes. The King Glorious was where Sherman realised for certain that California Chrome was a horse with a whole swag-bag full of potential. Chrome struck again in the California Cup Derby a month later, running out a resounding five-and-a-half-length winner. His next win, in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita, was even more decisive – he was never headed when skipping seven and a half lengths clear.
Despite piecing together a string of impressive performances, California Chrome was still somewhat overlooked by the naysayers who couldn’t quite picture a California-bred who had cost less than a second-hand Volkswagen winning a race that is generally the preserve of the equine Ferrari. Then came the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, earlier this month.
Story of a Horse with Heart
This script makes it clear; California Chrome has accomplished the greatest prize because of his temperament. This horse has a laissez-faire approach to life.
This script is available to any serious filmmaker or talent agent.
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