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posted: 6/28/2015 1:00 PM

How California Chrome found its way to Arlington

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  • The 2014 Horse of the Year, California Chrome, will race in the Arlington Million this August. Chrome won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year, but not the Belmont.

    The 2014 Horse of the Year, California Chrome, will race in the Arlington Million this August. Chrome won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year, but not the Belmont.
    Associated Press/2014 file

  • California Chrome is expected to be shipped to Arlington International in the next few weeks to prepare for the Arlington Million.

    California Chrome is expected to be shipped to Arlington International in the next few weeks to prepare for the Arlington Million.
    Associated Press/file

 
By Renee Griffin
rgriffin@dailyherald.com

The dynamics of horse racing are unique in the sports world. The stars are indifferent to contract negotiations, have no say in which races they'll run, and never know what time their plane departs for Dubai or Del Mar or Belmont. Yet, sending a horse to a race is a complicated process.

California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner that was painfully close to ending the Triple Crown drought before American Pharoah did it this year, will run in the Arlington Million on Aug. 15, but the decision to send the famed horse to Chicago didn't happen overnight.

In February, Arlington general manager Tony Petrillo and senior director of marketing and communications Howard Sudberry flew to California to meet Chrome, his owners, and his trainers.

"We knew at the beginning of the year that it was their intention as they mapped out their course to target the Arlington Million. Once we knew that, we visited the owners, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, and also met the trainer, Art Sherman, and assistant trainer Alan Sherman," Sudberry said. "We did met the horse ... he's a beautiful, beautiful chestnut racehorse. Very striking."

The trip wasn't the first time Sudberry and Petrillo acted as "Arlington ambassadors" by visiting a horse's team. Sudberry said he has traveled to races in England, France, Ireland and elsewhere to "thank" owners for running their horses at Arlington.

"We just went out as ambassadors to get to know them and their families and let them know that if they came to Arlington they would have an experience unlike any other, and that we would really roll out the red carpet for them," Sudberry said.

While in California, the two also visited Donegal Racing, which is sending 6-year-old Finnegans Wake, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic winner, to the Million.

Having Chrome in Arlington's stables is certainly a rarity, Sudberry noted.

"There's no question that there's something special about California Chrome, especially now on the heels of American Pharoah getting it done," Sudberry said. "California Chrome was enormously popular during his Triple Crown run. I remember when Tony and I were in California for the Santa Anita Derby last year, and there was an enormous ovation in the crowd as soon as Chrome walked on the track."

Several factors came together to prompt Chrome's owners to send the 2014 U.S. Horse of the Year to Arlington, namely its location, turf surface and attraction for fans.

"The race was always on their radar. Perry Martin is a Chicago native, so it was obviously attractive to him and made him want to run his great horse here," Sudberry said. "They really relished the opportunity to show him off in a different part of the country.

"Also, the Million is a turf race. Last December, Chrome ran the Hollywood Derby and won it easily, showing he can handle a grass race just fine."

Chrome is the most well-known horse to race through Arlington in quite some time. The park's history is dotted with legends such as War Emblem, Spectacular Bid, and Secretariat, though only one Kentucky Derby winner has even run the Million before - Gato Del Sol in 1984.

"There have been some great ones run at Arlington Million, and we can count California Chrome on that list," Sudberry said.

Given Chrome's popularity, Sudberry said Arlington officials were delighted when Martin emailed him that Chrome was a yes for the Million, especially after he suffered a bruised foot that precluded him from running at the Royal Ascot on June 15. The injury proved to be minor.

"Ever since we found out they were pointing him toward the Million, we've been keeping our fingers crossed," Sudberry said. "We were cautiously optimistic, but when we got confirmation after he missed the race at Ascot that he would come to Arlington, we were too thrilled for words."

The stallion will be shipped directly from England to Arlington, likely in the next few weeks, so his trainer can begin to prep him for the race. Chrome hasn't run since taking second at the Dubai World Cup on March 28.

California Chrome might be the most glamorous pick to win the Million, but Sudberry said he will certainly be challenged by the field.

"He'll have his work cut out for him in a Grade I stake that brings in top horses from all over the world," Sudberry said. "One thing he's got on the other horses that has nothing to do with his performance on the track is his star power, that's for sure."

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