Synchronicity? Kismet? Or coincidence? Most media outlets have already related the story of how Art Sherman – who became the oldest trainer ever to saddle a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner when California Chrome galloped off with the 140th renewal of the great race, had made his last trip to the Twin Spires as exercise rider for Cal-bred Swaps, the Kentucky Derby hero of 1955.
While some might say that ending was written in the stars, or in the cards, depending on what method of divination appeals, we might also say that it’s written in California Chrome’s DNA, as he’s not only from the same female line as Swaps, but his dam is inbred to an outstanding mare who has Swaps as her broodmare sire.
California Chrome’s family goes back to Pierre Lorillard’s fine foundation mare, Wanda, and has been producing Derby winners for a century. The best filly of her crop at two and three, Wanda won 12 of 24 races, often facing and defeating some of the leading colts of her day. Two of Wanda’s foals, Glacier and Urania won stakes, and through the latter, Wanda made an early impression on European racing. Urania’s daughter, Armenia, a top-class runner in the U.S., where she won the Matron Stakes, was brought to France, where she produced Durbar II, who captured the 1914 renewal of the Epsom Derby (would subsequently become broodmare sire of Boussac’s foundation sire, Tourbillon). Urania’s branch of Wanda’s family would enjoy another classic triumph in 1966, when Kauai King, a son of Native Dancer tracing to Armenia’s sister, Rezia, took the Kentucky Derby.
Countess Wanda, the next link between Wanda and California Chrome, was foaled in 1902, ten years after Urania. She also produced two stakes winners in Fairy Wand (subsequently dam of the Dwyer Stakes winner Genie, and the Hopeful Stakes winner Epithet) and Planutess, who continues the story. Planutess bred the minor stakes winner, Paavo, and is third dam of Flying Heels (a top-class sprinter whose daughter, Throttle Wide, founded a family that includes Bernardini, Relaxed Gesture and Muthathir), and of the stellar broodmare, Uncle’s Lassie. The dam of five stakes winners, Uncle’s Lassie and her descendents would take the Derby connections of the family to a whole new level. She produced a Kentucky Derby winner herself in the Man o’ War gelding Clyde Van Dusen, who scored in 1930. Her four-time black-type winning daughter Betty Derr, was bred to War Admiral, and came up with Clyde Van Dusen’s close relative, Iron Maiden. She won the Del Mar Handicap, but more importantly, became dam of Iron Liege (upset Kentucky Derby winner over a field that included Bold Ruler, Round Table and Gallant Man), and granddam of Swaps.
Betty Derr’s daughter, Judy Rae (by Beau Pere, and a three-quarters sister to Iron Reward the dam of Swaps), was a stakes winner and stakes producer, and is ancestress of numerous high-class runners, including a Kentucky Derby runner-up in Strodes Creek. Judy Rae’s Princequillo daughter, Princess Matoaka, numbered the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) victor Palauli, and the Irish group placed Ribot filly, Princess Ribot, among her offspring. Princess Ribot turned out to be another outstanding broodmare from the family, her most notable offspring being Champion Older Mare Cascapedia. It’s Princess Ribot’s unraced daughter, La Belle Fleur (by Vaguely Noble), who figures as the fourth dam of California Chrome. Bred to Sir Ivor, La Belle Fleur came up with California Chrome’s third dam, Chase the Dream. There are at least a couple of points of interest about Chase the Dream, one of which is that she had a very fancy pedigree for a New York-bred. The other is that despite being by an Epsom Derby winner, out of a mare by a Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, out of a mare by a two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner, out of a mare by the foremost U.S. stayer of his dam, Chase the Dream was quick enough to win her maiden at six furlongs on the dirt, and to capture state-bred stakes over a mile and over 8½ furlongs, as well as run third in the Tempted Stakes (gr. III).
At this point, as we’ve mentioned, we have several generations of the family crossed with top-class middle-distance or middle-distance staying types (Sir Ivor, Vaguely Noble, Ribot and Princequillo). With Chase the Dream, however, there was something of a change of direction. She did produced Amourette, an El Gran Senor stakes winner who scored at up to 11 furlongs, but for the last of her five foals, she visited Polish Numbers. This was a significant drop in class from the stallions the family had been bred to in the preceding four generations, at least as performance was concerned (Polish Numbers never won a stakes event), but was also a change in aptitude (an allowance winner sprinting, Polish Numbers had taken his shot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) on his final start).
The result of the Polish Numbers – Chase the Dream mating, California Chrome’s granddam, Chase it Down, was a modest performer who scored her only victory in 6½ furlong maiden at Charles Town. Bred to Not For Love, Chase it Down produced California Chrome’s dam, Love the Chase. That mare’s only win came in a one mile $8,000 maiden claimer at Golden Gate, where she was acquired by California Chrome’s breeders.
While Love the Chase may have been somewhat challenged athletically, she was the result of a rather clever pedigree. Not For Love, who was only stakes placed as a runner, before going on to a very successful career as a regional sire in Maryland, was a very well-bred horse. By Mr. Prospector out of the grade one winning Northern Dancer mare, Dance Number, he was a brother to the Champion Two-Year-Old and Travers Stakes (gr. I) winner, Rhythm, and to Get Lucky (a graded stakes winner who appears as second dam of Kentucky Derby victor Super Saver), and three-quarters brother to Woodman. Dance Number was out of Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Numbered Account, also dam of the very good sire, Private Account, and of Love the Chase’s broodmare sire, the previously mentioned Polish Numbers. As a result, Love the Chase is inbred 3 x 3 to Numbered Account, the duplication coming via the three-quarters sister/brother Dance Number and Polish Numbers. Similarly, Numbered Account herself is 2 x 3 to the three-quarters sisters Busanda and Striking (both by War Admiral out of daughters of La Troienne). Oh, and for good measure, Numbered Account is out of Intriguing, a daughter of none other than Swaps.
There is little to knock about the pedigree of California Chrome’s sire, Lucky Pulpit, who is by Pulpit (whose son, Tapit, got the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner the previous day) out of Cozzene’s daughter, Lucky Soph, a three-quarters sister to the dam of Unbridled’s Song. Lucky Pulpit enjoyed his greatest success as an off-the-pace short-course turf specialist, scoring his only stakes win in the five furlong Smile Stakes as a four-year-old. He did, however, come within a nose of winning the one mile Pinjara Stakes at two, and ran a good second in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) over 8½ furlongs at three. The reversion to shorter distances with, and the come from behind style when sprinting is a pattern that one might expect to see with a horse with breathing problems, and apparently Lucky Pulpit did in fact have issues in that department.
Retired to Harris Farms, California, where he was advertised at a fee of $2,500 for 2014, Lucky Pulpit has always looked at least useful in the region. He had 19 starters and 18 winners from a first crop of 25 foals, including the multiple stakes winner Luckarack. His second crop has come up with 16 winners from 19 starters, from 23 foals, including Rousing Sermon, a two-time stakes winner, who took second in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and ran eighth in the 2012 Kentucky Derby. There were 10 winners from 12 starters from Lucky Pulpit’s third crop, and California Chrome is one of 23 foals (19 starters and eight winners) in his fourth crop. Overall, he’s had 52 winners from 87 foals, and 69 starters (75% winners to starters), with three stakes winners and seven total stakes horses. Overall, not a bad haul for a $2,500 stallion.
California Chrome is TrueNicks rated A on the basis of the A.P. Indy/Not For Love cross, and we can also note that Pulpit and sons have sired eight stakes winners from 66 starters with Not For Love’s three-quarters brother, Woodman, in the dam, four of them graded. It was also a mating between A.P. Indy and Not For Love’s sister, Get Lucky, that produced Supercharger, the dam of Super Saver. From an inbreeding and linebreeding standpoint, apart from the Numbered Account duplication in the dam, we can also note that California Chrome has Mr. Prospector 4 x 3, that horse being out of a mare by Nashua, who was upset by Swaps in the Derby, but came back to defeat his rival (who was at less than peak fitness) in a match race and earn Horse of the Year honors.
Overall, there is no really obvious magically connection between Lucky Pulpit and Love the Chase. Due to the previously breathing problem, Lucky Pulpit almost certainly possessed more athletic talent than his career stats might indicate, and looking at the mare, the two crosses with well-bred regional sires – Not For Love and Polish Numbers – which followed on from several generations of top-class matings, did give the potential for the top-class mare Numbered Account to make a significant contribution to the gene pool. So, the pedigree does have strengths that the line “by a $2,500 sire out of an $8,000 mare” don’t truly reveal, but it’s also the type of long odds mating which, in general, is highly unlikely to produce high-class runners on a regular basis.