Photo of Heritage Farm Courtesy of Terry Conway
With a light mist falling California Chrome set foot on the main track at Pimlico Race Course for the first time. Surveying the new surroundings, the flashy chestnut colt let out a loud whinny to announce his presence before leisurely bouncing along the dirt track with exercise rider Willie Delgado aboard.
California Chrome’s life had come full circle.
Although bred in California, the Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner’s roots run deep in Maryland. There has been much talk of his obscure and unheralded breeding. The colt was sired by Lucky Pulpit ($2,000 stud fee) out of Love the Chase, purchased for a reported $8,000. But if you dive into the colt’s pedigree, you will discover the high-quality stallions that sired California’s Chrome’s dam and second dam.
The broodmare sire of California Chrome is Not For Love (by Mr. Prospector- Dance Number, by Northern Dancer) and the next dam is by Polish Numbers (by Danzig- Numbered Account by Buckpasser). Both have been stellar stallions at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, Md., owned by Richard Golden in partnership with the late Allaire duPont and Tom Bowman, D.V.M., until last year when Bowman left the organization after 25 years.
Both the dam and grandam of the colt — Love the Chase and Chase the Dream — were bred by Bowman and his partner Milton Higgins, III. They were foaled and raised at Tom and Chris Bowman’s 70-acre Dance Forth Farm in Chestertown, Md.
On a sparkling morning last week, I met with Bowman, his son Brooke, D.V.M. and Louis Merryman at their new Thoroughbred facility Heritage Stallions, a stone’s throw from Northview.
DR. TOM BOWMAN, LOUIS MERRYMAN AND BROOKE BOWMAN
Photo by Terry Conway
“California Chrome’s breeders hit the genetic lottery,” said Bowman, 72, a veterinarian specializing in horse reproduction who along with his wife, Chris, has been the leading breeder in Maryland six of the past eight years.
“What a storybook tale, regular Americans put the time and energy into this horse and it’s worked out beautifully. It’s a feeling of pride for me. It’s a pleasure to have been involved in the process. I reluctantly label it, retrospective genius.”
Last November, Bowman left Northview to join Brooke and Merryman and launch Heritage Stallions that operates on nearly 100 acres that formerly were part of the legendary Windfields Farm.
“The Northview partnership had run its course and it was time for a change,” Bowman said.
Turning into Heritage, a canopy of towering sycamore leads down to the broodmare barn and a series of paddocks on the rolling terrain. It is near where Northern Dancer, one of the world’s most influential sires, held court in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the initial roster of Heritage stallions are multiple stakes winner Hunter’s Bay, Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, graded stakes winner Street Magician and multiple Grade 1 winner Showing Up.
Photo by Terry Conway
Flash back to 1993. Bowman and Higgins are looking to add some quality to their broodmare band. They buy Chase the Dream, the third dam of California Chrome at the 1993 Keeneland November breeding stock sale for $52,000. Chase the Dream was a two-time stakes winner by Sir Ivor, an American-bred colt trained by the legendary Vincent O’Brien at Ballydoyle in Ireland. The winner of the 1968 Epsom Derby, Sir Ivor was celebrated for his devastating turn of foot. He won major races in Ireland, France, England and the U. S.
When purchased in 1993, Chase the Dream was in foal to Chief’s Crown, but she previously had not produced a foal for three seasons.
“When she stepped into the ring, I said to Milton, ‘oh man I wish we could afford her,’ ” recalled Bowman who attended his first Thoroughbred sale in 1972. He estimates he has bred more than 50 stakes winners.
“She was a big, strong, good-looking Sir Ivor mare, and he could run forever. If we were going to gamble on a big-time pedigree, one with a big-time race record, we had to give somewhere and that was her spotty history reproducing. For many years, I made a living taking care of older mares with these problems. I hoped that I could handle that as a veterinarian.”
Did he do anything special to turn around Chase the Dream’s problems?
“I didn’t do anything special with her, just treated like I did all my other mares,” he replied. “Most of the time, you just don’t know. It could be management, circumstances, the stallion throwing out a bad foal. My philosophy has always been to try and eliminate the obvious problems and hope for the best.”
Under Bowman’s guidance Chase the Dream went on to produce four consecutive foals for her new owners. In 1995, Chase the Dream was bred to El Gran Senor in a mating that produced three-times stakes winner Amourette. Then the partners bred her to Northview’s Polish Numbers (Danzig- Numbered Account, by Buckpasser).
“The idea was to take this big, strong mare that could go a distance and breed her to some American speed and come up with a horse somewhere in between,” Bowman said. “Most Danzig horses were small, but Polish Numbers was a big, tall stallion with a lot of leg, a beautiful horse. He was lightning quick, set a track record at Belmont. Yet he never won a stakes, which in a roundabout way helped us. There wasn’t much interest in him going to stud in Kentucky. But, right away Polish Numbers became a leading Maryland sire and was the foundation stallion for Northview.”
Chase the Dream delivered Chase It Down in 1997. She made nine starts for Higgins and Bowman Stable, breaking her maiden in her seventh try. Twice, Chase It Down was put on the market at the Timonium horse sales. Both times, her owners reconsidered and bought her back. Bowman’s daughter Becky Davis prepared her for the sales ring.
“She was very pretty, very smart and showed athletic tendencies as a yearling,” recalled Davis. “But she wasn’t much of a racehorse. Sent her to broodmare sale, but the number wasn’t very strong so I bought her back and we started to breed her to a few stallions.”
In 2006, Chase It Down was bred to Not For Love.
“Chase It Down was a taller, leaner mare, and we bred her to Not For Love because we wanted to add some depth to the body, more muscle and strength,” Davis said.
A superbly bred son of Mr. Prospector (out of Dance Number, by Northern Dancer), at age 24 Not For Love is still passing on good genes like his dad. Standing 15-hands tall, he is a solid, powerful horse. He is a full brother to 1989 champion 2-year-old male Rhythm. Although not as talented as his brother on the racetrack, Not For Love has proved to be the far better sire — leading the Maryland sires list for nine consecutive seasons from 2003 through 2011. Still active at Northview Stallion Station, where he stands for an advertised fee of $15,000, Not For Love has sired 75 stakes winners to date and has a sparkling 65% winners from named foals from his first 16 crops.
“Not For Love is one of my all-time favorite stallions, and in Maryland he has been great,” Bowman said. “He’s a modest-sized horse in the Northern Dancer mold. He was a modest racehorse with some conformation flaws that don’t breed through. There was a study done on stallion offspring where Not For Love and I believe Crafty Prospector were rated highest on a list for durability, longevity and soundness.”
The initial mating in 2003 of Not For Love and Chase It Down produced a colt by the name of Jojo’s Bandit who sold for $70,000 at the 2005 Fasig-Tipton July sale of selected yearlings. Though unraced, the colt’s imposing physique impressed Bowman and Higgins, so in 2005 they again booked Chase It Down to Not For Love, which resulted in Love the Chase.
LOVE THE CHASE AT HARRIS FARMS
Photo courtesy of Harris Farms
“She was not a very imposing animal, but she caught your eye — very pretty, very feminine and there was a kindness to her,” Davis remembered.
Trainer Greg Gilchrist purchased the filly for $30,000 at the 2008 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training.
He brought Love the Chase back to his Northern California base, where she would run for a partnership that included Blinkers On Racing Stable. A small filly, she scored one victory in six starts, all at Golden Gate Fields. Gilchrist suggested the group should look for a buyer. One of the owners in that group was Perry Martin who liked the filly. He teamed up with Steve Coburn and bought her for $8,000. Love the Chase ran twice more and was retired. Martin and Coburn decided to breed her to Lucky Pulpit. And, that’s where the saga of California Chrome begins.
“People ask me if I’m sorry we sold the mare, I’m really not,” Bowman reflected. “Love the Chase would never have wound up in California with Coburn and Martin and Lucky Pulpit. Art and Alan Sherman and their crew have done a heck of a job with this horse. Steve Coburn came up here during Preakness week to see Not For Love. I found him a very engaging guy. He told me when he hired Sherman he gave him a hand drawn map on the route from California to Churchill Downs. He’s terrific for the game.
“Look, you fool around with the genetics long enough, lightning strikes. Most of my friends in the business in Maryland have had that good fortune, like Country Life Farm with Malibu Moon. It all happened to come together in this brilliant colt, California Chrome.”
Photos courtesy of Harris Farms
So what if the colt wins the Triple Crown?
“This would be cool, to win the Triple Crown, really cool,” Bowman replied with a broad smile. “I would love to leave that to my grandchildren, a part of history. But I don’t get any more thrill out of that than the next 2-year old that wins a good race, because I have more hands on with the foals we deliver than this, which is sort of an ancillary thing. But, then again, I’m not giving it back.”