November 30, 2023

A Day at the Races: Chrome, Chromies, & the World’s Richest Race

words & photos my MELANIE MARTINES

I can’t believe how quickly time has flown by since I arrived at Gulfstream Park four days before the inaugural Pegasus Stakes.

With my camera in-hand and passion to feed my soul, I traveled cross country not only for the richest race in the world but also California Chrome’s final race. Of course, the event itself had me overflowing with excitement, but the notion that this was my first visit to Gulfstream in Florida made it far more exhilarating.

Plus–as those who follow me on social media already know–I’m a Chromie, and for that reason alone the trip was a bittersweet journey for me. This was California Chrome’s last moments on the racetrack before retiring to Taylor Made Stallions in Kentucky. I have followed Chrome around the world throughout his racing career, and this trip was extra special to me.

The days to follow was about racing memories that we could look back upon; whether in a photo or a video. If I can emotionally move you, then I am doing my job.  It was a week filled with many photo opportunities. So here’s to a Flashback Friday, of my trip to the Pegasus World Cup! Enjoy!

Day 1, I’ve made it! After a red-eye flight to Florida, nothing was more special than bumping into fellow Chromies! Time for a Selfie! Rise and shine Fort Lauderdale, Chromies in the house! Here is Jean from Las Vegas, and her sister Jan from Los Angeles.

After getting settled in, I made my way to the track to get acclimated. The statue of Pegasus was an incredible sight to see. Rising a 100 feet in the air, the Pegasus defeating the dragon is the second tallest statue in the United States after the statue of Liberty. It’s made of 330 tons of steel, and 132 tons of bronze. Simply amazing!

Good Morning Gulfstream Park! The beautiful chilled morning felt like a gift from Mother Nature. First day on site, I explored the track. It was not a very large track, but the sights were beautiful, and it’s always a thrill to explore somewhere new.

Keeping up with California Chrome meant an extra early wake-up call. The champ was on the track before the crack of dawn, and so were we.

Stretching his legs so early in the morning made it very difficult to get any good photos. The sun had not greeted the new day, and in the darkness I could barely see Chrome through my lens

As the mornings progressed, the Pegasus World Cup contenders were out for their morning gallops in preparation for the big race on Saturday.

Barn 15 was a happy place to be, as we all got to spend some time after his morning gallops with the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Arrogate. He is a striking horse, so calm and sweet. You could be right in his face and he would not mind at all. He stood still, and stared off while we couldn’t get enough of his beauty. I just could not believe how a warrior on the racetrack could be so gentle and kind. I was in awe. His demeanor reminded me a lot like American Pharoah.

Friday fast approached. The day had come for California Chrome’s final appearance on the track as he finished his final preparation for the $12,000,000 Pegasus World Cup. Team Chrome and Media follows him onto the track.

Another early morning, but I managed to capture this photo of California Chrome as he stood majestically on the track with the Pegasus statue glowing in the background. This photo will be etched in my memory forever. Groom Raul Rodriquez, Assistant Trainer Alan Sherman and Exercise Rider Dihigi Gladney all seemed to have a smile on their face as they stood there for a minute; just taking it all in. Just one more day before show time!

Another shot of California Chrome as he took his bath. All eyes were on the Champ that morning.

Finally it was race day, and the spectacle of the crowd added to the build up toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic rematch between California Chrome and Arrogate.

There are two sides to every story and for the connections of California Chrome the way he ended his racing career is not what they had hoped for. Sadly, it was not the storybook ending. During the race he had suffered an injury to his right knee. He was eased up and finished 9th in the race, more than 29 lengths behind the eventual winner, Arrogate. Luckily the injury was nothing major and media was notified that Chrome would be departing Florida to Kentucky as scheduled the next morning. When Sunday arrived, I went back to the track to bid my farewell to the champ that I had fallen in love with. The weather mirrored how we all felt that morning. Florida was weeping for the anticipated departure of North America’s all-time leading money earner, California Chrome. Compared to the previous mornings, it was a cold, wet and dreary day. I was so happy to see that Chrome was his normal self, demanding cookies if you went up to bid your farewell. It was a very sad moment as we all followed him to the van documenting his every move. We tried our best to hold it together, but after we watched the van drive away; we all shed a tear of sadness as he will be dearly missed. A bittersweet ending to such a wonderful career. He loved the race track, he loved posing for the camera and he will always love Mrs. Pastures cookies!

Thanks to the connections of 2016 Horse of the Year, California Chrome who graciously shared him with us all these wonderful years. It has been an amazing journey! His presence in this industry has changed the lives of many people who will forever call themselves Chromies! We will look forward to his new future at Taylor Made Stallions.

Melanie Martines is a freelance photojournalist based in Las Vegas. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram