Use him for a windbreak, a coat rack, a barn doorstop. It doesn’t matter to California Chrome as long as you set him free in his paddock for most of the day and have a bag of Mrs. Pastures horse cookies handy on demand.
n fact, the 2014 Horse of the Year and freshly minted Dubai World Cup winner has become one of the main attractions of the suddenly booming Kentucky horse-farm-tour business, which means Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville is a hot spot on the itinerary of any tour bus worth its biofuel.
Frank Taylor, the farm’s point man for all things Chrome, has been busy catering to visitors in the 2 1/2 weeks since the big horse returned to his future stallion home for a brief freshening. Taylor’s self-described radio-ready mug has been seen on any number of local television broadcasts alongside California Chrome, while the various social-media sites rarely let a day go by without a glimpse of California Chrome enjoying a slice of bluegrass life before getting back to work out West.
Now, Taylor is bracing for the onslaught of the next two weeks, when fans from all over the world descend upon Kentucky to add that drop in their bucket list labeled “Derby.” The idea of seeing a Kentucky Derby winner before they’ve seen the Kentucky Derby has a cool ring, let alone a Kentucky Derby winner who is still a racehorse.
“I bet I have 50 people a day come to the farm to see him,” Taylor said Wednesday during a lull between visitors. “Must have been a hundred already today. I let them go right into his stall and take a picture. As long as they’ve got those cookies, he won’t turn a hair.”
California Chrome is not the only Derby winner in town, and the tours know where to find them. Two of the most popular destinations are the Kentucky Horse Park, where Funny Cide and Go for Gin reside at the Hall of Champions, and Old Friends Equine, home of Silver Charm and War Emblem.
Of the 23 living Derby winners, 14 are in the Lexington area at the moment, including Triple Crown winner American Pharoah at Coolmore’s Ashford Stud.
“Of course, Ashford is a huge draw right now because of American Pharoah,” said Anne Sabatino Hardy, executive director of Horse Country Inc. “I love the comments we get from people who were excited to see Pharoah but were so happy they got to meet Thunder Gulch there as well.”
Thunder Gulch, 24, has retired as a stallion, but Fusaichi Pegasus, 19, still stands at Ashford. Smarty Jones is at Calumet Farm, Super Saver is at WinStar Farm, Orb is at Claiborne Farm, and Monarchos stands at Nuckols Farm. Darley America, formerly Jonabell, is home to both Animal Kingdom and Street Sense when they are not doing Southern Hemisphere duty in Australia later in the year.
Some 21 farms have joined Horse Country Inc. in an effort to promote and coordinate access for the myriad of tour companies crisscrossing the bluegrass during tourist season.
“Our goal is to provide really great inventory for their tours,” Hardy said. “Instead of stopping by the side of the road in front of Calumet, for example, you can actually pull into Darley, have someone tell you a great story and show you some horses.”
Kentucky horse-farm tours are not a new concept, existing in a patchwork world of independent operators and personal contacts who could arrange a private visit. The demand for farm tours grew to the point that Horse Country was formed in early 2015.
“Farm owners and breeders realize not only do they have a responsibility to welcome in the community and be a part of central Kentucky in a more proactive way,” Hardy said, “but also that it’s absolutely critical to racing fans that people have the experience to know the story of the horse.”
It’s also good for business.
“There are a whole lot of fans and breeders who come to town for the Derby,” Taylor said. “We thought having him here through Derby week would give us a chance to show him off a little before he goes back to work with Art Sherman.”
California Chrome has got no problem with that. If seeing on YouTube is believing, he has thrived on his brief break from a rigorous early season during which he won the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita, then spent more than two months in Dubai while winning a prep race and then the $10 million World Cup on March 26. His tentative return target would be the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 23 as a gateway to a possible start in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 20.
“He’s been pretty active,” Taylor said. “He’s right there in a paddock next to Graydar, and they’ve gotten to be buddies, although when we started leading Graydar back and forth to the breeding shed, Chrome did get kind of mad, so we rode him a little, and we’ve been hand-walking him an hour a day.”
Once the Derby has been run, California Chrome will join the West Coast horses heading home to begin his final chapter as a racehorse.
“So many plans in the horse business never come true,” Taylor said. “So far, this one has actually worked.”