Although the first California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby since Decidedly in 1962, California Chrome comes from a branch of a major Kentucky female family that migrated from the Bluegrass to New York and Maryland before being transplanted across the country to the Golden State.
Part of the reason the best racehorse from this branch of the family in recent years returned to Kentucky in glory was the quality of the stallions who sired California Chrome's dam and second dam. The broodmare sire of California Chrome is the significant Maryland sire Not for Love (Mr. Prospector), and the next dam is by Polish Numbers. Both stallions were major contributors to the success of Northview Stallion Station in Maryland, owned by Richard Golden in partnership with Tom Bowman, DVM, until last year when Bowman left the organization.
Both mares were bred by Bowman and his partner Milton Higgins III in Maryland.
In a cell phone conversation on Monday, Bowman said that “Not for Love is my all-time favorite stallion, and in Maryland, he has been great. 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.”
All the great genetic potential of Not for Love and the other relations of California Chrome united in the Kentucky Derby winner. Bowman said the colt's breeders “hit the lottery. This was the genetic lottery that paid off.”
When he bred Love the Chase, the dam of the Derby winner, Bowman combined two descendants of champion 2-year-old filly Numbered Account (Buckpasser), and he was “cognizant of the repetition of Numbered Account and Buckpasser and encouraged by it, rather than the reverse.”
The other line of Numbered Account came from the sire of the second dam, Chase It Down. She was a daughter of Polish Numbers, a son of Numbered Account. Bowman said that Polish Numbers was “big, tall, lot of leg, and very good-looking. He was always near the top of the list for the career longevity of his progeny.
“Polish Numbers was also lightning fast. He set a track record at Belmont” but did not win a stakes. That kept the horse from going to stud in Kentucky, but such was Maryland's gain. Polish Numbers immediately became a leading sire and was the foundation stallion for Northview.
Bowman recalled that early in the career of Polish Numbers, “we got an offer for eight or eight and a half million from breeders in Japan. I don't know if rejecting it was economically right, but it was the right thing to do in establishing the farm and becoming a significant participant in the state's breeding program.”
To establish these stallions, Bowman and partners bought nice mares and bred their foals in the Maryland program. One of those they secured came to them by way of the equally committed New York breeder John Hettinger, who bred the Kentucky Derby winner's third dam, Chase the Dream.
Hettinger bred and raised Chase the Dream at his Akindale Farm and sold her as a yearling at the 1985 Saratoga select yearling sale for $260,000. Chase the Dream became a stakes winner in restricted company at 2 and 3 and graded stakes-placed in the G3 Tempted as a juvenile.
Selected and purchased by Wayne Lukas for Gene Klein, Chase the Dream became a multiple stakes winner, and, in foal for the first time on a cover to the Secretariat stallion Pancho Villa, sold for $355,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Night of the Stars sale in 1988. The buyer was Louie Roussel. Then, after the great bloodstock depression of the late 1980s, Chase the Dream sold at the 1993 Keeneland November, in foal to Chief's Crown, for $52,000.
The mare's value crashed also because in the four years between producing the Pancho Villa filly in 1986 and her sale, Chase the Dream had not managed to produce a single live foal. Sold to Milton Higgins III, who owned the mare in partnership with Bowman, Chase the Dream went on to produce four consecutive foals for her new owners.
The best of these was stakes winner Amourette (El Gran Senor), and the last foal out of the mare was Chase It Down (Polish Numbers), who is the second dam of the Kentucky Derby winner.
Bowman's daughter, Becky Davis, prepared Chase It Down for the sales. Davis said, “She was very pretty and very smart.” The partners bought her back for $40,000, and she did not perform up to expectations. Davis said, “Chase It Down showed athletic tendencies as a yearling,” and the mare did become a winner, then was retired to the paddocks, where she became a modest producer of winners.
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.
The initial foal by Not for Love that Chase It Down produced was the mare's second foal, a colt by Not for Love that sold for $70,000 at the Fasig-Tipton July sale of select yearlings. Named Jojo's Bandit, he was unraced, but the colt's outstanding physique caused the partners to return Chase It Down to Not for Love, and the result was Love the Chase, a chestnut who managed a maiden victory from six starts but now has produced a Kentucky Derby winner.
California Chrome is the first foal of Love the Chase, and she has a yearling filly and a filly of 2014 by Lucky Pulpit, the sire of the Derby winner.
Whatever they accomplish, they are full sisters to a Kentucky Derby winner, and California Chrome is the biggest winner in the great genetic lottery that spins across time and generations.
In its deep roots, this family goes back to the great American family of Selima, a foal of 1745 who was born in England, imported to the colonies, and became one of the great and lasting foundation lines of the American Thoroughbred.
This branch comes through Uncle's Lassie and her daughter Betty Derr (Sir Gallahad III). It is also the family of 1929 Kentucky Derby winner Clyde Van Dusen (Man o' War), a half-brother to Betty Derr, and of the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps (Khaled) and 1957 Derby winner Iron Liege (Bull Lea).
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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