Racing’s ‘Other Chrome’ Making a Name for Himself
Thursday, September 29, 2016 Thoroughbred Daily News
Texas Chrome | Hodges Photography
By Joe Bianca
Stop me if you’ve heard this storyline before: A modestly bred horse with the word “Chrome” in his name stringing together an impressive winning streak heading into the Breeders’ Cup. A horse with low-profile connections showing remarkable consistency and determination on big stages and developing a fan following thanks to his heroics.
No, he’s not quite as fast or as world-renowned as Horse of the Year favorite California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit), and his career earnings pale in comparison. But for a couple of southern boys, a cheap yearling purchase has turned into the horse of a lifetime, and Texas Chrome (Grasshopper) just continues to one-up himself.
Gamely prevailing over heavily favored Sharp Azteca (Freud) in the Prelude S. Aug. 6 at Louisiana Downs, the bay followed that win up with a similarly tenacious score in the Bossier City track’s GIII Super Derby Sept. 10, becoming the first horse since 2010 to complete the double encompassing those two stakes. Running back on just 15 days rest this past Sunday, Texas Chrome overcame traffic trouble and produced a brave rail rally–despite being put in perilously tight in deep stretch by runner-up Sticksstatelydude (First Dude)–to capture the GIII Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.
“There’s nothing any person has ever done in his career to make that horse do what he did in that situation,” said J.R. Caldwell, Texas Chrome’s conditioner. “It’s just amazing. He’d given it all he had to get to that point, and to be able to dig down and find more to get him past and get the win, it’s awesome for racing, because you live for those moments.”
Danny Keene’s Keene Thoroughbreds LLC bought Texas Chrome, who so far has amassed $842,462 in earnings, for $10,000 at the October 2014 Fasig-Tipton Texas yearling sale. The 71-year-old Keene, who built a successful plumbing contracting business in North Texas with his wife, has 65 horses, mostly homebreds, and is one of the most active owners in the Texarkana area. He branched out to purchase five horses from the eighth session of the recently concluded Keeneland September yearling sale for a total of $234,000, going to $80,000 for Hip 2329, a colt by Midnight Lute.
Keene was another one of many awed by Texas Chrome’s gameness in the Oklahoma Derby. “I was there and was standing down on the finish line,” Keene related. “I was pretty nervous when I saw he was boxed in with nowhere to go, he really couldn’t swing out. C.J. [McMahon] is a heck of a jockey, he saw that little gap there, and it amazed me how fast Chrome went to it. He asked him to go to it and he was in there like a bullet. Of course he was inside of that other horse and my first thought was ‘we’re going to get beat by a head,’ and just about the time I thought that, Chrome just pinned them ears a little bit further, he had them pinned, but he pinned them flat, and just went into overdrive. It just shows how much heart, how much guts he has. Him and the jockey both.”
Texas Chrome graduated on debut last May at Lone Star, the first of three consecutive victories to start his career. Third in Retama’s Texas Stallion S. in September, the bay easily conquered the Governor’s Cup S. Oct. 12 at Zia Park before finishing a dull fifth in the Clever Trevor S. Nov. 6 at Remington in his final start for trainer Shea Stuart.
“That was the only bad race he’s had,” Keene recalls. “He came up sore and I noticed it, so I took him to the doctor in Oklahoma and had surgery done on him. I carried him home, rehabbed him, and when I returned him to the track at Oaklawn with J.R., I said ‘you know, I’d sure like to try this colt in something long.’”
Unable to do that right away, Texas Chrome instead made his sophomore debut with a good, closing third in the six-furlong Bachelor S. Apr. 15 in Hot Springs. Finally getting to stretch out one month later, he dominated another Texas Stallion S. going a mile at Lone Star and put up respectable finishes when third in the GIII Matt Winn S. June 18 at Churchill Downs and second in the GIII Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows 13 days later, his most recent loss.
Steadily getting better, Texas Chrome has equaled or improved upon his previous high Beyer figure in every race this year. Caldwell and Keene deflect credit for that development onto the colt.
“Just a real classy, classy horse,” Caldwell offered. “He’s just accepted everything we’ve asked him to do. Anything you throw at him, he handles. He’s matured as a 3-year-old and just kind of grew into himself to be very good.”
Keene added: “He’s an amazing horse. He’s so easy to handle. He’s like walking around with a pony until you get him on the track. When he gets on the track, he knows what it’s all about. When I carried him home for that rehab, I took care of him myself and he’s such a gentleman. A very unusual horse. I just love him to death.”
The star of his stable will not get a date with his more well-known namesake this November, as Texas Chrome will point to the GI Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, while California Chrome eyes the Classic. A future encounter may still be in the works though, as Keene’s colt has afforded him a chance to think long-term, both on and off the track.
“I’d like to try him another year to see what he’s capable of,” Keene confirmed. “When I’m through, I will stand him at stud. He’s got heart, and that’s hard to find in a horse.”