After three meetings in 2014, California Chrome and Bayern faced each other again at last month’s Eclipse Awards when Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome took the Horse of the Year title with 143 votes to Bayern’s 36. The verdict on the track had been rather different. California Chrome had won the first of their exchanges in the Preakness (pictured, California Chrome close to the pace in purple with the green cap, Bayern one from the back in the ‘stars and stripes’), the only triple crown race which Bayern contested, but Bayern evened the score when beating California Chrome into sixth in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby four months later. Their closest encounter then came in the Breeders’ Cup Classic where Bayern again came out on top, this time holding on with just a nose and a neck between him and California Chrome in third.
Even leaving aside the controversy over Bayern’s manoeuvre leaving the stalls in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Shared Belief’s claims to being better than either of them (he was fourth in the Classic after being hampered early on, and recently beat California Chrome in the San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita), there’s more than a hint of unfinished business in the rivalry between California Chrome and Bayern. It’s certainly closer than the Horse of the Year voting would suggest, and there’s potential for further clashes between the pair in 2015, maybe as early as next month’s Dubai World Cup.
Much has been made of the contrasting backgrounds of the two horses. On the one hand, there was the Bob Baffert-trained Bayern, a $320,000 breeze-up purchase sired by the Grade 1 (Suburban Handicap) winner Offlee Wild. On the other, there was the Californian-bred California Chrome, trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, the oldest trainer to win a Kentucky Derby, by a sire (Lucky Pulpit) standing for $2,500 out of a mare who had cost $8,000.
Much less has been made of the fact that California Chrome and Bayern, for all their apparent differences, are actually related. It’s a relatively distant relationship admittedly, but tracing back no further than the mid-twentieth century. Go back through seven generations of mares in California Chrome’s female line, and just five in Bayern’s pedigree, and you find their common ancestress in the mare Judy-Rae.
Her photograph shows her in the same Santa Anita winner’s enclosure that her great great great grandson Bayern was to enter after the Breeders’ Cup Classic. She had just gained the most important of her three career victories, in the 1946 Anita Chiquita Stakes, and seems fascinated by the attentions of the photographer! Also in shot is Judy-Rae’s owner in the dark hat, the Hollywood legend Louis B. Mayer – the second ‘M’ in MGM.
Judy-Rae was from a family of Kentucky Derby winners long before California Chrome came along generations later. Her dam’s half-brother, the gelding Clyde Van Dusen (named after his trainer) won the 1929 Kentucky Derby, while Judy-Rae’s half-sister Iron Maiden became both dam and grandam of two Kentucky Derby winners of the 1950s. Iron Maiden’s son Iron Liege won the Kentucky Derby in 1957 but that was two years after Iron Maiden’s own daughter Iron Reward (a daughter of Beau Pere, like Judy-Rae) had beaten her to it with her son the 1955 winner Swaps.
The Californian-bred Swaps (only the second Cal-bred to win the Kentucky Derby; California Chrome was the fourth), whose teenage exercise rider at the time was none other than Art Sherman, lost out to the Kentucky Derby runner-up Nashua (who beat Swaps in a match at Washington Park, Chicago later in the year) as 1955 Horse of the Year. Swaps turned the tables on his old rival when voted Horse of the Year in 1956, a season in which he set several world record times.
Here is the female line connecting Judy-Rae and California Chrome:
JUDY-RAE (1944, Beau Pere) ran 18, won 3
PRINCESS MATOAKA (1956, Princequillo) unraced
PRINCESS RIBOT (1964, Ribot) ran 3, won 1
LA BELLE FLEUR (1977, Vaguely Noble) unraced
CHASE THE DREAM (1984, Sir Ivor) ran 17, won 4
CHASE IT DOWN (1997, Polish Numbers) ran 9, won 1
LOVE THE CHASE (2006, Not For Love) ran 6, won 1
CALIFORNIA CHROME (2011, Lucky Pulpit)
What is striking in California Chrome’s female line are the succession of European mile and a half turf performers who crop up as sires. Little wonder perhaps that California Chrome himself made a successful switch to turf in the Hollywood Derby after the Breeders’ Cup. His fifth dam, Princess Ribot, was a turf performer, winning a maiden at Phoenix Park as a two-year-old from three starts in Ireland and went on to become dam of the 1977 champion US older filly Cascapedia.
Another point of interest here are the respective sires of California Chrome’s Maryland-bred dam and grandam. Polish Numbers and Not For Love are son and grandson respectively of the 1971 champion two-year-old filly Numbered Account – whose dam was a daughter of Swaps.
Bayern descends from Judy-Rae as follows:
JUDY-RAE (1944, Beau Pere) ran 18, won
TULLE (1950, War Admiral) ran 34, won 2
COURTLY DEE (1968, Never Bend) ran 33, won 4
AQUILEGIA (1989, Alydar) ran 30, won 8
ALITTLEBITEARLY (2002, Thunder Gulch) unraced
BAYERN (2011, Offlee Wild)
This is a more classically American line featuring a triple crown winner in War Admiral, a sire who won two legs of the triple crown and was third in the other in Thunder Gulch, and a sire who was runner-up in all three legs of the triple crown in Alydar. Barring Bayern’s dam, whose name alludes to why she was unraced (she was foaled on December 14th!), these mares all enjoyed much busier careers than those in California Chrome’s lineage.
But from a broodmare rather than racemare point of view, it is Bayern’s great grandam Courtly Dee who stands out. She bred no fewer than seven graded stakes winners, with Bayern’s grandam Aquilegia among them, winning the Grade 2 New York Handicap. Aquilegia’s sister Althea (one of a trio of Grade 1 winners among Courtly Dee’s offspring) was the champion two-year-old filly of 1983 and started favourite for the following year’s Kentucky Derby. But perhaps the most important of Courtly Dee’s offspring never raced at all; Foreign Courier made up for that as the dam of the July Cup winner Green Desert who has been such an influential sire in Europe.
It’s a coincidence that two of the best colts of their generation should be related, but in the recent past two other leading triple crown rivals also turned out to share a common ancestry. Sorry – no prizes – but can anybody name them?
[Image of Preakness Stakes courtesy of Maryland GovPics]