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California Chrome hopes to become the 12th Triple Crown winner

NEW YORK (AP) -- California Chrome's bid for the Triple Crown on Saturday is likely to boost TV ratings and, if he wins, create a star for a sport that could badly use one.

It will be a bonanza for the horse's owners, although their payoff will be limited by Chrome's humble parents and the racing industry's delicate health.

Racing insiders say that if California Chrome becomes the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, his breeding value is likely to be between $15 million and $20 million. That's a stunning return for owners who paid $8,000 for the horse's mare and another $2,500 to breed her to a stallion with a mediocre racing record.

The horse could bring in millions more in sponsorships and book and movie deals. Shoe company Skechers just announced it will put its brand on California Chrome caps, clothes and horse blankets - financial terms weren't disclosed - and more deals are sure to follow if Chrome wins Saturday.

The payoff, however, might fall short of expectations set by Chrome's team. Before the colt won the Kentucky Derby, his owners said they rejected a $6 million offer for a 51 percent share in the horse. After he won the Preakness, his trainer declared that he was worth $30 million.

Breeders and others in the thoroughbred industry say that's too high given what they consider Chrome's modest pedigree. He is no Kentucky blueblood. His underdog identity - born in California, schooled by a 77-year-old trainer, owned by seemingly regular guys who call their business Dumb Ass Partners - makes him a favorite of racing fans, but fails to excite the professionals whose job is to put a price on horse flesh.

"Breeders are hard-nosed. They wouldn't be swayed unnecessarily by Triple Crown fever," said Cot Campbell, who founded Dogwood Stable in 1969 and helped pioneer partnerships to own Thoroughbreds. He is rooting for Chrome and says a Triple Crown would raise the horse's price, "but if he were regally bred, he would be even more valuable."

That was true for Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the 2000 Kentucky Derby but lost the Preakness and skipped the Belmont. He was reportedly sold to Ireland's Coolmore Stud in a $60 million syndication deal. It helped that his father was Mr. Prospector, one of the top sires of the past 40 years.

Smarty Jones, who won the Derby and Preakness but fell short in the 2004 Belmont, was syndicated in a deal that put his value at $39 million, according to published reports - financial terms weren't disclosed. Big Brown, who lost the 2008 Belmont after winning the first two races, was reported to have sold in a $50 million deal.

The horse industry was healthier when those deals were made. Stud fees have fallen sharply from bubble-like levels before the recession, reflecting in lower prices for stallions. There are fewer potential buyers - maybe a half-dozen farms in Kentucky, plus a few deep-pocket foreign buyers.

Terence Collier, the director of marketing at Thoroughbred auction house Fasig-Tipton, said most people he talks to value Chrome at $15 million to $20 million if he wins Saturday. That's based on a formula that includes an estimate of the horse's stud fee.

Some sires who have produced winners of top races can command fees of $150,000 per mare. As an unproven sire, Chrome would be likely price anywhere between $20,000 and $50,000, breeders said. There are famous sires in Chrome's pedigree if you go back three or four generations, but breeders say it is more significant that his father and mother weren't great runners and haven't yet produced other winners.

"Using horses like Big Brown and Smarty Jones as benchmarks, (Chrome) could easily be worth $20 million if he becomes the next Triple Crown horse - and that's probably on the low side," said Mike McMahon, who runs breeding and racing operations in Kentucky and New York and had one of the most upbeat appraisals of Chrome's value.

McMahon figures that the only way Chrome can overcome doubts about his pedigree is to run a terrific race in the Belmont - good enough to evoke comparisons with Secretariat's 31-length victory in record time in 1973.

Besides breeding value, owners of popular racehorses can earn money from marketing and book and movie deals.

Funny Cide was a bargain horse who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2003 and developed a fan following partly because of his everyman owners - a bunch of high school pals who rented yellow school buses to drive to the track on race days. His owners landed a $1 million book deal - a movie fell through - and other lesser endorsements.

A movie or television deal for California Chrome is possible but not a sure thing, said veteran producer Dan Paulson, whose credits include the new Hallmark Channel movie "The Color of Rain."

"It's a story about an underdog, that's the most interesting part of it," Paulson said. The return of movies and miniseries to networks that once shunned them helps by expanding the list of potential buyers, he added.

A website operated for Secretariat's owner, Penny Chenery, sells about 150 items ranging from bobbleheads to photographs signed by his jockey. A nail that held the horse's shoes in the Belmont sold for $6,100.

Leonard Lusky, who handles marketing of the horse, thinks that Chrome would have opportunities that didn't exist for Secretariat and could top $1 million in merchandise sales. "With social media, Facebook, Twitter, you can reach beyond the core fan. It will be a frenzy," he said.

Chrome's owners could also try to earn more money at the track. They could enter him in high-stakes races such as the Breeders Cup Classic this fall in his native California, where a win would be worth $2.75 million. It might do the sport good for a champion to keep running.

Racing again poses challenges. Superstars usually don't stick around long enough for most fans to see them because the best are often retired at 3 to earn big stud fees rather than risk catastrophic injury.

"Sometimes when you're offered so much money, it's hard to refuse," Chrome's trainer, Art Sherman, said this week when asked if the horse would race another year.

But it's possible.

"(The owners) just got him insured for a lot of money. You don't pay the insurance premium and sell him right away."


Koenig reported from Dallas. Associated Press Television Writer Lynn Elber contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

Join the discussion

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gottabewv June 06 2014 at 9:06 AM

Spend all the money in the world if you want to on a horse. Drop millions on breeding, grooming and preparation. But it is the will of a horse that wins a race. Secretariat is and probably always will be the untouched champion because it was in his heart to win! And, not because the world called him Secretariat, but because those around him called him "Big Red!" People think horses are trained on repetition and at the end of a crop and unfortunately many are. But not the real winners. Big Red ran because he was surrounded by people who loved him. His owner, his trainer and even his jockey. They all showed him the kind of love that will make a horse run until his heart burst to please those around him. Ron Turcotte (Jockey) once said that Big Red was the only horse he ever raced that he didn't have to time. He only had to talk to him as they ran. Yes, there were others that have won the Triple Crown. But none of them neared Big Red. I doubt they ever will… It is the will of a horse that wins a race.

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9 replies
louierey June 06 2014 at 9:59 AM

There's Secretariat and then there's everybody else. He was so great that when ESPN quite a few years ago decided to list the Top 100 athletes of all time Secretariat was, of course, the only animal on the list. To win a race by 31 and a half lengths is unbelievable at ANY length but to do it within the confines of running a mile and a half and accomplishing that is just beyond comprehension. Keep in mind that not only did he win The Triple Crown but he also set the record for the time in ALL THREE races. What I can't believe is that he actually lost a race. Now that's a trivia question, who was the only horse to beat Secretariat

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6 replies
loubluelady June 06 2014 at 9:35 AM

Secretariat was is and probably always will be the greatest race horse in history. I remember my mother picking this horse in the Kentucky Derby and she called it that this was one fantastic horse and never to be beaten. In my lifetime I'm sure she was right even if Chrome wins the record of Secretariat will stand. If only people had the heart this horse had life would be grand RIP Mom your horse is still #1.

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1 reply
pty014372 loubluelady June 06 2014 at 9:54 AM

Secretariant was not undefeated.

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3 replies
schlauger1 June 06 2014 at 8:55 AM

No matter what, the two regular shmoes are set. More power to them. You gotta love the fact that $10,000 worth of horse has reached the heights of a multimillion dollar dominated business.

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1 reply
Nana & Popie schlauger1 June 06 2014 at 7:00 PM

That they are 2 dumbass-partners. That's what DAP means. Two regular guys. Go Chrome!!!!

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IBruzEZ June 06 2014 at 7:28 AM

Would make a much better reality show than a bunch of the garbage out there now.!! Rooting for a win, CC.!! Love the underdog.

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1 reply
Sandy IBruzEZ June 06 2014 at 2:54 PM

Hey, that's a great idea! I would watch a show about race horses as long as it was REALITY!

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1 reply
nanksy Sandy June 06 2014 at 9:26 PM

They tried that with a show named "Luck" i think. It was canceled when too many horses "broke down" were injured or killed on camera.

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Jack Frazier June 06 2014 at 12:13 PM

All of the horses who have won the Triple Crown were great horses. I would take exception to calling Secretariat the greatest. Citation was far better as a race horse and just as good as stud. In the span of time the Crown is run here is what he did: He won the Derby Trial one week before the Derby, then the Derby, then another race between it and the Preakness, than another race between the Preakness and the Belmont, then the Belmont. All in all he won six races in a six week period. No other horse, at that level, has done that either before or since.

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3 replies
SUNSHINE2UHN June 06 2014 at 4:15 PM

Secretariat is the all time best race horse. Just watching him strut on to the track brought tears and chills to most who had the honor to see him. He was a true champion and was a thrill to watch. Big Red now and forever, the BEST!

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christine June 06 2014 at 10:01 AM

The value of C. Chrome is of course what a man is willing to pay. I don't give a fig about " regal blood lines" , all that is, IS a bunch of investors trying to protect their investments. This horse if he wins the triple crown is worth ALL the other horses whether so called "regal bloodlines" or not!

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3 replies
arnold.smith2027 June 06 2014 at 10:10 AM

CC is a refreshing historical moment for Horse Racing. A $10,000.00 investment has turned into Millions. I hope that CC wins the Triple Crown because it will be the last one that I will be able to witness. CC has brought back notoriety to the sport. At least CC doesn't cry as does some of the assumed 'Super Stars' does. It is nice to hear about other items other than LeBron James, Tiger Woods and so forth. Go CC........................

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1 reply
catbell7 arnold.smith2027 June 06 2014 at 12:03 PM

ah aTiger Woods - a ***** at his best.

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almasearch June 06 2014 at 9:43 AM

Oh, screw the "hard-nosed breeders". They're all a bunch of jealous twits that are pissed they've spent millions to get a triple crown winner, and some regular joes have done so for a minute fraction of that amount. THIS horse is gorgeous, can run, and run well. Go Cali Chrome, go! Shades of "Sea Biscuit"!! :-)

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