Fans across U.S. gather for California Chrome's last race

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- The world’s richest horse race will take place Saturday featuring a beloved fan favorite, California Chrome. Chrome is among several horses competing for $12 million in prizes at the new Pegasus World Cup.

The 6-year-old horse is a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner and a two-time horse of the year. Saturday at the Gulfstream Park will be the last race of the old warrior’s career, and he’ll be getting a final sendoff from his special breed of fans.

In the predawn darkness, a reunion is taking place – dozens of race fans from across the country who simply adore the athlete from the West Coast. 

“Tall dark and handsome and he’s a multimillionaire – so what more could you want?” one fan said.

California Chrome, ridden by Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line to win the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17, 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland.  Jim Dietz, Getty Images

They call themselves “Chromies” – secretaries, truck drivers, beauticians and other regular folk who just love this horse.

They’re like rock star groupies. Wherever Chrome goes, a Chromie is sure to follow.
“There were so many people packed in to see this horse work out – I’m like, are you serious?!” Chrome’s exercise rider Dihigi Gladney said. “I thought maybe they were giving away plush ponies or something over there.”
Many fans are genuinely touched. Karen Orman said Chrome provides a refuge from her challenging job in hospice care.

“You see the beauty of him running on the track and I get to forget about all the sad things that I saw that week, and I have made with friends with people I didn’t know three or four years ago,” Orman said.

The Chromies are now part of the family, readily embraced by 79-year-old trainer Art Sherman.

“Why does this horse connect with so many people?” Miller asked.

“Well, it’s like the story with David and Goliath,” Sherman said. “Here he is from a poor background… It’s just one of them stories where you have to really root for the underdog, and he was an underdog when he started.”
Chrome as a yearling was bred for less than $2,500. Also of humble origins were the two trainers, Sherman and his son, Alan. Back in the day, Sherman was an exercise rider for Swaps, the Kentucky Derby winner in 1955.
Chrome’s 2014 Derby and Preakness wins were pure Cinderella.

After the Belmont loss and painful bone bruises in 2015, Chrome’s owners shut him down. After a few months of R&R in Kentucky, Chrome came roaring back, winning seven of his last eight races including the Dubai World Cup.

Now as Chrome steps up to the Pegasus, it’s a last chance for the Chromies to share their love.
“We’re never going to be able to relive this moment,” Orman said, wiping away a tear. “He was the first race horse for me that I ever followed.” 

Chrome will have his work cut out for him. Not only did he draw the far outside gate position, but Arrogate, the last horse to beat Chrome, is also in the race. They’ll battle 10 others for the $7 million dollars that goes to the winner.