Since earlier this spring, I have followed the exploits of one “California Chrome” and his march toward the Triple Crown title of Thoroughbred racing: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and, finally, the Belmont Stakes. By the time you read this, “Chrome” will have either won or lost his battle to reach equine greatness – one that has only been achieved by 11 other horses. My hope, of course, is that he has won the Belmont and become the worldwide, polarizing individual that “Secretariat” once was (and still is, to a lesser extent, today).
We all wish for a winner, especially one that began with humble beginnings. But beyond that, I wish for Chrome to become a catalyst that renews the public’s awareness of the horse industry. I want articles written, cover stories plastered across print media, guest appearances on all the morning news programs as well as late night TV, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year and Sports Illustrated’s Athlete of the Year. I want a candy bar named for California Chrome!
I wish for these things to happen right now because we need a real jolt in the arm. The horse is one of the most poignant and captivating animals with which humans interact, and yet the volume on that message has been turned down over the past few decades. The horse used to be prime time in our living rooms and in our exhibition arenas. Now, we’re lucky if the general public even notices … until now. Chrome has captured the nation’s imagination and what a wonderful opportunity! If he wins, imagine all the stories – from the owners, trainers and everyone associated with this gifted stallion – about how a horse affected so many lives in such positive ways.
It has been since 1973 that a phenomenon like California Chrome has come our way (Secretariat) and had the potential for so much good to occur. The horse industry can stand front and center, at the top of awareness, if this wonderful horse can only win the Belmont! Never has so much ridden on the back of a horse. He is racing with a saddle cloth of hope, a saddle of optimism and a bridle of promise (to say nothing of his nose bands) for the entire equine industry. We will all benefit from exposure to his success.
You ask, “How does the success of California Chrome help all the rest of us in the horse business?” I promise you: The mere fallout from the publicity storm that will be created by his achievements will have an overall positive effect on the entire equine world.
There are some lessons to be learned and applied in promotion of our show and performance horse industry, just from observing the “California Chrome Effect” and its direct influence on Thoroughbred racing. A terrific horse with a great story, and we’ve got a story! Granted, it might be on a smaller scale but that doesn’t mean our horses’ praises can’t be sung – even if it’s just on the local level. Better yet, let’s find compelling stories from many horses, identify the unique angle and put the story together with the goal of creating interest and awareness in our industry. Let’s make a “big deal” out of the personalities involved and ramp up national curiosity. Make equine heroes of these horses and people in order to make them examples we all can hope to, someday, emulate ourselves. (Other industries do this – it’s called public relations and marketing.)
Oh, but wait a minute, we can’t do this! We might cause damage to the existing model we have created in the arena. Our practice of being careful not to give anyone or horse an unfair advantage in competition by raising the level of consciousness among judges and officials that might somehow equate to higher scores for them and not others. The notion that recognizing excellence in these “heroes” and giving them publicity that could bring aid to a faltering industry could set them up, unfairly, for further accomplishment is nonsense! If our stories are never told, if we don’t toot our own horn, how can the public ever understand how gratifying and enjoyable equine competition can be?
If we ever hope to compete with other forms of entertainment, we must attract attention to ourselves and to our business on a much grander scale. Judges and show officials must be given more credit for making the correct decisions and we, as an industry, must change our perceptions of unfairness so our equine heroes are allowed to pave the way back to our prosperity.
As always, I remain,