This is a brief synopsis for a potential climatic scene in a hypothetical movie made about California Chrome. The idea for making a movie about California Chrome has been pondered in social media circles ever since he won Preakness Stakes in 2014. And why not? There is a special place in Movieland for rags to riches stories where heroes endure heartbreak and prevail against all the odds. After all, when was the last time we saw a horse from humble origins, bred from dirt cheap, go on to become the richest racehorse in North American history? It’s the ultimate underdog story, and it’s tailor made for Hollywood. The story of California Chrome has all the trademarks necessary to tell a good story that uplifts the spirit and inspires those who still believe in the American Dream.
When it comes to making movies about horses in general, people swoon over them, and Hollywood beckons. There have been countless movies made about horses since the beginning of film making invention. Horse racing movies are memorably ingrained in the horse lovers pop culture psyche. These movies are practically a genre of their own. National Velvet (1944) and The Black Stallion (1979) are two of the most popular films that come to mind. Both of these stories involve a child who befriends a horse. They bond together and build an enduring friendship that takes them on an epic journey in horse racing, culminating with a heartwarming victory against the odds. While these two films are fictional stories based on popular novels in Western culture, there are also movies that are based on true stories such as Phar Lap (1983), Seabiscuit (2003) and Secretariat (2010). These stories (both real and fiction) deal with the same common themes which involve the bonding friendships between humans and horses and their struggle to overcome adversity together.
Act I – Origin and Exposition: California Chrome delivers on multiple levels providing us with everything we like about horse racing movies. From making us laugh and cry, to thrilling us with suspense and redemption. His journey has all the emotional qualities for a feel good movie or a tearjerker with a happy ending. There are several aspects to the origins of California Chrome’s story that work well for depth of character and plot structure. The owners of California Chrome are two working class couples, Steve and Carolyn Coburn and Perry and Denise Martin. They pool their money together to breed two horses worth pennies in comparison to the high valued horses with top notch pedigrees that generally become the big champions in the industry. The new owners are mocked from the very start as “dumb asses” for risking their money on a failed mare, known as Love the Chase. But despite the naysayer warnings, the two couples make their purchase anyway and wear their mockery with pride by naming their partnership Dumb Ass Partners.
For some of the characters involved in Chrome’s story, he was born of a dream come true, such as for Steve Coburn. Three weeks before the horse was born he had a dream that his foal would be born with a chestnut coat, and a white blaze with four white socks. These are the same characteristics of his sire Lucky Pulpit. Still it seemed like a magical coincidence that Steve’s dream had manifested into reality. The foal is also born on the birthday of Steve’s sister who died 36 years before, in 1978, which was also the last time a horse won the Triple Crown. It had to be too good to be true to see this baby foal arrive with a curiousity to explore his new world, reminiscent of Pinnochio. To Steve Coburn it was a sure sign sent from heaven that this horse was destined to achieve great things. But life for the baby foal did not start out easy. He was born with a life threatening situation for his mother on a cold rainy night. As Perry Martin later said, “he came out running” it left his mother injured with a torn uterus. As a result, The foal bonded with his caretakers who spent more time with him to compensate for her partial absence while recovering. After his birth, the owners drew a name from a hat and he became known as California Chrome. From the beginning he learned to like human touch and adoration. He especially loved running around the barn honing his speed. Chrome always made sure he was the first one to the gate to greet Mrs. Coburn who brought him his favorite treats (Mrs. Pasture’s Cookies). Given Chrome’s striking beauty and his playful personality, those who met him could not resist admiring his charismatic charm. As a colt he stood out among the other younglings. He was often acknowledged by the stable hands as the smartest and the bravest of the bunch. He had an unusual sense of self awareness.
Aside from his owners, the best character suited for the roll of leading human protagonist is perhaps the 77 year old Trainer, Art Sherman, and his staff who guided the colt to success and fame. Mr. Sherman spent most of his life chasing his dream to someday win the Kentucky Derby. A good script might start out with Art Sherman as a teenager in 1955, when he began his career as an exercise rider for the great Cal-bred Swaps. It was in that same year that Swaps won the Kentucky Derby, becoming one of only a few California bred horses to ever win the championship. From that moment on Art had always dreamed of riding or training a horse like Swaps, and finally after almost a lifetime passed by, California Chrome arrived on the scene as a 2 year old.
When Art acquires California Chrome, he runs a small barn at Hollywood Park along with his jovial son Alan. They both employ a good natured staff of likable supporting characters. Much like in the movie Secretariat, who carried a close bond with his Groom Eddie, so did California Chrome who bonded with his Groom Raul Rodriguez, a hard working stable hand from Mexico. He enjoys training with his exercise rider Willie Delgado who also becomes a proud and loyal friend. After finding his way, winning and losing some of his early races, Chrome is teamed up with a spirited Jockey, Victor Espinoza, who adds more subplot elements to the story with his own underdog trials and tribulations. Having hit a slump in his career he sparks instant chemistry with California Chrome. It revitalizes his love for his job encouraging him to be his best. The quality of these supporting characters is a reflection of the exceptional dignity set forth by their boss Art Sherman and his son Alan.
With his team set in place, California Chrome comes of age on the night they close down the historic racetrack Hollywood Park. He blows the field away by 6 lengths in the final stakes race before moving to Los Alamitos Racetrack. Chrome and Victor continue on their winning streak grabbing headlines. As a 3 year old California Chrome defeats competition worth more than 25 times his own value. His story spreads throughout the industry and inspires underdog dreamers while growing a large and devoted fan base, who become known as the Chromies. Many of them start coming out early to see him train and cheer for him with a fervor generally befitting groupies of a legendary rockstar. But despite his popularity, many industry insiders still do not believe that California Chrome could ever win a Triple Crown race against the traditional high valued horses from the East. They keep calling him a fluke after he wins every race, even by wide margins. And perhaps they have good reason to doubt him, considering no Cal-bred has won the Kentucky Derby since 1962 (a 52 year gap). But Chrome proves in more ways than one that he is no ordinary horse. Upon visiting Swaps grave at Churchill Down before the Kentucky Derby, Art Sherman makes a wish. He wishes that Chrome becomes another Swaps and wins the Kentucky Derby. There must have been a shooting star out that night, for California Chrome goes above and beyond making Art’s wish come true. He invokes the spirit of Swaps and wins the Kentucky Derby, a victory long over due. He then wins Preakness Stakes a few weeks later and becomes a national sensation heading into Belmont Stakes.
On the flip side to all the attention he receives, California Chrome continues to face doubt from many of his detractors. Some movies have villains (or skeptics) to provide antagonism to the story. The anti-hero creates obstacles for the hero to overcome, and potentially adds more suspense to the racing scenes. For example, in the movie Secretariat, the antagonist is portrayed by the owner of his rival horse Sham, as well as the skeptical media who doubt that Secretariat could ever win longer distance races. It sets up for a grand finale when Secretariat wins Belmont by over 30 lengths. In Phar Lap the antagonist is portrayed by his greedy owner who was not interested in Phar Lap until he started winning. In the story of California Chrome, there are a variety of antagonists that create obstacles for him to overcome. Some of the skeptics are self proclaimed experts in horse racing and commentators from televised media. Others are rival owners and trainers who might be embarrassed to lose to a horse from nowhere. But the most notorious of all the antagonists are by far the naysayer bloggers and the trolls that scour the Internet seeking to dismiss and demystify the legacy of a “great” champion and underdog hero.
Act II – Drama and Conflict: After winning Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes which are both nationalized television events Chrome becomes the “People’s Horse.” After 36 years without a Triple Crown winner, Chrome seems to be perfectly fit to pull it off, like a real life Cinderella underdog champion. He captures the heart of a nation and they root for him to go all the way. However, it is not meant to be when heartbreak strikes hard. Another horse steps on Chrome, ripping into his flesh at the start of the race and ending his quest for the Triple Crown. Nevertheless, Chrome valiantly runs his heart out with dirt rubbing into his wound for a mile and a half. Still he comes close enough to winning by tying for fourth place despite running with his painful injury. This creates a low moment in the story of California Chrome. It’s common for great stories to include life lessons; where the hero must be tested with adversity before overcoming failure to reclaim redemption and achieve ultimate victory. This is where the drama intensifies as controversy erupts with Steve Coburn. Visibly upset only moments after the race he is rushed by a frenzied media. Coburn makes a comment that is deemed as being of poor sportsmanship. Even despite making a valid point he is attacked by an unforgiving industry. This opens the flood gates for his detractors to lash out with a torrent of hatred. It also causes friction among the owners.
After losing Belmont Stakes, California Chrome loses a few more races before redeeming himself to win on turf at the Hollywood Derby. He becomes the first 3 year old since Secretariat to win on both dirt and turf surfaces. This crucial win leads to his victory becoming American Horse of the Year, providing the audience with a beam of hope for his future prospects before descending down toward more drama and conflict. California Chrome is sent overseas to race in the Dubai World Cup, of which he loses. He is not given proper time to acclimate but still runs a good race coming in second place. It probably didn’t help much either that he had been training for more than two years up to that point in his racing career without much of a break. To make things worse, controversy erupts again when he is sent directly to England to run on turf at Royal Ascot. This move subsequently tears apart the partnership between the owners. Steve Coburn and his wife sell their shares to Frank and Duncan Taylor from Taylor Made Farms in Kentucky. By this point California Chrome reaches his lowest point in his story. While training in England, it is discovered that Chrome has developed bone bruising and is withdrawn from racing. Meanwhile Victor wins the Triple Crown atop American Pharoah. Upon returning to the states, California Chrome looks thin and gaunt. His future in racing seem all but finished. Many of his detractors in the blogging media begin to celebrate his demise, pointing out that his career might finally be over.
Act III – Conflict Resolution: California Chrome begins life with his new part-owners at Taylor Made Farm. He enjoys a period of tranquility, rebounding and looking revitalized after a few months of rest. He is then examined by a vet who realizes (with amazement) that Chrome has returned to remarkable condition, and even better fit than before. At this point the owners decide to return him to racing for one last try at the Dubai World Cup. With his new exersize rider Dihigy Gladney he trains like a bullet, clocking in some impressive training drills. This time he is given a warmer welcome by some supporters in the media. They admire that a horse of his age and popularity is returning to racing, a rare move that benefits the industry. Chrome goes on to win his first race in January at San Pasqual. He makes headlines as “the Comeback Kid.” Soon after that, he is shipped back to Dubai. This time, the owners make improvements to his schedule by sending him a month early to allow him time to acclimate to the environment and train on the surface. Chrome goes on to win his prep race smoothly, thrilling the Chromies who are tuning in by live streaming.
Going into the World Cup, Art Sherman unfortunately draws post 11. This creates doubt in the media because no horse has won from that post in 20 years. A sense of anxiety grows among some of his fans and trainers, setting up for the suspenseful finale as depicted in the synopsis written above. After winning Dubai World Cup, California Chrome becomes the richest race horse in North American history. His victory leaves many of his fans feeling a euphoric sense of redemption. They celebrate the victory with tears flowing, while at the same time it silences the antagonists who can no longer deny his greatness. After Dubai World Cup, Chrome continues to dominate his races for the rest of the year by winning all but one race which leads to more accolades. He is crowned American Horse of the Year for the second time in his career, and he also becomes the first horse to win the Secretariat Vox Populi Award twice. He leaves behind a moral to the story which is to never give up reaching for the stars, even when all hopes seem dashed.
It was not in California Chrome’s destiny to win the Triple Crown, but instead he was destined to become the richest racehorse in North American history. All he had to do was to get back up and try and try again. Much like the famous Disney song goes from the animated feature film Pinocchio, “when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you.” California Chrome became the little horse who came from nowhere to beat the best and became a legendary superstar, among the most beloved in a generation. Much like Papa Geppetto, Art Sherman was the guardian that took his protégé on a journey of a lifetime, where lessons were learned and a hero emerged triumphant against all the odds. In the end, California Chrome proves to his future movie audiences that dreams do come true.