The birth of a racehorse, we were warned, can never truly be timed. A week early. Three weeks late. And so the days passed in central Kentucky as we awaited the birth of The People’s Horse, our campaign to create a racehorse for the masses and to share the experience of horse ownership with a foal out of California Chrome. (For project info, head here.)
We had ordered a glass of wine when finally, and unexpectedly, we got the call from Scott Miller, the night manager at Taylor Made Farm.
“Her water just broke, you better get over here,” he said, prompting that perhaps so many thoroughbred owners and parents know, a race to be present at a foal or child’s birth.
It was late and dark in the bluegrass, a storm threatening, and we drove at warp speed to get to the farm, breaking all speed rules and traffic violations to make it in time for the Magic Moment. Along the way, it was hard not to consider all the places we’d been since launching the project two years ago in a speakeasy bar in lower Manhattan, when the The People’s Horse was just a long shot idea. Now, it was about to become reality.
“You really don’t want to own horses,” The Wiz, aka Michael Kipness, the handicapper, told us when we got started. Horses were too expensive to maintain, too unpredictable to manage and the odds of winning returns were so infinitely high the prospect of breeding for the track, he said, were a fool’s errand. But as we met a few horses and others in the industry, the fool’s errand of breeding our own horse was too irresistible to ignore.
Part of the art of thoroughbreds, we came to learn, was in the long experiment of breeding, a two-year campaign to raise runners. But without a bank account to support one, we had to develop support.
We started with our plastic mascot, a fiberglass colt we dragged to all three Triple Crown events, getting signatures for horse names and signing up members who joined for exclusive stories and access.
The response to the project was strong, our membership numbers were growing, but we needed a horse. In the backyard of Saratoga Springs, where our mascot was taking up residence at The Horseshoe Inn, we received a recommendation from Paul Matties, a leading handicapper, about the ideal candidate for The People’s Horse.
“Why don’t you breed to California Chrome?” he said. At the time, California Chrome was about to retire, and begin his stallion career at Taylor Made Farm, one of the leading thoroughbred operations in Kentucky. Moreover, he said, Taylor Made Farm was different than many of the horse farms in Kentucky, and dedicated towards finding ways to bring in new fans and owners into a sport that has been dwindling for decades.
On a trip to Kentucky, I met Duncan Taylor, the president and CEO of Taylor Made Farm, who had been pondering a similar idea and the answer to an industry-wide question: How do we bring more fans into racing? What will create a connection between new fans and allow them to experience the thrills, insights, and extraordinary experience of having a horse in a race? What if, we wondered, a foal by California Chrome, the original People’s Champion, could be shared by the masses?
"What better way to carry on the legacy of the underdog than to let the Chromies and his fans own a piece of his successor?” Taylor said.
When we arrived at Bonnaterra A, the foaling barn at Taylor Made Farm, a crowd had gathered outside the stall of Colerful Bride, a mare our members had voted on earlier in the year to carry The People’s Horse. Colerful is a stunning gray, and sprinting into the barn I could see the fringes of her mane. Her neck was turned down and she was licking -and licking and licking — a crumpled up ball of chestnut fur. Our filly!
Meanwhile, over a thousand viewers had tuned into our livestream.
She tried to stand, then fell over. Tried again, then collapsed in a bed of hay. Early on, it was clear this filly was special. She had a giant white blaze across her nose, just like her father California Chrome, and the most unusual marking. The bottom of her left leg, from the knee bones down, was covered in a white sock, as if her leg had been dipped in a large bucket of white paint.
She was game too. Some foals, we were told, don’t try so hard to stand. They linger on the ground for hours. But The People’s Horse, our foal, wasted no time. She was so in a hurry she bounced out of the stall and into our laps.
"She’s a spitfire,” Helen Wells, the foaling expert at Taylor Made said, holding her up and escorting her back into her stall. Here, she waddled. And then, fighting to find her balance, and guided with the helpful touch of Wells, she managed to stand. “You’re on your own now,” Wells said, leaving her to take her first steps towards an unknown future, and start leading the way towards our own.
Note: Geoffrey Gray is a journalist, author and founder of True.Ink, an adventure club devoted towards extraordinary experiences. To join as a member of The People’s Horse, head to the project’s website here.
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