The atmosphere was electric at Parx Racing on Sept. 20 in the moments leaing up to the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby. In this image, the connections of dual classic winner California Chrome get him ready to race. (All photos by Kat Waldvogel)
My intention was to post to this blog the evening of the Pennsylvania Derby. The outcome being something less than Team California Chrome had hoped for, I found myself consumed by exhaustion that had been held at bay only by adrenaline.
After another long day, traveling back to the West Coast and needing some sleep, and some reflection, I discarded every previous draft I had written.
Saturday was a long day. It started before dawn, absent any media attention, with the work that this team does every day. There was a calm focus, but otherwise, the day unfolded as many others have. The difference was that after breakfast and some time to rest at the hotel, we all returned to the barn, passing the time before the race together.
When it was time to begin the walk to the track, groom Raul Rodriguez and exercise rider Willie Delgado were on either side of Chrome, with assistant trainer Alan Sherman and the rest of the team following.
Having drawn the No. 1 post position, they led the post parade to the paddock, and the sheer number of people pressed against the rail, yelling “Chrome!”, was absolutely surreal. Fans were shoulder to shoulder and 20 deep, lining the outdoor staircases for the chance to get a clear look, a sea of smart phones capturing the moment.
I have little comment on the actual race, except to say that seeing Chrome leave the starting gate was electric and seeing him nearing the wire was less so. There is certainly credit and congratulations that are deserved for Bayern and his team, but for those of us who are emotionally attached to this horse and his team, it’s hard to not feel disappointed.
The walk back to the barn was quiet, with no media attention. But when we arrived, there was still the work to be done — walking Chrome around the shedrow, a bath, and more walking to cool down. Everyone still had tasks and chores to do, but they were dotted with the small but significant expressions of support and appreciation for this incredible athlete, who knew he had fallen short of his goal for the day. A hand on his forehead. A nudge of his groom. I’ll let the photos tell the story.
At some point, I chose to put my camera away, giving this devoted team the privacy they so richly deserve to show this horse that he is loved no matter the outcome of the race, always a champion in their hearts.