Pedigree Profile – California Chrome & Swaps: Coincidence? I Think Not

Saturday’s performance by California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby took our breath away, just as his San Felipe did a month ago. This time, he didn’t get the quick, almost quarter horse-like start that he got in March. Coming awkwardly away from the gate, he settled off the pace and loomed up on the outside as they rounded the far turn. Espinoza said, “Go”…and boy, did he go.  Powering away to an open-lengths lead, he shortened his strides near the end, ears pricked and eyes bright, as if to say, “Are you guys gonna catch me any time soon?”

Every Derby Trail needs an electrifying contender in its ranks; this colt may be one of the most popular in recent years.

Trainer Art Sherman said to the press after his win, “He’s my Swaps.” That means a lot, considering the 77 year-old horseman was up close and personal with the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner, as his exercise rider. And yes, California Chrome lovers have drawn many comparisons to that star of the mid-20th century – both are Cal-breds, both have wicked speed, and both, well, have Art Sherman close by.

But maybe it was meant to be this way. Swaps – or at least, his third dam, anyway – can be found deep within California Chrome’s pedigree.

Betty Derr was a decent filly, especially at two, winning a handful of stakes. Trained by Clyde Van Dusen, who would train her brother – and his own namesake – to win a Kentucky Derby, she won over $40,000 in purses. The foal that would cement her as a broodmare was Iron Maiden, whose blood ran thickly Triple Crown: her sire, War Admiral, had won the event, and grandsire Sir Gallahad was the sire of Gallant Fox, who in turn sired Omaha, both of them Triple Crown winners. And though this family didn’t produce a Triple Crown winner, it did give us two Derby winners – could a third be in the mix? But I’m getting ahead of myself, now.

Iron Liege was the second. By Bull Lea, sire of Citation, he won a third of his 33 starts, including the 1957 Kentucky Derby, and earned more than ten times as much as his granddam had on the track. But his older half-sister Iron Reward would produce a colt that outshone him on the track. This was the beginning of Betty Derr’s Derby legacy. His name was Swaps.

Swaps was fast…freaky fast. He set four world records and equaled two. He won 19 of his 25 starts and only finished off the board twice. The gleaming chestnut colt arrived in Louisville for the Run for the Roses after a victory in the Santa Anita Derby, and he did not disappoint his fans. He captured the Kentucky Derby in a time that was only 2/5 off the track record, proving that his blazing California speed was no fluke.

Would he have won the Triple Crown? We’ll never know – he didn’t give it a shot. Nashua took home the Preakness and the Belmont while Swaps dominated his rivals on the West Coast. In a match race between the two at the end of 1955, Nashua got the jump on Swaps and won. The Derby winner called it quits for the year, but then was back again as a four year-old, winning nearly all of his starts.

A grandson of the English hero Hyperion, Swaps was decent at stud, siring champion mares Affectionately and Primonetta and Kentucky Derby winner Chateaugay. His racing career, however, will always be held in high regard. He is ranked 20th on Bloodhorse’s Top 100 Champions of the 20th Century – 4 in front of his rival, Nashua.

This is where Swaps’ story ends and California Chrome’s story begins, but could this new chestnut star merely be a continuation of his predecessor’s legacy?

Betty Derr had another daughter named Judy-Rae, who was by Beau Pere – the damsire of Swaps. A minor stakes winner, Judy-Rae produced fillies whose descendants include leading sires Arch and Green Desert, and Wickerr (by Nashua) who has a stakes named after him in Southern California. The daughter of hers that relates to this story is Princess Matoaka, an unraced Kentucky-bred. Her daughter, Princess Ribot, was stakes-placed and also a Kentucky-bred.

In fact, none of California Chrome’s female predecessors were bred in California, nor was his sire, the flashy Lucky Pulpit. But here we are, comparing Swaps and California Chrome – because they are both speedy, popular, and California-bred.

You could chalk it up to coincidence that the Swaps-Chrome conversation is happening all over the country, but the evidence is right in front of you. This is a family affair, and it all started with a stakes-winning mare who became the matriarch of not one, but two, Kentucky Derby winners.

Could California Chrome make it three?



Filed under Breeding

4 responses to “Pedigree Profile – California Chrome & Swaps: Coincidence? I Think Not

  1. Dale

    You are aware I assume that Swaps himself factors into California Chrome’s pedigree as he is the broodmare sire of Numbered Account, being by Buckpasser out of Intriguing by Swaps. She is prominent in CC’s pedigree on the dam side. While interesting that Princess Ribot traces back to Swaps female family, you didn’t need to dig that far back to find Swaps in this pedigree

    • I had a reader point this out to me today – very interesting, and furthers the familial connection to Swaps. However, I respectfully disagree with your digging comment…there was much more to the story then what you see on the pedigree page, and I wanted to tap into it. Plus, I love talking about female families, and do so every chance I can get. But three connections to Swaps! No wonder they’re drawing comparisons.


  2. Dale

    That’s fine that there was more to the story than what was seen on the pedigree page, but your statement is “Swaps or at least his third dam, anyway can be found deep within California Chrome’s pedigree.” Clearly you missed the direct connection to Swaps through Numbered Account on both sides of California Chrome’s dam’s pedigree, hence my digging comment. The information on Swaps’ third dam was very interesting, but I was shocked that you failed to notice that Swaps himself is a major factor in this pedigree. And you clearly did miss it.

  3. The winner of the Kentucky Derby is California Chrome who extends the recent trend of winners that are inbred maternally to either Mr Prospector or Northern Dancer. His pedigree has been described by others as plebian, ordinary, non classic, etc, as pundits struggle to understand where his racing excellence is coming from. Many thought he did not have the pedigree to go the distance but a closer look proves otherwise.

    He is outcrossed on sire line – Nearco to Native Dancer and has a maternal inbreeding from his dam to his grandsire of Mr Prospector 4×3. His sire, Lucky Pulpit whose stud fee is $2500 is another source of puzzlement to the thorobred pedigree experts. In addition to standing in California he was a modest racehorse although his dam is inbred maternally to Princequillo 4×4 and to Royal Charger (Nearco) 6×4 in a pattern of success familiar to standardbred breeders.

    It is the dam of California Chrome, though, that likely provides the key to his excellence. Love The Chase was a low level claimer, bought for $8000, but her bargain price disguised a million dollar pedigree. She is outcrossed on sire line Mr Prospector to Northern Dancer and inbred to Northern Dancer maternally. That alone is sufficient to attract attention since mares inbred to Northern Dancer have been producing significant numbers of top horses in recent years. The real point of interest in the dam, however, is the mare Numbered Account who is 3×3 in X-factor position and thus Love The Chase is sibling inbred to a son, Polish Numbers (Northern Dancer) and a daughter, Dance Numbers (Danzig, son of Northern Dancer) of Numbered Account.

    Numbered Account is by two time Horse Of The Year Buckpasser who was undefeated at three but not eligible for the Triple Crown races, although he soundly beat the top three year olds. Her dam is Intriguing by a Kentucky Derby winner in Swaps, and Intriguing is well named since she could well be the key to the pedigree of California Chrome.

    In her book The X-Factor, Marianna Hahn detailed the search for the “large heart gene” supposedly responsible for the performance of Secretariat whose dam was by the same Princequillo that is doubled up maternally in Lucky Pulpit. She traced the genetic trail back to a mare called Pocahontas 1837, whose three sons, Stockwell, King Tom, and Rataplan, are noted maternal influences through their daughters. As I showed in my book “Queen Among Queens” the trail actually does not stop there but goes back through Diomed, the first winner of the English Derby and whose two best daughters, Young Giantess and Young Noisette, are doubled in X-factor position in Marpessa, the dam of Pocahontas.

    Swaps, the sire of Intriguing, has an x-factor double to Stockwell maternally in his dam but more importantly his second dam is by Triple Crown winner War Admiral, who also is from a mare that has an x-factor double to Pocahontas through two of her sons, Stockwell and King Tom. But it gets better than that since the second dam of Intriguing is also by War Admiral making her a 4×3 x-factor inbred to a triple crown winner and double inbred to Pocahontas and to the two best daughters of Diomed accordingly. Now that is maternal power.

    By the way, California Chrome’s second dam is also inbred maternally to Princequillo, sire of the dam of Secretariat. Not bred to go the distance eh?

    Intriguing isn’t it ?

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