NEW YORK -- Triple Crown pursuer California Chrome’s fans are known as “Chromies.” Where did that term come from? Twitter, says the man behind the @CalChrome account.
Horse racing enthusiast Shawn LaFata, 37, of Tampa, Fla., created the handle after Chrome won the San Felipe Stakes on March 8.
The colt captured the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes two weeks later and is chasing the first Triple Crown in 36 years at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Chromies include actor/model Bo Derek, a 72-year-old retired customer service rep for a California corrugated box plant who could win $1 million Saturday and Hope, a girl who touched the heart of one of Chrome’s co-owners at a Hampton Inn three weeks ago.
Start with LaFata.
The former Ponte Vedra Beach newspaper sports editor fell for Chrome after watching him, from afar, win the San Felipe at Santa Anita Park in California by 7 1/4 lengths.
“I wanted to know a little bit more about the horse,” LaFata said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I wondered if there was a Twitter account for him. There was none. Maybe I’ll just make one.”
He created @CalChrome because @CaliforniaChrome was one character above Twitter’s maximum for a username.
The handle had more than 12,000 followers as of Wednesday, including Derek and actor Taye Diggs (Diggs, at last check, followed more than 44,000 accounts, though).
@CalChrome is often asked if it means to tweet, shall we say, from the horse’s mouth. But LaFata doesn’t post in personification. Rather, he seeks to create a forum for Chromies, a term he believes was coined eight nights before the Kentucky Derby.
“It just took off from there,” LaFata said. “One comment one night started a whole thing and nicknamed the crowd of fans. Now I get people tweeting me how they are Chromies.”
What makes one a Chromie?
“Somebody who’s got some heart and some passion,” LaFata said. “Somebody who identifies with the owners. That’s been the biggest thing with his story. The ownership group. Everyday Americans. People you see on the streets every day.”
Chrome’s owners are Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who operate Dumbass Partners. In 2008, they spent $8,000 to purchase filly Love the Chase. The partnership’s name was born when a groom at the slow, 2-year-old’s barn said that anybody who would pay for Love the Chase was a dumbass.
Coburn and Martin, in their first attempt at breeding horses, paired Love the Chase with Lucky Pulpit, which cost a mere additional $1,500, and Chrome was conceived.
Coburn wears a cowboy hat and works for a small company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards. The reserved Martin owns a business that tests metal products. They are hardly the usual high-rolling horse owners. Everyday Americans.
Coburn calls Chrome, “America’s horse,” because he feels the whole country has gotten behind the chestnut colt’s bid to end the longest Triple Crown drought in history.
Chromies extend to Canada, Great Britain, even France, said LaFata, who has received Twitter interactions from those nations.
Patrice Wolfson, the owner of the last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed in 1978, could even be called a Chromie. She stood up from her seat at the draw Wednesday, walked toward Team Chrome in her gray Skechers and gave them presents.
Nobody outside of the Chrome camp has more riding on the Belmont than Chromie Eddie Espinoza, the 72-year-old retired customer service rep for a California corrugated box plant.
Espinoza stands to win $1 million if Chrome captures his seventh straight race with jockey Victor Espinoza (no relation) aboard Saturday, thanks to the first Santa Anita Derby Millionaire contest.
The Santa Anita Derby purse reached $1 million for the first time this year, its 77th running, and commemorated the milestone with the Millionaire promotion.
Espinoza was randomly selected out of entries from the crowd of some 30,000 at the April 5 Santa Anita Derby for a pie-in-the-sky idea.
His prize was a $5,000 win wager on a horse at the Santa Anita Derby -- a bet funded by the Los Angeles Turf Club -- and if that horse won Santa Anita and then the Triple Crown, Espinoza would pocket a cool $1 million.
“I am definitely a top fan of California Chrome,” said Espinoza, who will watch the Belmont Stakes on a big screen from the Santa Anita Park winner’s circle, with at least 50 friends and family by his side. “The old nerves start kicking in any time I start thinking about [the $1 million].”
Carolyn Coburn, the wife of Chrome’s co-owner, favors another Chromie, whom she met at a Hampton Inn at the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago.
She recalled a girl named Hope wearing a hat and sitting in a wheelchair. Coburn said Hope was a friend of Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, the last horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012 who was scratched the day before the Belmont with tendonitis.
In 2012, a 12-year-old girl named Hope Hudson with the rare genetic disorder Hadju-Cheney Syndrome was reported to be O’Neill’s good-luck charm.
Steve Coburn handed Hope four or five black-eyed Susans, the flowers on the blanket placed on Chrome for winning the Preakness. Carolyn Coburn has a picture of the moment.
“I’m sure that will always touch my heart and make me cry,” she said.
What happens to Chromies after the Belmont?
The Twitter account will not go dormant, LaFata said.
“When the Triple Crown races roll around next year, I’ll be almost a cheerleader,” he said. “Rooting for other horses.”
Many more Chromies are thinking of the future, too, among thousands of well-wishes, requests to touch the horse and gifts, Team Chrome spokeswoman Alexis Garske said.
“Even a few offerings to put him in their own backyard, totally safe, once he retires, and they’ll watch over him,” Garske said.