California Chrome at the 2014 Preakness Stakes.

Credit: Jay Baker / Maryland GovPicks / Wikimedia Commons

Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn on Why California Chrome Inspires Us

June 10, 2014

If America learned any valuable and enduring lessons from television in the 1960s, it was that a horse is a horse (of course.) But in the case of California Chrome -- the racehorse who was one victory away from winning the Triple Crown before his surprising defeat at Belmont Stakes this weekend -- sometimes a horse is a lot more than that. Harvard historian Nancy Koehn joined Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on Boston Public Radio to talk about what it is, exactly, that makes Americans go wild for a great horse story.

The rarefied world of elite horse racing -- full of million-dollar purebreds and high stakes bets, not to mention ostentatious headgear -- may seem an unlikely breeding ground for a working class hero. But then there's California Chrome. Born to an $8,000 mare and bred for only $2,500 (a "bargain-basement" match, by horse racing standards) California Chrome bucked convention as an everyman among millionaires. 

But California Chrome's appeal wasn't just about his underdog background. Pedigree notwithstanding, Koehn says there's something universally irresistible about the pluck, perseverance, and heart (not to mention blood, sweat, and tears) exhibited by great racehorses like him.

"I think that there's all this idealism in the world out there. It's latent, but it's powerful, and it's waiting for outlets," Koehn says. "So what is California Chrome? California Chrome is a door opening into that idealism, into our collective belief and aspiration for the power of noble-hearted spirits that are serious and have a lot of sweat equity."

Hear Nancy Koehn's full take on California Chrome and the surprising leadership lessons we can learn from racehorses below.

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