Breeders’ Cup Diaries: California Angel’s Fan Club Is Growing

This is the fourth installment in our daily diary series following trainer George Leonard’s first trip to the Breeders’ Cup. Find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

Thursday morning was a study in contrasts for the George Leonard barn when compared to the quiet atmosphere of the day before. Leonard and his wife of nine years, Isabel, chatted with rider Chester Bonnet Wednesday while they awaited the opening of the track for training, trading their impressions of various contenders in the Classic and Distaff. Leonard has been popular with the press all week as he prepares California Angel for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, so now and then he’d entertain questions from one reporter after another.

By Thursday, he had a small crowd gathered outside his part of the barn, many of them snapping cameras or taking cell phone photos of the chestnut filly who has captured the imaginations of so many racing fans. Owner Chris Walsh is on hand of course, but ‘Angel’ has attracted a following of California Chrome fans – including Chrome trainer Art Sherman.

As Angel and Bonnet made their way to the chute, waiting to step onto the track, Sherman came around the corner and stopped to observe the filly.

“She’s a pretty filly; I really like her,” said Sherman. “I told him they’re always a lot better when they become 3-year-olds. Chrome really turned the page when he got to be a 3-year-old.

“I see the flash. I see that look in her eye, and he had the same look, wanting to do something. She’s kind of aggressive, a little bit. And that was him, too.”

He stopped by the barn as the filly cooled out for a photo opportunity with Leonard and Walsh. Leonard mused that there were so many images being captured of his filly this week that he’d probably never be able to see them all.

Joining the fan club this week was Victoria Leonard, George’s sister, who flew in from Louisiana on Wednesday. Victoria worked for George for a time, but is no longer in the racing industry. Still, growing up in the Leonard family gave her a thorough education in horses – and like George, she knows a good one when she sees it.

“That’s the crazy thing, she’s still got a lot of growing to do and learning to do,” said Victoria.

Victoria grew up the only girl amongst four brothers, pitching in with the family horses before and after school and on the weekends. Their father trained from the early 1970s until just before his death in an auto accident 13 years ago. When he wasn’t training, he worked on a gas pipeline. His days were long and the work was hard. Victoria says George shares their father’s work ethic.

“Daddy was strict; kind of like George,” she said. “Good person, gentle, but they run a tight ship. That’s how we grew up.”

It’s an emotional week for Victoria, seeing her brother get the chance so many small trainers dream of but never catch. All the more touching for her is that he has done it with a daughter of California Chrome. Victoria considers herself a “Chromie” as the Kentucky Derby winner’s fans are called.

“I’ve always wanted to have [a California Chrome] and for us to have one and her to be so special … I have no words,” she said, noting that Chrome’s humble beginnings were part of what brought his story to life for her. “The passion of his connections, it reminded me a lot of our family. We grew up in horse racing. My dad was the one hollering at the races. As a matter of fact, when our horses would run, my brothers would tell me, ‘Get away from me’ because I’d be the one screaming and hollering, and they said it was embarrassing.”

Isabel Leonard shared her thoughts on California Angel’s journey with reporters on Thursday also:

Angel did not disappoint her audience. She went cantering down the chute to the veterinary station, where horses are observed under saddle at a jog before their workouts as part of the Breeders’ Cup’s enhanced regulatory procedures. Bonnet took her around for her usual gallop and she did her trademark skipping lead changes in an attempt to get away from him. Towards the end of the gallop, he said she was making him work hard to keep her from taking off. She is ready.

With this new attention has come offers. Leonard hasn’t said how many or how much, but told reporter Jennie Rees Thursday morning that Walsh has turned down quite a few, and for that he’s grateful. Both owner and trainer feel as Sherman does, that with a 2-year-old showing promise could turn into anything by the time she turns three. They want to be there when she realizes her full potential.

The post Breeders’ Cup Diaries: California Angel’s Fan Club Is Growing appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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