01/06/2015 10:09AM

2014 Eclipse Awards: California Chrome

Justin N. Lane

On April 1, 2009, in an $8,000 claiming race going one mile at Golden Gate Fields, the 3-year-old filly Love the Chase finished last in a field of eight, beaten more than 13 lengths at odds of 28-1. It was the final start of a career that saw the daughter of Not For Love win once in six starts, for total earnings of $7,020.

Her owners, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, decided to keep her and breed her, decisions, they were told, only a “dumb ass” would make.

The first foal out of that mare, a Lucky Pulpit colt born in February 2011, was California Chrome.

How do you like them now?

Martin and Coburn, the self-proclaimed Dumb Ass Partners, never wavered in their convictions and saw California Chrome – the colt they called “Junior” – develop into a Kentucky Derby winner and a Preakness Stakes winner. Those were two of the four Grade 1 races California Chrome won during 2014 to make him a finalist for champion male 3-year-old.

Martin and Coburn’s is a story that brings hope that good fortune can shine on anyone in this sport, that you don’t have to buy your way to the top. They took an $8,000 mare, bred her to a $2,500 stallion, and reached the summit on the first Saturday in May.

California Chrome – his name inspired by the state of his birth and the generous amounts of white on the legs and face of his chestnut coat – graduated from statebred races at the beginning of the year to open company, scoring runaway victories at Santa Anita in the California Cup Derby, Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, and Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

He arrived at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby as the favorite and overwhelmed his 18 rivals with a powerful move entering the lane.

Two weeks later, California Chrome captured the Preakness, his sixth straight win dating back to the end of his 2-year-old season. The victory put him one race away from becoming the sport’s 12th Triple Crown winner.

California Chrome came up short in the Belmont. He stumbled at the start when rival Matterhorn’s left front hoof caught the back of California Chrome’s right front hoof, resulting in a nasty gash. Despite that, and the rigors of the Triple Crown, California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth, less than two lengths behind the victorious Tonalist.

A well-deserved freshening was ordered by trainer Art Sherman. More than three months later, California Chrome returned in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby but tired after racing along the inside and faded to finish sixth.

The race appeared to do him much good, though, for California Chrome trained sharply coming out of that race at his home base of Los Alamitos and came into the Breeders’ Cup Classic as one of the top contenders. He finished a close third behind two other 3-year-olds, Bayern and Toast of New York.

That was initially to be the final race of 2014 for California Chrome. But Sherman, long desirous of running California Chrome on turf, was so impressed with how he exited the Classic that he called an audible and put him in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar.

As Sherman believed he would, California Chrome skipped over the turf in his first start on the surface, winning the Hollywood Derby with regular rider Victor Espinoza to complete a year in which he won 6 of 9 starts and more than $4 million. He is the only horse in the country this year to win Grade 1 races on turf and dirt, which makes him a strong candidate for Horse of the Year, too.

California Chrome is scheduled to remain in training at age 4.