01/31/2014 4:03PM

California Chrome has big plans

Barbara D. Livingston
California Chrome will get a shot on the Kentucky Derby trail this spring after his victory in the California Cup Derby.

The Cessna 172 is a single-engine, fixed-wing private plane that seats four, costs about $290,000 new, and can be seen by the dozens at regional airports throughout the world. The plane was going to be Steve Coburn’s new hobby a few years ago.

“I wanted to buy an airplane,” Coburn said last weekend. “My wife said no.”

Carolyn Coburn was not keen on the aviation idea, leading the couple to seek an alternative investment. They chose Thoroughbred racehorses. When Carolyn Coburn put her foot down over the airplane, she made a decision that put her family on the 2014 Triple Crown trail.

After several years of investing with the California-based Blinkers On racing syndicate, the Coburns and fellow partners Perry and Denise Martin bought broodmare prospect Love the Chase in 2009. Her first foal, by the young California stallion Lucky Pulpit, arrived in 2011 and was named California Chrome.

Now 3, California Chrome has won three stakes, most recently the $250,750 California Cup Derby by 5 1/2 lengths at Santa Anita on Jan. 25. The win has put California Chrome on course for the Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 8, a key prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5.

“If it all goes according to plan, we’re going East [to the Kentucky Derby],” Steve Coburn said. “That’s down the road, and we can always dream. We’re hoping his 3-year-old year will be great. Hopefully, his 4-year-old year will be fantastic. He’s a nice colt.”

Officially, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin are listed as the owners of California Chrome, but their families are just as involved. The men met through Blinkers On, holding small ownership shares of several runners.

Coburn – who turns 61 on May 3, Kentucky Derby Day – and his wife live in Topaz Lake, Nev., about a half-hour south of Reno. Coburn works for a company that makes magnetic tape on the back of credit cards.

“If you’ve got a California driver’s license, I helped make that,” Coburn said.

Carolyn Coburn works in health care in Carson City, Nev. The couple has lived in Nevada for 20 years, having moved from Bakersfield, Calif.

From an economic standpoint, the move provided an opportunity to invest in racing.

“When we moved to Nevada, we did well financially,” Steve Coburn said.

Perry and Denise Martin live in Yuba City, Calif., north of Sacramento. Perry Martin, 57, owns a laboratory company that tests products such as airbags and medical equipment.

Love the Chase was one of the horses Coburn and Martin owned with Blinkers On. She won an $8,000 maiden-claiming race at Golden Gate Fields in February 2009 when owned by the syndicate. Two months and two races later, she finished last in an $8,000 claiming race, after having been acquired by Coburn and Martin.

“She was nervous and immature, and she always washed out,” Coburn said. “She loved people and hated horses.”

Love the Chase, by the Mr. Prospector stallion Not for Love, was bred to Lucky Pulpit in 2010. Martin liked the extended bloodlines, breeding a mare from the Mr. Prospector line to a grandson of A.P. Indy. In 2010, Lucky Pulpit stood at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., for a fee, $2,500, which will be the same this year.

“It’s a low-cost breeding, but the pedigree is there,” Martin said.

California Chrome weighed 137 pounds when he was foaled, Coburn said. He was so big that Love the Chase needed the next breeding season off to recover from the foaling. California Chrome was foaled Feb. 18, 2011, the anniversary of the death of Coburn’s sister, Brenda, of cancer in the 1970s.

“He’s been a special colt since he hit the ground,” Coburn said.

Love the Chase does not have a 2-year-old, but there is a yearling full sister. Another full sibling is expected “any day now,” Coburn said.

California Chrome caught trainer Art Sherman’s eye last summer. The colt won his second start, a maiden race for California-breds at Hollywood Park last May, and became a stakes winner when taking the $100,250 Graduation Stakes for California-breds at Del Mar in July.

At the time, Sherman had long-term hopes for California Chrome.

“I really think he’ll go longer,” Sherman said after the 5 1/2-furlong Graduation. “He’s acting like that with the way he’s trained. He’s going to be a nice 3-year-old. He’s got a nice stride.”

California Chrome made his graded stakes debut in the $301,500 Del Mar Futurity, a Grade 1 race at seven furlongs in September. He finished a troubled sixth of 11, beaten two lengths by the California-bred Tamarando. For Coburn and Martin, the race was frustrating to watch.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Martin said. “We considered him a graded stakes horse when we ran him in the Del Mar Futurity. He had a rough trip. At the top of the stretch, he had a wall of slowing horses in front of him. When he got clear, he was going like a flash.”

California Chrome made two starts in stakes for California-breds last fall. He had a slow start in the $200,250 Golden State Juvenile at a mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1 and finished sixth. The race was run on the undercard of the first day of the Breeders’ Cup, a day in which speed was favorable at Santa Anita.

That loss was forgotten when California Chrome won the $200,500 King Glorious Stakes at seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on Dec. 22, drawing off by 6 1/4 lengths as the 2-1 favorite. The King Glorious was the featured race on the final day of racing in track history, making California Chrome the track’s last stakes winner.

In the California Cup Derby at 1 1/16 miles, California Chrome was the 5-2 second choice in the field of 10. Ridden by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome was third for the first six furlongs. When asked for his run, he responded quickly, pulling away to win by 5 1/2 lengths over Tamarando.

“He was back at the barn smoking a cigarette before the other horses hit the wire,” Coburn joked the next day.

“We’re still glowing a little bit,” Martin said Wednesday.

The Grade 2 San Felipe will be a key race, testing California Chrome against some of the circuit’s top 3-year-olds. A big effort will lead to a start in the Santa Anita Derby.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Martin said. ”We have hopes for the Santa Anita Derby and on to the [Kentucky] Derby. The clock is ticking.”