01/06/2016 1:16PM

Hovdey: Good karma pre-installed for Hope's Love


The place to be for a devoted racing fan on Saturday is front and center at Santa Anita Park, where 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome makes his return to the races in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes.

Unless you are Hope Hudson.

The 16-year-old Missouri girl, an ardent fan of California Chrome, instead will be at Golden Gate Fields with her family that day to watch Chrome’s 3-year-old full sister try to win a maiden race.

Her name is Hope’s Love.

Nothing says California Chrome has to win his comeback, although he will be heavily favored, just as there is no guarantee that Hope’s Love will put on a fairy-tale performance for her namesake. The happy coincidence of the champion brother and his little sister competing on the same afternoon is intriguing enough.

For those who need more, the story of Hope’s Love and Hope Hudson comes wrapped in one of those inspirational series of events that seems to spring from close contact with special horses and the people around them.

The tale begins when young Miss Hudson was the beneficiary of a trip to the 2012 Kentucky Derby courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation for children with life-threatening medical conditions. She had been diagnosed with Hajdu-Cheney Syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder that in her case has lead to a malformation of the base of the skull where the brain and spine join. Hope has undergone more than a dozen surgeries.

None of that stopped her from becoming a passionate fan of 2012 Derby winner I’ll Have Another, whose trainer, Doug O’Neill, was inspired by the girl’s unwaveringly sunny disposition in the face of adversity.

“People in racing sometimes think they’re tough,” O’Neill said this week. “But we’re pretty soft compared with what Hope has been through. She is so brave. Spend a little time with her, and you feel like you could run through a wall.”

Two years later, the Hudson family attended the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico and took a place in the growing chorus of California Chrome fans. On the day after the race, Hope was sitting in a Baltimore hotel lobby, wearing her California Chrome hat, when Steve and Carolyn Coburn happened by. Steve Coburn, never known to be shy, engaged the girl in conversation and gave her a handful of the faux black-eyed susans from the floral blanket of their Preakness winner.

“We’ve kept in touch with Hope and her family ever since,” Carolyn Coburn said this week from their home in Wellington, Nev. “When we knew there was a race for Hope’s Love this weekend, we arranged to bring them out.

“Hope is such a gutsy young lady,” Coburn added. “She never feels sorry for herself. She reminds me a lot of Hope’s Love, who is small and can be a real pistol.”

The California Chrome story pivoted away from the Coburns last July after they sold their 30 percent interest in the colt to Kentucky’s Taylor Made Farm, while Perry and Denise Martin retained their majority share. It was no secret that the Martins and the Coburns sometimes pulled in different directions when it came to campaigning their colt, but Carolyn declined to hash over old news.

“It will be hard, sure, but we did what we thought was right for Chrome and his future,” Carolyn Coburn said. “We’ve heard nothing but good things about the way he’s been training, and we certainly wish them all the best.”

Few owners have been more closely identified with a star colt in recent years than the Coburns were with California Chrome. They may have been minority owners, but they were majority entertaining.

Steve would hold forth from beneath his ever-present Stetson and bushy gray moustache like Wilford Brimley on tilt, guaranteeing victory here and victory there, while Carolyn would roll her eyes and be ready with the occasional reality check. Coburn was a media darling until he wasn’t, which is the way it works these days, although he could be given karma credit for the American Pharoah excitement of 2015 when he declared, after California Chrome lost the Belmont, “There will never be a Triple Crown winner in my lifetime.” Thank you, Mr. C.

Despite being on the sidelines now for California Chrome, the Coburns still have a stake in a good piece of the family. In addition to Hope’s Love, the Coburns and the Martins own Love the Chase, the dam of California Chrome, now in residence at Taylor Made. They also are welcome in the Art Sherman shed row any time they want to visit California Chrome and did so not long ago.

“He was so happy to see us,” Carolyn said. “When I walk up to him, I can pet him and give him his cookies. When Steve walks up, he gets real playful and starts nipping at him, like they’ve been doing since Chrome was a baby.”

California Chrome earned $6.3 million while racing for the original partnership and now has been marketed as a future stallion, giving the Coburns a miraculous return on their original investment with the Martins of less than $10,000. With part of it, they bought a new house.

“When we were looking, the thing I wanted the most was a room I could devote to Chrome,” Carolyn said. “It’s got trophies and pictures and souvenirs we got along the way at places like Churchill Downs and Pimlico. We call it ‘the Chrome Room.’ Someday maybe Hope’s Love will have a place there, too.”