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Updated on 05/09/2014 8:37AM
Kentucky Derby: California Chrome makes it look easy
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Art Sherman first came to Churchill Downs in 1955 as a stablehand associated with Swaps, who won that year’s Kentucky Derby. The other day, Sherman, now 77 and the trainer of California Chrome, paid a visit to the gravesite of Swaps, whose remains are at the Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, and said a little prayer.
“It came true,” he said. “I was hoping he was another Swaps.”
California Chrome, like Swaps a chestnut-colored colt bred in California, brought Sherman full circle on Saturday by winning the 140th Derby to make Sherman the oldest trainer to win the Run for the Roses.
“He gave me the biggest thrill I’ve ever had in my life,” Sherman said.
In addition, California Chrome made the colt’s owners and breeders, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, one of the greatest success stories in the history of the Derby. They bought California Chrome’s dam, the Not for Love mare Not the Chase, for $8,000 and decided to breed her, a decision, they were told, only a “dumbass” would do. In honor of that, they named their stable “Dumb Ass Partners” and have a donkey on the back of their silks.
Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome, giving the California-based jockey his second Derby win.
California Chrome is the first Derby winner who trains at Los Alamitos – primarily a Quarter Horse track – where he ended up when his previous home, Hollywood Park, closed. California Chrome was the last stakes winner at Hollywood Park.
California Chrome ($7), the favorite, prevailed by 1 3/4 lengths over Commanding Curve, who rallied from well back to finish second. Danza, one of four runners trained by Todd Pletcher, was 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third.
Wicked Strong came on for fourth and was followed by Samraat, Dance With Fate, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Chitu, We Miss Artie, General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Harry’s Holiday, Vinceremos, Wildcat Red, and Vicar’s in Trouble.
California Chrome completed 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track in 2:03.66.
The win was the fifth straight for California Chrome – including the Santa Anita Derby – all since Espinoza took over as his rider. He earned $1,417,800 from a gross purse of $2,177,800 to push his career earnings past the $2.5 million mark.
California Chrome moves on to the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 17, with a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. The current drought is the longest since the Triple Crown, whose final leg is the Belmont Stakes, was swept by Sir Barton in 1919.
A field of 19 went to the post on a gorgeous, 75-degree day here. There were 21 entered, but two, Hoppertunity and Pablo Del Monte, were scratched. Because there was one fewer than the maximum 20 runners, the inside stall in the starting gate was left open.
For such a large field, it was a fairly clean start, and California Chrome, wearing saddle-cloth No. 5, broke alertly and was forwardly placed the first time through the stretch. He was between Uncle Sigh and Chitu as the field neared the finish for the first time, but Espinoza was able to get him out of that spot and then outside, giving him a clear run the rest of the way.
“There was one inside, one outside. I could see everybody coming outside, and my heart went 100 miles an hour,” Espinoza said. When he got California Chrome out of that spot, “What a relief. I could let him stretch his legs,” Espinoza said.
There was quite a bit of trouble just behind the leaders the first time through. Vicar’s in Trouble, who started from the inside, ended up in a tight spot behind horses and had to check sharply. Danza was clobbered by his Pletcher-trained stablemate Vinceremos, who swerved across lanes. And as the field entered the first turn, Candy Boy clipped heels and had to check to the outside.
California Chrome was in the three path for the length of the backstretch, and as the field neared the far turn, Samraat moved up to his outside. At the quarter pole, there were four runners abreast, but Uncle Sigh yielded first, Chitu began to fade, and then California Chrome turned on the jets and opened a daylight advantage.
Watching from the stands, Sherman said he was thinking like the jockey he was before he retired and became a trainer.
“He was in the perfect spot. I was thinking, ‘Cool it, Victor,’ ” Sherman said. “Then I just hoped he had something left. When he sprinted away, I said, ‘Let me take over the last 70 yards.’ ”
For Coburn, the Derby completed a dream he has told early and often. Three weeks before the colt was born in 2011, Coburn says he dreamed the foal would be a chestnut colt with white on all four legs “and a big blaze face.” And that’s exactly what that Lucky Pulpit colt looked like.
California Chrome’s lineage traces, both top and bottom, to Swaps.
“To see all this happen, to see this dream come true, put up so much – your savings, your retirement – and see him win the Kentucky Derby, I have no words,” Coburn said.
Coburn said he and Martin turned down an offer of $6 million for 51 percent of the horse after the Santa Anita Derby. But selling would have meant California Chrome “would run in their colors, have a new trainer, and leave Los Alamitos, which he loves,” Coburn said.
“We knew in our souls what kind of horse we had,” he said. “This has been an incredible, incredible journey.”
Coburn turned 61 on Saturday. As birthdays go, “This is probably the best one so far,” he said.
Sherman was quietly confident all week. He’s been around the racetrack for 60 years, seen it all, and knew that for this horse, for this race, coming in late, not working over the track, was the right move. Ably assisted by his son, Alan, they stayed true to their plan, never wavering.
“You don’t train every horse the same,” Sherman said. “He was coming back in a month from the Santa Anita Derby. The Triple Crown is the toughest series of races. Two weeks to the Preakness, a mile and a half in the Belmont. I wanted him to be fresh.”
Sherman said California Chrome would remain here for at least a week with his friend, trainer Tom Proctor, before going to Maryland. California Chrome leaves here as the Derby winner, as does Sherman.
“I’m just the same old Art Sherman,” he said as to whether his life would now change. Sherman then paused briefly and added, “Except I won the Kentucky Derby.”
Great to see ride on Curlin will get Borel off his back in Preakness.will be a lot closer to pace.
medal count was just getting underway when danza completly shut him off.
Why did he get the best trip. Because he has the ability to place himself out of trouble. Others who were on the pace with him also had the ability to place themselves but not the ability to go on. And others only had the ability to close late. Too late. While others had no ability just excuses.so in the end the best horse won.
I ask this again at the risk of being deleted. Do Beyer numbers take into account where the jockey breaks open a race by 5 lengths, looks back to see if there any comers and then GEARS DOWN the horse? Just wondering!
I think we can all agree....the way NBC shows a horse race is worse then a kid with his first camera...what on earth are those angles? and no numbers at the bottom of the screen? Even Beulah knows how to film a race better... none of this all over the place camera angles, a simple pan from the side is all you need....ugh
Beautiful story...made us californians proud ! he sure has a legit shot at history...If he wins the Triple Crown.....6 million would seem like a drop in the bucket ! Just the breeding syndication would be close to a 100 Mil....Go CC...Your legacy will be legendary !
Samraat ran a sneaky good race - I hope the connections consider going to Baltimore but my gut tells me they will wait until the Belmont to face what they hope is a softened up CC.
Tribute to California Chrome Sherman, Espinoza and California Chrome Brought the 2014 Kentucky Derby home The Chrome was never in danger of having his coat tarnished At the furlong pole any chance of the others all but vanished CC your performance was just so awesome
The key to this horse is his action, the smoothest I've seen since Seatle Slew.
Mickey Rooney lives, at least in the 'it'd be hokey if it wasn't real' CC saga. Is this great for horse racing or what, a 'backyard' breeder with one horse and one dream, to win the Kentucky Derby. And does this put Los Al on the map as an important new venue for horseracing? Seems like the only losers here are the Kentucky bluebloods, who probably still can't believe it. But hey, too bad, they didn't need the $$ anyway. Hooray for California Dreamin', and California Chrome!1