05/01/2014 12:41PM

Kentucky Derby: Little guys have big shot with California Chrome

Tom Keyser
California Chrome, a one-horse stable for a couple of working folks – Steve Coburn and Perry Martin - is the favorite for Saturday's 140th Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Horse racing long has been known as the Sport of Kings, but it truly is one of the few places where some of the wealthiest people in the world routinely mingle with an income strata far below, where a billionaire will think nothing of asking a destitute tout who he likes in the fifth.

The Kentucky Derby has proven to be a great equalizer over the years. Old money won last year, when Orb brought the Phipps family its first Derby victory. That came on the 10-year anniversary of Funny Cide, who was owned by 10 friends from upstate New York who arrived at Churchill Downs in a yellow school bus.

This year’s Derby, run for 140th time on Saturday, is proof that no matter how much money you spend, or how many horses you have, fate can reward anyone.

[DRF Live: Get live reports and handicapping insights from Churchill Downs on Saturday]

Ride On Curlin is trained by Billy Gowan, who has exactly three horses in his care, one fewer than the four high-powered Todd Pletcher will run the Derby alone.

Medal Count is owned by B. Wayne Hughes, a regular resident in the Fortune 400 owing to the success of his well-known company, Public Storage. He has an estimated net worth of $2.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Samraat is owned by Len Riggio, the founder and chairman of chain booksellers Barnes and Noble, a Fortune 500 company.

:: KENTUCKY DERBY: Posts, odds, and comments

But the horse to beat in this Derby is from a one-horse stable of a couple of working folks – Steve Coburn and Perry Martin – who live on either side of the California-Nevada border near Reno. They bred their $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion – a decision that prompted a friend to call them “dumb asses,” and which they used as inspiration for their silks, on which there is the abbreviation “DAP,” for Dumb-Ass Partners.

That mating produced a colt, and before that colt ever ran, they sent an e-mail to trainer Art Sherman that was headlined “Road to the Derby,” which Sherman said he found a bit ambitious.

Yet here they all are, having passed every mile marker on that road, with the morning-line favorite for the Derby in California Chrome.

“It’s like a storybook kind of thing,” Sherman said the other morning. “It gives everyone the idea that they’ve got a chance.”

California Chrome’s backstory undoubtedly has fueled his popularity, but it’s his race record that will make him the betting favorite. He has won four straight races, all in concert with jockey Victor Espinoza, most recently a runaway in the Santa Anita Derby.

For this storybook to have the happiest ending, though, California Chrome will have to outrun as many as 19 rivals, and will have to negotiate 1 1/4 miles for the first time in his first start outside his native state of California.

The potholes that can cause a Derby travelogue to end prematurely claimed a horse on Thursday, when Hoppertunity, runner-up in the Santa Anita Derby, was scratched from the race with an issue to his left front foot, which trainer Bob Baffert believes to be merely a foot bruise.

There were 21 horses entered in the Derby on Wednesday, but the starting field is limited to 20. So, Pablo Del Monte was placed on the also-eligible list. The scratch of Hoppertunity allowed Pablo Del Monte to move into the field. He would have started from the outside post, but his connections on Friday decided to pass the race.

Because of his withdrawal, 19 are now in the starting gate. The inside stall will be left open, and the 19 runners will go from posts 2 through 20. Saddle cloth numbers are unchanged.

Hoppertunity was the original second choice on the morning line of Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs, who now has Wicked Strong as his second choice. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form ’s national handicapper, had Wicked Strong as the second choice in his original line, with Hoppertunity as his third choice. Both have California Chrome as the favorite.

California Chrome’s saga is one of several compelling story lines in this Derby.

Wicked Strong was named by his Boston-based ownership group, Centennial Farms, to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Some survivors of that attack are scheduled to be at this Derby, as guests of the owners.

Vinceremos is named after a therapeutic riding center in Florida that works with children and adults with physical and emotional disabilities. A young child who attends the center, and who has become a fan of the horse Vinceremos, will attend the Derby as guests of his owners, WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing.

We Miss Artie was named by owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey in honor of a family member in Michigan who died two years ago.

Uncle Sigh is owned by Chip McEwen, who named his racing stable Wounded Warrior Stables and donates 10 percent of his earnings to wounded vets.

Irad Ortiz Jr., the rider of Uncle Sigh, and his brother Jose, who rides Samraat, will become the first brothers to ride in the Derby since Eddie and Sam Maple in 1984.

Joel Rosario, the jockey on General a Rod, won last year’s Derby on Orb and is seeking to become the first jockey to win consecutive Derbies since Calvin Borel in 2009-10.

There’s a bit of mirth to this Derby. Danza was named in honor of the actor Tony Danza, who has embraced the sudden celebrity of the horse and cheerfully accepted an offer from the colt’s owners, Eclipse Thoroughbreds, to attend the Derby. There is no truth to the rumor that if Danza wins, the new giant video board on the backstretch here will play episodes of “Who’s the Boss” on a loop.

And there’s a bit of tension in this Derby regarding Tapiture, and his trainer Steve Asmussen, who was accused by The New York Times, and an accompanying video by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, of not caring properly for his horses. Asmussen has become a lightning rod in the sport, with camps as varied as the chairman of the Jockey Club insisting he not even show up this week, to those who believe Asmussen deserves due process and has done nothing illegal.

That is the background under which this Derby will be contested. It might not be the strongest or deepest field, but it is a part of the great American fabric, a spectacle as much as a race. Only a dumb ass would miss it.


Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The California THUNDER has arrived like a zephyr! Step aside all you rich, republican horse owners from the Kentucky blue grass, the PEOPLE'S horse is in town and he's all the BUSINESS!
Cathy Crawford More than 1 year ago
Im for the Chrome!!!!!!!
Scott Kelley More than 1 year ago
Rodman More than 1 year ago
I think you are right, he was my initial pick and I started looking for horses that may be able to beat him but looks like I will be putting place money on some of the others and tri-keys with CC on top.
Gene More than 1 year ago
I would have liked to have read about Larry Zap.... The media has completely forgotten about him.. Here is a guy with no car, bank account and barely a place to live and he "owns" Dance With Fate... If that isn't a story of American ingenuity, what is??/
Tobin Cross More than 1 year ago
C.C. has won three in a row easily. looks like he could give more if asked
Bustedbox2 More than 1 year ago
I don't know anything about the allegations against Steve Asmussen put forward by P.E.T.A. and the New York Times, but I do know that they frequently use the interest created around the Triple Crown races as a platform to advance their agenda. After the slanderous and misleading charges The Times preferred against the connections of I'll Have Another in 2012, I would have thought they would have lost all credibility among the horse racing community. John Holditch Birmingham, Alabama
Jay Donnelly More than 1 year ago
I don't care what people are saying about CC. He is a speedster and could win the Triple Crown. Just cause he's from out west, they changed back to dirt a few years ago and that made a big difference. What a horse, Go California Chrome.
Kelly Greene More than 1 year ago
Are the "East-Coasters" already dismissing a CC Derby win with "he didn't beat much"?? Isn't that kinda insulting to the other horses? And what's wrong with them, did they just emerge out of a cheap claiming race, are they from a minor-league track, are their trainers just pretenders? It would be like a Mickey Rooney-movie (RIP, Mickey) if CC did win, what with the 'humble' breeding and all, and it would be great for horse racing, just not great for all the snobby "East-Coasters." Too bad!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Art Sherman and your staff I wish you all the best. Your connections took a risk on a mare that more win tickets were deposited on the floors of Northern California tracks than were ever cashed. Bred to a Stallion that is Lucky to service mares in any state. The outcome due to genetic luck and patient handling is an amazing "FREAK " named California Chrome. He's not the best looking horse this year physically, those horses fell by the wayside and will never bring their owners an ROI that was expected when purchased in the auction ring or in private purchases there after. This is a horse that comes along once in a lifetime, much like a $17,000 purchase like Seattle Slew. Slew's connections of the Taylor's and Turner were unknowns nationally until another freak entered their lives. This guy has a stride that trainers dream of. Being along time handicapper since the age of 9, and having had the opportunity to work at a racetrack for over a decade, I've been in awe of this horse without a proper description. Art came up with it immediately when he said the horse has no wasted motion. Nail on the head. CC and Victor Espinoza will be wearing Roses on Saturday, not because he was the best bred horse 3 yrs ago, but because he is a freak in an otherwise unassuming group this year. This is the recipe that Triple Crowns are made of.
Reiner727 . More than 1 year ago
Very well said
Brian Williams More than 1 year ago
Taking a page out of what Affirmed had done..winning the S/A Derby and San Felipe prior to the Derby..should zero in on the quality of Cal Chrome..and lightly raced. He's the pick and should be! With that same thought..too would mention that Slew won the Wood prior to the Derby..have to like Wicked Strong's performance in the Wood..(out of Hard Spun-2nd in '07 Derby)..post no problem...the play!