Louisville, Ky. – In a game dominated by millionaires and billionaires, this was a victory for the little guys. Owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred an $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion to win the world’s most famous race with their one-horse stable.
California Chrome, based at lesser-known Los Alamitos racetrack in suburban Los Angeles, was the early 5-2 favorite for today’s 140th Derby with good reason. He has won four straight races by a combined 24 ¼ lengths under Victor Espinoza, who won the Derby in 2002 with War Emblem.
“He’s so light on his feet,” Espinoza said. “He just does things so easy and makes my job easy.”
California Chrome’s owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, are no Kentucky blue bloods. They’re a couple of working stiffs who live near Reno, Nevada. A trainer called them “dumb asses” for getting into the racing game, inspiring the duo to put the letters DAP on their silks, which stands for Dumb Ass Partners.
Seventy seven year old winning trainer, Art Sherman, was a teenage stable boy when he traveled here in a railroad car from California in 1955 to accompany Swaps, who won the Derby that year. Sherman went on to ride as a jockey for 23 years and became a trainer in 1980. He’s got over 2,000 career wins, but this was his first trip back to the Derby.
“He gave me the biggest thrill I ever had in my life,” said Sherman, who became the oldest trainer ever to win the Derby. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when he won it in 1989 with Sunday Silence.
The 3-year-old colt, the first California-bred to wear the garland of red roses in 52 years, took control down the stretch in the 140th Derby – and ran away from the other 18 horses in the field. Commanding Curve was second and Danza was third.
“I never felt in my dreams that I would win two Kentucky Derbies in my entire career. … It was an awesome feeling,” said winning jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode War Emblem to a Derby win in 2002.
Steve Coburn, co-owner of California Chrome along with Perry Martin, turned down a $6 million offer for 51 percent of their horse after he won the Santa Anita Derby in his previous race.
Coburn and Martin, who had previously owned small shares in race horses through a syndicate, paid $8,000 for a mare named Love the Chase and bred her for $2,000 with Lucky Pulpit.
Their offspring was California Chrome, who will now move on his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.