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California Chrome keeps dream alive for 77-year-old trainer, blue collar owners

Don't let this horse's blue collar background fool you: California Chrome is horse racing royalty. And it doesn't hurt to have a little luck and love, too.

California Chrome keeps dream alive for 77-year-old trainer, blue collar owners
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

California Chrome has now won six races in a row, including the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness Stakes. Now the red horse with the huge white blaze and four white socks will try to accomplish what no horse has done in 36 years: Win the Triple Crown.

Improbable? Perhaps. But this entire story is delightfully improbable.

While critics questioned the pedigree of the California-bred colt, he began his sophomore season with easy triumphs in the California Cup Derby on January 25 and the San Felipe Stakes on March 8. He then showed everyone his heels in the Santa Anita Derby, making him the well-deserved favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

California Chrome has modest breeding and he's bucking history, but nobody told the horse.

California's dam, Love the Chase, cost a mere $8,000, while the stud fee for his sire, Lucky Pulpit, was $2500. Love the Chase was such a "questionable" purchase that her new owners were told that they must be "dumb asses" for investing even eight grand into the horse. But owners Steve and Carolyn Coburn and Perry and Denise Martin embraced the "dumb ass" label, picking up the moniker of "dumb ass partners," designated by DAP.

But looking past those bargain basement prices, there are some very successful horses in Chrome's family. You might have to dig a little into his pedigree, but in between the sprinters, milers, and relative unknowns, you'll find familiar names like Belmont States winner A.P. Indy (himself a son of Seattle Slew and a grandson of Secretariat), Mr. Prospector, and Caro, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors.

California's grandsire on his sire's side, Pulpit, had progeny with earnings of approximately $60 million. Pulpit fathered top sire Tapit and Grade 1 winners Ice Box, Sky Mesa, Pyro, and Purge, as well as Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Corinthian.

His grandsire on his dam's side, Not For Love, is the son of Mr. Prospector, who sired 1985 Preakness Stakes winner Tank's Prospect, 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, and - perhaps most importantly for current Triple Crown hopes - 1982 Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo.

Many talented horses have emerged from relatively "modest" breeding - take Damascus, winner of the 1967 Preakness and Belmont Stakes; or 2005 champion sprinter Lost in the Fog; or Smarty Jones, who won the first two legs of the 2004 Triple Crown.

While California's sire and dam were not standouts in their generation, their names - like their son - include "luck" and "love."

Surely it was for the love of the horse that the Coburns and the Martins turned down a multi-million dollar offer for a 51% share of Chrome...two months before the Kentucky Derby. Had the Coburns and Martins accepted the offer, the flashy red colt would've been transferred from trainer Art Sherman - and that term was unacceptable for these partners.

California Chrome is defying his breeding and the long drought of a Cal-bred winning the Derby. But trainer Art Sherman, 77, has been here once before.

Back in 1955, Sherman was the exercise rider for a horse named Swaps - a horse who won the Kentucky Derby that year and then won Horse of the Year honors in 1956. A horse who just happens to be in California Chrome's pedigree, too.

So don't let this horse's modest pedigree fool you. He's got luck, love, talent...and a whole lot of heart.

And the "Dumb Ass Partners" are beginning to look like brilliant horsemen as their emblazoned "DAP" continues to cross the finish line first.