Favorite California Chrome brought it home yesterday to become the first California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby in 52 years. Breaking well from post position 5, jockey Victor Espinoza kept him in 3rd place along the inside as longshots Chitu (25-1) and Uncle Sigh (30-1) dueled for the lead. He finally made his move after a mile, and there was no looking back for the next 70 yards to the finish.
“Everything worked out. It was an amazing race. This horse has so much talent,” exclaimed Espinoza, 41, after winning his second Derby. His first was aboard War Emblem in 2002. “By the 3/8th pole, he was going so strong, and I could see the other horses struggling a bit. I let him go and that was it.”
“Our guardian angels have been watching over us, and they put our horse on the right side,” added co-owner Steve Coburn, after Chrome gave him the biggest present for his 61st birthday that anyone could want. It also made Art Sherman, 77, the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, giving him a thrill he never anticipated when he accompanied the great Swaps to Churchill Downs from California by boxcar as an 18-year old exercise rider for the 1955 Derby. Swaps is buried at the track.
“I said a little prayer, and it came true. Now California Chrome is my Swaps,” stated Sherman,
Not only is “Chrome’s” victory a classic, but so is his back story. Foaled in the small town of Coalinga in the San Joaquin Valley to an $8,000 mare named Love for the Chase after she was bred for $2,500 to Lucky Pulpit, California Chrome grew up at Dumb Ass Partners stable (so named because someone told Steve Coburn and his partner Perry Martin that “anybody who buys a race horse is just that.) In fact, their bright purple silks sport a green jackass across the back. However, now no one thinks they deserve a “kick in the pants.” The partners have since turned down a $6 million offer for 51% of their prize colt.
While California Chrome may have been the anticipated winner from the start, the biggest surprise at the race may have been 37-1 shot Commanding Curve’s commanding second, just ahead of Danza. Wicked Strong, who had hoped for a quicker pace than he got settled for fourth.