As the world’s most famous horse race draws ever closer, folks far and wide are asking themselves that eternal question… “Who is going to win the Kentucky Derby?”
When people look for their selection, most of the money will go to the popular choice for obvious reasons. The early favorite for Kentucky Derby 140 is a horse that fits the bill as a 21st century pick. Since the calendar has flipped into the new millennium, what used to be the unexpected has been the norm beneath the twin spires on the first Saturday in May. Long shots like Mine That Bird (2009) and Giacomo (2005) have been surrounded by a gelding (Funny Cide 2003), a horse with only three previous starts (Big Brown 2008), a winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Street Sense 2007), and two other undefeated winners (Smarty Jones 2004, Barbaro 2006). During the 20th century, big longshots, undefeated starters, lightly raced horses, and geldings were written off because they were not in what was considered the normal criteria for a Kentucky Derby winner. And if this still were the 1900’s, that is where 2014 Derby favorite California Chrome would be.
Despite all his luster, California Chrome is under a certain scrutiny because of one glaring factor. Yes, this shining son of Lucky Pulpit has been very impressive in winning six of ten lifetime starts and has visited the winner’s circle in each of his last four outings. And yes, he used a powerful stretch move to destroy a very competent field in the Santa Anita Derby on April 5, but he was born in the state for which he is named. During the previous 139 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, only three horses bred in the horse racing rich state of California have worn the blanket of roses. Morvich (1922), Swaps (1955), and Decidedly (1962) are the only winners from the Golden State. However, Chrome owner and breeder Steve Coburn will quickly point out one very good reason why it does not matter that California has not produced a Kentucky Derby champ in over 50 years.
“California Chrome may be a California-bred, but he doesn’t know that,” says Coburn. “All he knows is he loves to run and that’s all it takes is the heart of a horse that loves to run. He has a tremendous heart and we’ve seen that because he never gives up.”
As it turns out, California Chrome has some Swaps deep in his lineage on his mother’s side (Love the Chase). Coburn sees that as a real positive and also the fact that Secretariat is in the blood on his father’s side as well. Besides the bloodlines from way back, destiny is also a far-reaching factor for a man that has built his horse from the ground up.
“We have been pointing this horse towards the Kentucky Derby since the day he hit the ground,” says Coburn. “I told my wife the day after he was born we had better hang on for the ride because it is going to be a good one. I had a dream about him two weeks before he was born. Then he came out on February 18, which is my sister’s birthday. She died of cancer at age 36 and this year makes 36 years since we have had a Triple Crown winner. I am not saying right now he is going to win the Triple Crown, but has just as good a chance as anybody.”
The latest win by California Chrome certainly solidified his owner’s thinking. Running just off a solid early pace, the Art Sherman trained colt cruised up the backstretch. At the top of the stretch under jockey Victor Espinoza, California Chrome bolted to the lead and pulled away from the field with ease. Under a hand ride, the shiny hiney of California Chrome was a good 5 ¾ lengths in front of everyone else at the wire.
Now at the top of the national thoroughbred three-year old polls and in the Kentucky Derby points standings, California Chrome hopes to continue shining. His 77-year old trainer Art Sherman has not been to the Kentucky Derby since he was an exercise rider for Swaps back in 1955, and Coburn has never visited the hallowed grounds of Churchill Downs. Now, if things go the way Coburn hopes, California Chrome will be another chapter in the magical book of the Kentucky Derby.
“I honestly don’t think we have seen his best yet,” says Coburn. “He just seems to keep getting better and better every time out. Art lets the horse tell him what to do and Art lets him because he knows the horse loves his job. He’s a very special colt.”