Derby dreams, no matter how unprobable, do come true. Favored California Chrome pulled clear in the stretch to win the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) by 1 3/4 lengths over Commanding Curve at Churchill Downs before164,906, the second-largest crowd in Derby history (VIDEO).
California Chrome is the first horse bred in the Golden State in 52 years to win the Kentucky Derby, and just the fourth ever. The last Cal-bred victor in the Derby was Decidedly in 1962.
The Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner, ridden by Victor Espinoza, got the 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.66 to give his jockey a second Derby victory. Espinoza guided War Emblem to Derby glory in 2002.
"He's an amazing horse," Espinoza said. "He started very well. I wanted to let him go to the front, but I backed off. I went to the outside early and it wasn't a problem."
California Chrome, bred and owned by first-time breeders Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, is by young sire Lucky Pulpit and is the first foal from low-level claimer Love the Chase, by Not For Love, a mare the partners purchased for $8,000. He is trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, who becomes the oldest trainer to win the Derby. Charlie Whittingham won the second of his two Derbys at age 76 with Sunday Silence in 1989.
"He gave me the biggest thrill I've ever had in my life," Sherman said of California Chrome. "It was a picture-perfect ride. He was right where he should have been all the way around. Coming down the stretch I was thinking: 'Keep rollin' big boy. Keep rollin'. To be my age and have something like this happen, what can you say?"
The early pace was honest. Uncle Sigh, after breaking from post 3, led the field past the wire the first time under the Twin Spires, firing an opening quarter mile in :23.04. He was pressed by Chitu with California Chrome, Samraat, and Intense Holiday giving chase. Uncle Sigh led down the backstretch with a half in :47.37.
After six furlongs in 1:11.80, California Chrome, always in contention while racing between horses, eased to Uncle Sigh and Chitu without being asked. Intense Holiday, Danza , Vicar's in Trouble, and Tapiture made headway, but once Espinoza asked California Chrome at the head of the lane after a mile in 1:37.45, he exploded. He opened up a five-length lead at the eighth pole and won geared down with Espinoza waving his stick to the crowd.
"At the three-eighths pole I thought it was over," Espinoza said. "The others seemed to be struggling just a little bit. When we hit the head of the lane and I asked him, he put his head down and went on."
Commanding Curve came from far back to get the place, finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Danza, who had a rough trip early and late. Danza was 2 3/4 lengths ahead of fourth-place finisher Wicked Strong , who was followed by Samraat, Dance With Fate, Ride On Curlin , Medal Count , Chitu, We Miss Artie , General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Harry's Holiday, Vinceremos, Wildcat Red, and Vicar's in Trouble.
Commanding Curve, with Shaun Bridgmohan up, came from 18th early, threading his way through traffic to get second.
"All I had to do was just ride him hard and he gave me everything," Bridgmohan said. "I was starting to get him geared up when he turned for home and I had half the field beat a that point. Once I got him down the lane he lengthened his stride and really dug in for me."
Joe Bravo, third with Danza had "everything good, but turning for home I had to wheel out and go around horses, but he kept kicking."
California Chrome is a perfect 4-for-4 this year. and has won five straight He began his 3-year-old campaign against Cal-breds in the California Cup Derby Jan. 25 at Santa Anita Park, winning the 1 1/16-mile race by 5 1/2 lengths. In the March 8 San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) he went wire-to-wire going 1 1/16 miles, topping Midnight Hawk and Kristo in a 7 1/4-length romp. He hit his best stride in the April 5 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), drawing clear by 5 1/4 lengths over Hoppertunity and Candy Boy.
At 2, California Chrome won three of seven starts racing at Betfair Hollywood Park, Del Mar, and Santa Anita. He prepped for the Derby at Los Alamitos in Southern California the Saturday before the Run for the Roses and shipped to Churchill Downs the Monday before the big race. He did not have a registered workout over the track.
"I knew he'd be the horse to beat once we got him here," Sherman said.
California-bred Swaps won the Derby in 1955 with Sherman working as an exercise boy for trainer Mesh Tenney. Morvich, in 1922, also won the Derby as a Cal-bred.
"It's a different ball game now," Sherman said of the 2014 Derby from when he was at Churchill Downs in 1955 as an exercise rider. "This horse ran his eyeballs out. When he spurted clear I said, 'OK, let me take over for the last 70 yards.' "
The victory was worth $1,417,800 to his connections. California Chrome has now earned $2,552,650 with seven wins in 11 starts.
Lucky Pulpit, the sire of the Derby winner, is a son of Pulpit--Lucky Soph, by Cozzene, who stands at Harris Farms near Coalinga, Calif. California Chrome's dam, Love the Chase, was an $8,000 purchase by Coburn and Martin. She won one of six starts, an $8,000 maiden claimer at Golden Gate Fields.
Lucky Pulpit was bred and raced by Mr. and Mrs. Larry Williams. Trained by Todd Pletcher, he won three of 22 starts, winning the Smile Stakes going five furlongs on the turf at Arlington Park in 2005. Early in 2004 he ran second behind St Averil in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) and was unplaced in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
"This horse just loves to run," Coburn said of California Chrome. "To see this horse win the Kentucky Derby, I have no words right now, except we've got another California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby."
California Chrome has unique silks: purple with a green donkey on the back. On the front of the silks and on his blinkers are the letters "DAP" which stands for "dumb-ass partners." Coburn and Martin took that to heart when a stable hand called them that after they purchased the mare.
Steve and Carolyn Coburn live in Topaz Lake, Nev., Perry and Denise Martin live Yuba City, Calif. Steve Coburn was celebrating his 61st birthday on Derby day.
The Martin's first foray into racing was through a Blinkers On partnership. Martin and Coburn bought Love the Chase from Blinkers On outright when the partnership was being dissolved. They then formed the "DAP" partnership.
The Derby was witnessed by the second largest crowd of all time at Churchill Downs. The all-time mark was set two years ago.
Watch more on the story of California Chrome: