GEORGE ROWAND COLUMN: Lots of Americans could have afforded this horse. Not now.
Wednesday, May. 14
The Kentucky Derby went about as easily as any big race possibly could for the winner, California Chrome.
Going into the Derby, he was the best horse, and he ran like it.
He broke well, attended a relatively easy early pace, took the lead on the turn for home and sprinted away to a facile victory as his jockey, Victor Espinoza, eased up on him in the final 100 yards – to leave something in the tank for the next race.
Now that next race is upon us this Saturday when Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore invites the California-bred to run in the Preakness. He's picked here to win that race and head to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks to attempt to win the Triple Crown for the first time since Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978.
The back story on California Chrome is interesting in a quirky, All-American kind of a way.
The horse is owned by two regular guys, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who get up and go to work every day to pay the bills. Most observers think that horse racing is populated with extraordinarily wealthy owners who never have to pick up anything heavier than a check, and the game has those mega-millionaires, of course.
There are oil sheikhs and captains of industry and the Queen of England. But the vast majority of people who own horses are like the two that own the Derby winner, and their story is repeated 10,000 times all over the country ... with one big difference. It goes like this:
Martin and Coburn liked racing, and they wanted to be involved. With their financial situation, they couldn't afford to pay much to get into the game, so they purchased a mare named Love The Chase off the track for $8,000.
The groom who handled the mare on her way to the van didn't think much of the purchase. He called the partners “Dumb A$$es” for buying her, and the owners thought a bit and then embraced that thought. They named their venture “Dumb A$$ Partners,” placed a donkey on the back of their silks and a “DAP” and went on their way.
They bred the mare to a California stallion named Lucky Pulpit, who was standing for a $2,500 stud fee.
A couple of weeks before the mare foaled, Coburn had a dream the the foal would be a chestnut colt with a lot of white on it – called “chrome” in the racing world – and that's exactly what happened on February 11, 2011.
Naming the colt was easy, and “CC” took to training quickly. He got to the races last year early at 2, and won his second start in California.
By the end of the year, he was a two-time stakes winner of $214,000, and the groom with the cutting remark had to have a glimmer of an idea that maybe, just maybe, he had been wrong about the partners and the mare. Maybe they saw something that he didn't.
CC was beating up on other California-breds early in his career, so one really didn't know how well he could do once he had to face other horses his age who came from better bloodstock and were by more expensive stallions.
He got his chance in February, and he didn't disappoint, making what has become his trademark move on the turn and sprinting away from the field to win the San Felipe Stakes.
At that point, the partners were offered $6 million for 51 percent of their colt. That kind of money could have changed their lifestyle, but they turned it down flat.
Then came the Santa Anita Derby, his final prep race for the Big Show, and again, CC was flawless.
Another, bigger offer, reportedly eight-figures, was made for the chestnut flash, and – as the partners said – “After the last race, the answer was 'No.' After this race, the answer is 'Hell, no!'” They were heading to Louisville and their date with destiny.
Trainer Art Sherman had made this trip before … 59 years ago as an 18-year-old exercise rider accompanying a chestnut colt named Swaps, who was bred in California.
That trip turned out well as Swaps dominated Nashua, the colt from the established stable in the east. Only one other California-bred had ever won the Derby, and that was Decidedly in 1962.
Some calling themselves “racing experts” looked at CC's pedigree and speculated that he didn't have the requisite stamina to get the demanding mile-and-a-quarter, but Coburn had a dream that they were going to win the Derby, and trends and precedents have a way of stepping aside politely when confronted with an overwhelming force.
California Chrome showed that – on that day – nothing was going to stand between him and racing immortality.
After the race, critics stated that the race was slow – and it was – and that California Chrome had lucked into the win. The final time was not impressive, but – in this observer's opinion – that was as much a function of the easy early fractions as anything else.
Throw in the fact the Espinoza took his foot off the gas in mid-stretch and let the colt gallop home, and the final time makes more sense.
The racing world is awash with sayings, and maybe one applies here: “Time only matters if you're serving it.”
Now the DAP racing stable entourage is ready for some crab cakes and a party in Baltimore.
They should win this race, and if you're a racing fan, how can you not root for them?
They are living the dream that almost anybody could be living.
They invested a total of $10,500 into breeding the Kentucky Derby winner, and there are plenty of Americans who get up and go to work for someone else every day who could afford that price of admission to the game.
California Chrome is heading to the Preakness, with a full wind at his back and with greatness beckoning.
The partners and he are livin' The Dream.
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