May 3, 2014 in Sports

California Chrome sets gold standard for Derby

Beth Harris Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

California Chrome is the Kentucky Derby favorite.
(Full-size photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The owners of California Chrome are putting all their hopes on the chestnut colt to win the Kentucky Derby.

After all, he’s the only horse they own.

California Chrome, based at lesser-known Los Alamitos racetrack in suburban Los Angeles, is the early 5-2 favorite for today’s 140th Derby with good reason. He has won four straight races by a combined 241/4 lengths under Victor Espinoza, who won the Derby in 2002 with War Emblem.

“He’s so light on his feet,” Espinoza said. “He just does things so easy and makes my job easy.”

California Chrome’s owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, are no Kentucky blue bloods. They’re a couple of working stiffs who live near Reno, Nevada.

A trainer called them “dumb asses” for getting into the racing game, inspiring the duo to put the letters DAP on their silks, which stands for Dumb Ass Partners.

“We’re going to go down in history,” Coburn predicted.

California Chrome is the product of an $8,000 mare and a $2,500 stallion. He’s earned more than $1 million already, making it somewhat easier for Coburn and Martin to turn down a pre-Derby offer of $6 million for a 51 percent stake in the horse.

“We’ve been blessed with this colt,” Coburn said. “The first time we saw him, we knew it was going to be something special.”

If their tale seems improbable, well, it’s happened before at Churchill Downs. Mine That Bird, a 50-1 shot owned and trained by two guys from New Mexico mocked as cowboys, pulled off the stunning upset in the 2009 Derby.

At 77, Art Sherman, who oversees California Chrome, would be the oldest trainer to win. His colt would be the first California-bred to wear the garland of red roses in 52 years.

“He’s feeling good and he’s doing good,” Sherman said. “He’s coming up to this race right.”

Rosie Napravnik wants to grab history, too.

No female jockey has won the Derby, although she came closest – fifth last year. Napravnik will ride 20-1 shot Vicar’s In Trouble. Her husband, Joe Sharp, works closely with the Louisiana-bred colt as assistant to trainer Mike Maker.

Wicked Strong is the early 6-1 second choice. The colt is named for the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings and is trained by Jimmy Jerkens, who has his first Derby horse.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has four horses in the Derby – Danza and Intense Holiday are both 8-1 while his other two are longer shots, 30-1 Vinceremos and 50-1 We Miss Artie. Danza is named for “Taxi” actor Tony Danza, who planned to attend the Derby.

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