“I believe this horse will win the Triple Crown,” co-owner Steve Coburn said yesterday after California Chrome pulled away on the final turn to win the 1 1/4-mile (2-kilometer) race at Louisville, Kentucky’s Churchill Downs (CHDN) in 2:03.66, ahead of runner-up Commanding Curve and third-place finisher Danza. Wicked Strong, the second-favorite, finished fourth.
Trained by Art Sherman and ridden by Victor Espinoza, California Chrome entered the race as a 2-1 favorite. The victory was his fifth straight, with all four of the previous wins coming in California.
While the breeding of some thoroughbreds is a multi-million dollar investment, California Chrome is the product of a mare that cost owners Coburn and Perry Martin $8,000 and a stallion that cost them $2,500. He had made them about $1.1 million in winnings entering the race, leading the owners to turn down an offer of $6 million for 51 percent of the horse. They made more than $1.2 million with yesterday’s victory.
Coburn and Martin were called “dumb asses” by a past trainer for attempting to get into the thoroughbred business, leading them to adopt the name Dumb Ass Partners.
California Chrome was born on Feb. 18, the same day as Coburn’s sister, who died of cancer at age 36, he told reporters at a news conference after the race, fighting back tears.
“It will be 36 years this year since there’s been a Triple Crown winner,” Coburn said. “I told people that this colt will go down in history. When he wins the Triple Crown, he will be the first California-bred to ever win a Triple Crown. That’s where we’re going.”
At 77, Sherman is the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby. He also was the exercise rider at the 1955 Kentucky Derby with winner Swaps.
“When he spurted away, I said, ‘Now, let me take over for the last 70 yards,’’ Sherman said at a news conference, reflecting on his years as a jockey.
It was the second Derby win for Espinoza, who took the first two legs of the Triple Crown riding War Emblem in 2002.
‘‘I never had dreams that I’d win two Kentucky Derbys,’’ Espinoza, who is five-for-five riding California Chrome, said in a televised interview after the race. ‘‘I think we get along well together.’’
There were 164,906 fans in attendance, the second-biggest audience in the race’s history.
The last horse to win the Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes -- was Affirmed in 1978. The Preakness is May 17 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, and the Belmont is June 7 in New York.
‘‘To see this dream come true, that we have put so much blood, sweat and tears, our savings, our retirement, into this horse, and see this horse win the Kentucky Derby, I have no words,’’ Coburn said.
Except, of course, for his prediction of grander achievements to come.
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