This is the day dreams happen.
The crew behind favorite California Chrome has been focused for three years on this single afternoon and what could be a life-changing event – the 140th Kentucky Derby.
Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev., have almost reached their goal. California Chrome, their superstar colt with storybook beginnings, appears ready to fulfill their lofty expectations.
“He is a good horse in many, many ways,” Denise Martin said, “and we are all blessed to be a part of his journey.”
With Victor Espinoza aboard, California Chrome heads a field of 19. Pablo del Monte, added to the Derby field after Thursday’s scratch of Hoppertunity, was withdrawn Friday when trainer Wesley Ward opted to wait for the Preakness, the Triple Crown’s second race.
After heavy rain earlier this week, the forecast Saturday for Louisville, Ky., is pleasant and dry – spring weather in the low 70s – perfect Derby conditions.
California Chrome’s connections share their dream with every owner and trainer who has gotten this far. Among the owners, only one has won the Derby. Winstar Farm, co-owner of 30-1 long shot Vinceremos, won in 2010with Super Saver. For the rest, this dream remains unrealized.
Art Sherman, California Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer, has won more than 2,100 races, but this is his Derby starter.
“He’s feeling good, and he’s doing good,” Sherman said Friday. “He’s coming up to this race right.”
California Chrome’s owners, first-time horse breeders, were dreaming before he hit the ground.
“I had a dream about this colt two weeks before he was born,” recalled Steve Coburn, whose birthday is Saturday . “I told my wife, ‘It’s going to be a colt. He’s going to be flashy with four white stocking feet and big bald face,’ and his baby pictures look just like that. I told (everyone) he was going to be something special.”
So far, that part of the dream has come true. California Chrome has won his last four races – all stakes – by almost 25 lengths combined. Going back to 1906, no Derby starter has showed such dominance, said Santa Anita oddsmaker Jon White.
“California Chrome is the only horse to go into the Kentucky Derby with four straight wins by five lengths or more,” White said. “Think of that. Not even such all-time greats as Count Fleet, Citation, Native Dancer, Swaps, Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Spectacular Bid had done that.”
But horse players always look for a way to beat Derby favorites, who win only about a third of the time.
“That’s the one thing I don’t like: being the favorite,” said Carolyn Coburn.
“If he gets a clean run, he’ll win,” said Steve Coburn, adding that he’s not boastful, just thinking positively. “I’m just a man that loves this horse and believes in the fairy tale.”
The biggest knock against California Chrome appears to be his roots. He was born in California, which hasn’t produced a Derby winner since John Kennedy was in the White House. His mother, who won one race at Golden Gate Fields, cost the partners $8,000. His father, Lucky Pulpit, was a $2,500 bargain stallion at Harris Farms, home of the mammoth cattle ranch just off Interstate 5.
“(Critics) are always saying, ‘California Chrome is a California-bred,’ ” said Steve Coburn, a press operator at a small Nevada factory. “That’s true, but he doesn’t know that. He has no clue where he was born. All he knows is he loves to run.”
“I really like the Cal-Bred program for breeders,” Denise Martin said. “I hope to see a resurgence in interest in the California breeding and racing industry.”
“My advice (to would-be owners): Go slow,” added Perry Martin, an engineer. “Start small. That’s what we did.”
The possibility that California Chrome will bring back a Derby trophy to his home state has Californians swelling with pride.
“We’re absolutely excited about the Derby,” Harris Farms’ Dave McGlothlin told BloodHorse.com. “The entire California racing industry is rooting for him.”
California Chrome’s partners turned down $6 million for a 51 percent share and other offers. Their colt already has won more than $1.1 million. And a Derby win will pay more than $2 million.
“This isn’t about the money; this is about the dream,” Steve Coburn said, “and we want to finish off that dream.”
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.