Horse racing fans in the Golden State will have more than a passing interest in Saturdays 140th running of the Kentucky Derby. Theyll be rooting hard for California Chrome, born and bred in the Central Valley.
The chestnut colt would become the first from California to win the most famous horse race in the world since 1962.
His co-owners Denise and Perry Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev. are modest couples and novice horse breeders, nothing like the usual blue bloods at storied Churchill Downs in Louisville.
His 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, has never had a Derby starter and is trying to become the oldest trainer ever to win.
With his feel-good appeal, California Chrome could be nearly as storybook as Secretariat (arguably the greatest race horse ever) or Seabiscuit (a California legend) whose rises to glory were made into Hollywood movies.
California Chrome already has legions of supporters across the country, thanks to a homespun tale. As The Bees Debbie Arrington tells it, his mother, Love The Chase, won only once during her career. Some partners who owned her wanted out, so the two Martins and Coburns bought her for the princely sum of $8,000.
As the story goes, the groom said, Whoever buys this mare sure is a dumb ass. Now, their stables name is Dumb Ass Partners and their jockeys silks feature a bright green jackass.
The couples retired Love The Chase for breeding; it took two seasons, but she was eventually mated with Lucky Pulpit, a young stallion at Harris Farms in Coalinga, part of the huge cattle ranch along Interstate 5. The stud fee was a paltry $2,500, compared to as much as $150,000 in Kentucky.
Still, California Chrome has good bloodlines; hes a direct descendant of Swaps (nicknamed the California Comet), who won the Derby in 1955. When he was born in February 2011, the Martins knew they had something special. He weighed 30 pounds more than the average thoroughbred foal and grew lean and muscular.
Three years later, the two couples have won horse racings equivalent of the lottery. They havent cashed in just yet. In March, they spurned a $6 million offer for a 51 percent interest and a higher one after he won the prestigious Santa Anita Derby a month ago in near-record time. California Chrome has already won more than $1 million, but the Derby would be the biggest payday yet.
He is undefeated this year, having won his last four races by 25 lengths combined. He goes to the post shortly after 3:30 p.m. PDT as a clear favorite 5-to-2 odds in the field of 19 horses as of Friday.
But California Chrome has never raced as far as the Derbys 1 ¼ miles. And it hasnt been kind to favorites lately; only five have prevailed since 1980.
If he wins Saturday, the buzz will immediately start about whether he can be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. If California Chrome can pull that off, now that would be a Hollywood ending.