Next Saturday, California Chrome will attempt to win the 146th Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown champion in 36 years. His unlikely saga has captured attention far beyond his Central Valley roots. Here’s a snapshot of Chrome and his crew:
California Chrome became the first California-bred colt to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Born Feb. 18, 2011, at Harris Farms in Coalinga, the chestnut colt got his name due to his four white feet; in horse talk, such flashy markings are called “chrome.” His mother, Love the Chase, was purchased for $8,000 and retired by the Martins and Coburns. His sire, Lucky Pulpit, was a bargain stallion with a $2,500 stud fee. The colt debuted at Hollywood Park on April 26, 2013 (finishing second), and won his first race three weeks later. He also won the last race ever at Hollywood Park – the King Glorious Stakes on Dec. 22. His victory in the 2014 Santa Anita Derby on April 5 made him a national star. California Chrome, undefeated in 2014, has won eight of 12 starts, including six consecutive stakes, and earned more than $3.4 million. He has two younger sisters at Harris Farms.
As the Dumb Ass Partners, Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev., went from passionate fans to owners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner with the first horse they bred. Natives of Chicago, the Martins have lived and worked in the Sacramento area since 1987. They own and operate Martin Testing Laboratories at McClellan Park. The Coburns live in a manufactured home on an acre in Carson Valley. Steve, who usually wears his cowboy hat, works as a press operator in a small factory that makes magnetic strips for credit cards; Carolyn recently retired from her payroll job at a medical center. The couples met at the racetrack as members of an ownership syndicate; they each owned 5 percent of Love the Chase, California Chrome’s mother.
At 77, Art Sherman became the oldest trainer to win a Kentucky Derby. As a teen in 1955, he was the exercise rider for Swaps, another Derby winner born in California. Sherman, who will become a great-grandfather in June, was a jockey for 22 years, based in Northern California. After a short stint as a racing official, he got his trainer’s license in 1980 and has won nearly 2,200 races. His wife, Faye, operated the Bay Meadows gift shop for 30 years. Now based in Southern California, Sherman trains 20 horses at Los Alamitos Race Course, which hosts its first thoroughbred meet this summer. Sons Steve and Alan Sherman are trainers, too.
Victor Espinoza, who turned 42 on May 23, has won more than 3,100 races, including the Kentucky Derby twice and the Preakness twice. In 2002, he swept the first two legs of the Triple Crown with War Emblem but finished eighth in the Belmont. The Mexican-born rider, the 11th of 12 children, grew up on a dairy farm and drove a metro bus in Mexico City to earn money to go to jockey school. In 1994, he was the leading apprentice jockey at Golden Gate Fields in Albany and the now-demolished Bay Meadows in San Mateo before moving south to more lucrative opportunities.
– Debbie Arrington