California Chrome’s co-owners and breeders will be a scratch at Preakness Stakes

05/13/2014 6:30 PM

05/16/2014 11:55 PM

California Chrome will have to win this one without Perry and Denise Martin watching from the grandstand. While their golden colt continues his assault on the Triple Crown, they’re sitting out the Preakness Stakes.

“Based on our experience at Churchill Downs, Perry and I will certainly be needing a break from our jobs and the excitement of managing Chrome to the Derby,” Denise Martin said. “Our family will be watching the Preakness from an undisclosed location.”

The Kentucky Derby apparently took more out of the co-owners and breeders from Yuba City than the winner. They’re exhausted. After their whirlwind trip to Louisville, the Martins had plenty of work waiting for them at their testing lab at McClellan Park in Sacramento. Their horse? He’s doing great and appears ready for Saturday’s $1.5 million race.

California Chrome, the Cinderella colt with humble roots, continues his pursuit of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.

Entries will be drawn today for the 139th Preakness at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course. California Chrome is expected to be a heavy favorite in a field of 10.

Only two Derby also-rans followed California Chrome from Kentucky to Maryland: Ride On Curlin (who finished seventh) and General a Rod (11th). Of the newcomers, Pablo Del Monte, Social Inclusion and Bayern – all front-runners – had Derby intentions but waited for the slightly shorter Preakness.

Ria Antonia, who won the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies via disqualification, will try to bounce back from a poor Kentucky Oaks performance by taking on the Preakness colts. Only five fillies have won the Preakness; the last was Rachel Alexandra in 2009.

California Chrome, the first California-bred colt to win the Derby since 1962, will try to break another drought. The last Cal-bred to win the Preakness was Snow Chief in 1986.

“He’s a California rock star right now, and I’m enjoying it,” said Art Sherman, the oldest trainer to win the Derby. “When do you ever get a horse like him?”

Sherman admits he still wakes up each morning wondering if he didn’t just dream this Derby victory.

“You’ve got your owners who were very fortunate; very first horse they ever owned turns out to be a Kentucky Derby winner,” Sherman said. “What do you do for an encore?

“It means so much for the game to have a horse like (California Chrome), and I think it’s been a pleasure for everybody involved,” he added. “It’s made me feel like an old Willie Nelson rock star, I can tell you that. I laugh when I go in the airport now (and people ask for autographs or photos). I thought, man alive, at 77 I’m doing pretty good right now.”

The Martins would love to see their horse race in the Preakness, but they have responsibilities here. Also, a sudden trip from Sacramento to Baltimore is expensive, and the Preakness comes just two weeks after the Derby.

“Plane fare is out of our budget,” said Denise Martin.

Back at work in Sacramento, the Martins are still assimilating all that has happened.

The story of their one-horse Dumb Ass Partners Racing stable has become an instant sports legend. They own and bred the chestnut colt with Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev.

Like the Martins, the Coburns are another set of everyday people living an improbable long-shot dream.

Steve Coburn, who turned 61 on Derby Day, works as a press operator at a small Carson Valley factory that makes magnetic strips for credit cards. Like the Martins, he hasn’t quit work.

“This is my job,” Coburn told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I have a multimillion-dollar racehorse, but he’s the millionaire, I’m not. I still have to work. I still have to pay bills, and this is what I do. Everything that’s happened hasn’t changed me.”

At Churchill Downs, family logistics proved more taxing than the race.

Catherine Martin, Perry’s 83-year-old mother, left her hospital bed to see the Derby in person. She had been sick with the flu but felt well enough to make the trip. Perry’s brother drove her 600 miles from Michigan to Louisville.

As Perry tended to his mother just before the Derby, Denise Martin walked over with California Chrome in the traditional procession from backstretch to paddock.

“I really enjoyed finally to get to see my horse,” she said. “He gave Steve Sherman (Art’s son) and myself the eye. Then he called to us (with a whinny). I love that call. It reminds everyone around him that he is there, ready to challenge if need be.”

In a wheelchair, Catherine Martin tried to watch the Derby from the rail with Perry near the winner’s circle, but the crowd of nearly 165,000 engulfed them.

“Catherine managed to lift herself up from the chair to stand,” Denise Martin said. “She was determined to watch this race. Perry took a hold of his mom to steady her. Catherine and Perry might have gotten a glimpse of the horse as it passed by, but neither saw California Chrome win his race. It was a bittersweet experience for both.”

Denise Martin had a much better view from the Churchill Downs grandstand, where she saw the race unfold and California Chrome spurt away in the stretch.

“I was very proud of Chrome in the winner’s circle,” she said. “This time, he gave me the eye because he was satisfied with a job well done. Perry and Chrome will always be winners in my eyes.”

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