California Chrome may be the favorite in Saturday’s race, but he’s got underdog roots. Heather Benson explains.
By now you have probably heard that California Chrome is slated to be the prohibitive favorite in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. What you might not know is that he is racing’s ultimate Cinderella story in the making. Horse Nation takes a look at how the big horse got to the pinnacle he sits upon today.
Most of the entrants in this year’s Kentucky Derby are the result of years of planned matings, multi-million dollar broodmare bands and Kentucky farms and years of breeder and owner investment in the hopes of finding “the big horse.” But not California Chrome. He is the product of a mare his breeders bought for a mere $8,000, who bought out of the first racing venture they were ever a part of, a 5% share in an ownership syndicate.
A casual observer remarked that only a “dumb ass” would buy her, and so Corburn and Martin decided to name their racing operation DAP Racing, which stands for “Dumb Ass Partners.” They went as far to create a have a “jackass” designed into their official racing silks and the initial “DAP” appear on the blinkers worn by California Chrome.
After retiring their new purchase to the breeding shed, they set about looking for a stallion. Their first pick for a stallion at Harris Farms in California was not available, so they chose the next one on the list, a little-known and little-regarded stallion named Lucky Pulpit.
Standing for a mere $2,500 (in a Thoroughbred breeding climate where $25,000 is considered a “cheap” stallion fee in Kentucky), he covered the mare and the next spring a leggy, flashy chestnut colt was born. Even his birth was fraught with the makings of a great tale, when he tore his dam’s uterus on entry into the world and nearly killed her. Both survived and lived to tell another tale.
California Chrome’s First Year in Photos (video from DAP Racing)
The small ownership group that bred California Chrome felt they had a good one from the get-go, even going so far to tell their new trainer, Art Sherman, that this was “their Derby horse.” At 77 and with a lifetime on the track, Sherman had seen many owners with the same stars in their eyes. Sherman’s closest touch with greatness was when he accompanied Swaps, the 1955 Kentucky Derby, to Louisville as an exercise rider. In the nearly 60 years since, Art Sherman has seen some good ones, but nothing nearly good enough to make the trip to Kentucky.
As a 2-year-old, Chrome only won two of his first six races. His trainer saw a horse who needed time to mature mentally and physically and did not worry. And when he turned three, California Chrome quickly showed the world he had indeed grown up. His first race of 2014, the California Cup Derby, saw him turn for home with a whole new kick, galloping away from the field as if they were standing still:
In his next race, the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, he won in open company for the first time (his previous wins had been in races restricted to California-bred horses, a much easier level of competition). The harder competition mattered little and he romped home just as easily.
In the meantime, California Chrome’s impressive races had caught the attention of many and offers to buy him and his dam were coming in. One group offered $6 million to buy him outright; one offered $1 million just to own 25%. Someone even offered his owners $2.1 million for his dam, Love the Chase (who, remember, they paid just $8,000 for). They turned down all offers, telling Sport Illustrated in a recent interview, “What kind of price tag can you put on a dream?“
Although he had more than enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, Art Sherman wanted to see the colt make one more start before the big race and entered him into the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5. Overcoming traffic issues, California Chrome was all class and won going away in a hand ride.
Arriving in Kentucky on Monday, California Chrome has all the makings of a true Derby champion. We have just 48 hours left to find out if the Cinderella story can really come true! Go CHROME!
Hardcore “Chromies” can watch more videos below:
California Chrome workout with rider cam!
Fan tribute to California Chrome:
California Chrome arriving at Churchill Downs and getting a bath: