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A wanderlust at heart... captivated by the California Central Coast. Join me on my culinary and vino-infused adventures as I explore and discover the regional novelties of San Luis Obispo County that make living here...easy to stay...and hard to leave.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

140th Kentucky Derby: California Chrome!

Photo courtesy of Christina Melton

I love a story where incredible events happen to good people, past endeavors come full circle with the present moment, and dreams come true. 

Last weekend's 140th running of the Kentucky Derby fit the bill for one fine story. My Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Steve Coburn's three-year-old horse, California Chrome, galloped his way into history after a victorious romp around Churchill Down's distinguished race track.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine my aunt and uncle would end up with a Kentucky Derby winner. But little known to me, the Universe had plans. Big plans, that are in fact, still unfolding.

A few years ago I remember hearing that Steve and Carolyn were dabbling in the racehorse business. I thought their horse, whom they co-own with another couple, Perry and Denise Martin, was just a hobby. 

But over the last several months, I gleaned from my cousins' Facebook posts that something colossal was conspiring out of California Chrome's recent winning streak. First, a win at the King Glorious Stakes in late December, followed by another one in January at the California Cup Derby. Then on March 8, after winning the San Felipe Stakes, the news was out: this fast California-bred race horse qualified for the Kentucky Derby!

Carolyn's daughtermy cousin Christina Meltonbusied herself with travel plans to Louisville, Kentucky, and our enormous family waited vicariously in the wings. 
California Chrome with Jockey Victor Espinoza
Photo courtesy of Christina Melton

California Chrome went on to win the Santa Anita Derby in April, and during the past few weeks and the days leading up to the Running of the Roses, news stories broke of this runaway favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. Media giants like the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo! Sports, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and The Washington Post spread the word about this California-bred hopeful. 

California Chrome's humble beginnings  and the owners' grand ambitions garnered attention—the stuff American dreams are made of.  The Coburns and Martins, everyday working-class Americans, plunked down $8,000 to purchase a Maryland-bred mare named Love the ChaseSomeone at the stable declared whoever buys that mare a dumb ass. “Well, we’re the Dumb Ass Partners who bought her,” Steve said. They formed Dumb Ass Partners (DAP Racing). 

Maybe to some they were foolish, but their investment proved fortuitous. For a $2,000 stud fee, these first-time breeders bred Love the Chase with Lucky Pulpit, a feisty Kentucky-bred stallion whose lineage includes Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner. Love the Chase's pedigree also goes back to big names in the horse world, some of which include Swaps, a California-bred thoroughbred who swept the Kentucky Derby in 1955, and Man O' War, the powerful racehorse born in 1917 that won 20 of his 21 races. 

In 2011, Love the Chase and Lucky Pulpit's gene pool produced a rock star. Born in Northern California at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, California Chrome became the first California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby since John F. Kennedy was in the White House. Winning was a dream come true for my aunt and uncle. In a recent interview that aired on CBS, Carolyn said that she turns around to Steve three or four times a day and says, "Can you believe it? We won the Kentucky Derby!"

They held on to their dream. A few months before the Derby, the owners turned down a lucrative $6 million dollar offer from a Middle-Eastern interest for 51% ownership of California Chrome."The answer was not only no, but hell no," Steve said. "What kind of price tag can you put on a dream that's coming true?"

If they had accepted the lucrative offer, most likely California Chrome would have been
Trainer Art Sherman with my uncle and aunt behind him
taken out of the hands of Trainer Art Sherman at Los Alamitos Race Course. In a Yahoo! Sports interview, Steve credited  their trainer as the secret to California Chrome's success. Steve said of Art, "He's old school, he's patient, he takes his time. He's always said, 'I'll let this horse tell me when he's ready to go'."


Way back in 1955, Art Sherman accompanied Swaps to the Kentucky Derby as an exercise rider, sleeping in the same boxcar as the horse on their way to the race. Art came full circle this year when he returned to the Derby as California Chrome's trainer. The sweet victory made this 77 year old the oldest trainer to ever win this illustrious race. 

What's next? California Chrome will vie for the coveted Triple Crown. On May 17, he'll run the 139th Preakness Stakes at the historic Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore, Maryland, where his owners anticipate he'll capture the second jewel of the Triple Crown. If he wins the Preakness, then it's on to New York for the Belmont Stakes held on June 7. Steve believes that California Chrome has the heart to win and declared, "I honestly think this horse will be a Triple Crown winner."

Winning the Kentucky Derby was an epic feat in itself. Winning the Triple Crown would be icing on the cake. Whatever the outcome, take this story to heart. I know I have. 
Watching my aunt and uncle on national television was surreal. I can only imagine how they must have felt. 
A special thanks to my cousin Christina for allowing us to live vicariously through her Facebook posts while she was living it up at the Kentucky Derby!


Christina, her husband Tony, and daughters Bailey and Savannah sported California Chrome's official colors: purple and green. 


The story continues. Yesterday, the Saturday before Mother's Day, "chromie" family members were invited out to Harris Farms to experience California Chrome's beginnings. Pictured here is the spirited sire, Lucky Pulpit.



This chestnut beauty is California Chrome's dam: Love the Chase



Here is Love the Chase nursing her newest foal, California Chrome's youngest sister. This filly is yet to be named and is also sired by Lucky Pulpit. 

Horse racing world, watch out for the up-and-coming Chrome Sisters!

Copyright © 2014 by Elizabeth White. This story, pictures, or any portion of this blog thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author and photographer, Elizabeth White. 

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