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California Chrome sets gold standard for Kentucky Derby

Saturday, May 03, 2014 - Updated: 4:08 AM

By BETH HARRIS

The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The owners of California Chrome are putting all their hopes into the chestnut colt to win the Kentucky Derby.

After all, he's the only horse they own.

California Chrome, based at lesser-known Los Alamitos racetrack in suburban Los Angeles, is the early 5-2 favorite for Saturday's 140th Derby with good reason. He has won four straight races by a combined 24 1/4 lengths under Victor Espinoza, who won the Derby in 2002 with War Emblem.

"He's so light on his feet," Espinoza said. "He just does things so easy and makes my job easy."

California Chrome's owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, are no Kentucky blue bloods. They're a couple of working stiffs who live near Reno, Nevada.

A trainer called them "dumb asses" for getting into the racing game, inspiring the duo to put the letters DAP on their silks, which stands for Dumb Ass Partners.

"We're going to go down in history," Coburn predicted.

California Chrome is the product of an $8,000 mare and a $2,500 stallion. He's earned more than $1 million already, making it somewhat easier for Coburn and Martin to turn down a pre-Derby offer of $6 million for a 51 percent stake in the horse.

"We've been blessed with this colt," Coburn said. "The first time we saw him, we knew it was going to be something special."

If their tale seems improbable, well, it's happened before at Churchill Downs. Mine That Bird, a 50-1 shot owned and trained by two guys from New Mexico mocked as cowboys, pulled off the stunning upset in the 2009 Derby.

At 77, Art Sherman, who oversees California Chrome, would be the oldest trainer to win. His colt would be the first California-bred to wear the garland of red roses in 52 years.

"He's feeling good and he's doing good," Sherman said. "He's coming up to this race right."

Rosie Napravnik wants to grab history, too.

No female jockey has won the Derby, although she came closest -- fifth last year. Napravnik will ride 20-1 shot Vicar's In Trouble. Her husband, Joe Sharp, works closely with the Louisiana-bred colt as assistant to trainer Mike Maker.

"The story would almost be too good if we won it," she said.

Wicked Strong is the early 6-1 second choice. The colt is named for the victims of last year's Boston Marathon bombings and is trained by Jimmy Jerkens, who has his first Derby horse.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has four horses in the Derby -- Danza and Intense Holiday are both 8-1 while his other two are longer shots, 30-1 Vinceremos and 50-1 We Miss Artie. Danza is named for "Taxi" actor Tony Danza, who planned to attend the Derby.

Maker will saddle three horses, all long shots. Besides Vicar's In Trouble, he has 15-1 General a Rod and 50-1 Harry's Holiday.

"When those gates open, anything can happen," Maker said.

Three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert is down to 20-1 shot Chitu after being forced to scratch early second favorite Hoppertunity because of a minor foot problem.

"California Chrome has proven he's a really good horse," Baffert said, adding, "There's a lot of parity in this field. Everybody might have a chance."

Getting the ideal trip is important, especially with the traffic from 19 horses making a chaotic charge into the first turn. Jockeys want to avoid anything that would prevent their horse from getting into rhythm, like being bumped, cut off or blocked.

Sherman says the key is the first 70 yards.

"You want to get out and get yourself some position," he said.

     

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