Perhaps it was an omen. After a week of clouds, mist, rain and general dreariness at Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY, the sun came out on Saturday, just in time to ignite the shine on favorite California Chrome in the 114th running of the Kentucky Derby. The 3-year-old California-bred colt ran a made-to-order trip around Churchill Downs racecourse and won the world’s most prestigious horse race by three lengths.
Coming out of the starting gate California Chrome did not set the pace, but he stalked it, never falling more than three positions out of the lead. “He got out of the gate very well,” said jockey Victor Espinoza to NBC after the race, “I jumped out of the gate running and I almost wanted to let him go to the front, but there were two horses quicker than me so I thought I’d slow him down right at the first [turn].”
Espinoza guided California Chrome expertly from gate to wire, settling in just off the pace of the rabbit-like speed of Uncle Sigh and Chitu from the first turn to the top of the stretch. It was there that Espinoza put Chrome into another gear that, apparently, none of the other contenders possessed. At that point it became an exhibition, not a competition, as the golden state colt coasted to a three-length victory in the 2014 edition of the Run for the Roses.
California Chrome becomes only the fifth California-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby, and the first to do it since Decidedly in 1962. Chrome is the first foal out of Love the Chase, a mare that was purchased by owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin for only $8,000. She was bred to sire Lucky Pulpit for $2,500, and their colt had earned more than $1 million before winning on Saturday. “Perry did the research on her [Love the Chase] breeding and the back-breeding of her and Lucky Pulpit both, and they just had a mix that I don’t think many people saw,” Coburn said after the race on NBC.
Art Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer of Chrome, became the oldest trainer of a Kentucky Derby winner. The previous oldest was Charlie Whittingham, who trained Sunday Silence in 1989 at the age of 76.
The payoffs for California Chrome were $7.00 to win; $5.60 to place and $4.20 to show. Long-shot Commanding Curve came up late to get second, paying a whopping $31.80 to place and $15.40 to show. Danza paid $6.00 for the show, and Wicked Strong finished fourth. With Commanding Curve in the money, there were some healthy payoffs in the exotic wagers. The 5-17 Exacta paid $340 for a two-dollar ticket. A one-dollar Trifecta bet on the 5-17-4 combination paid $1712.30; and the Superfecta 5-17-4-20 returned $7691.90 for a one-dollar ticket.
Now that he has won the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome will command the attention of the world for at least two weeks, as he seeks to win the Triple Crown. His next stop is Maryland for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse on May 17. Only 11 horses in history have won the Triple Crown, the last being Affirmed in 1978.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky