California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn says his chestnut colt’s unlikely Triple Crown bid is an object lesson in what pluck can do.
“This horse, what he’s doing for two guys that work their butts off every day just to put beans and bacon on the table, this horse has given everybody else out there the incentive to say ‘We can do it, too,'” Coburn said after the chestnut colt added the Preakness Stakes to his Kentucky Derby crown.
That puts ‘Chrome’ two-thirds of the way to US racing’s elusive Triple Crown, with the final challenge coming up on Saturday in the 146th running of the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
It’s an unlikely tale that starts with a pair of unlikely owners in Coburn and Perry Martin, who turned a dig about their lack of expertise into the name of their fledgling racing outfit: “Dumbass Partners”.
More experienced horsemen scoffed when Coburn and Martin spent $8,000 for the ordinary mare Not For Love.
They spent about another $2,000 to breed her to undistinguished stallion Lucky Pulpit.
Even in the admittedly inexact science of racehorse breeding, it seemed a match unlikely to produce equine greatness.
Even when California Chrome arrived at this year’s Kentucky Derby on a four-race winning streak, many among racing’s elite were skeptical.
That included trainer Dallas Stewart, whose Commanding Curve finished second in the Derby on May 3.
“I was wrong,” Stewart admitted. “We all tried to get smart and add up the breeding. You knocked him because he was from California and he ran on the speed track at Santa Anita.
“We were wrong. That horse is just a runner.”
Coburn and Martin had thought the colt was something special all along, drawn by his eye-catching white markings — four socks and a wide blaze as well as his athleticism and curiosity.
“To watch this little guy grow up and watch him develop and watch his personality develop and just watch his mind develop, he’s an amazing animal,” Coburn said. “He’s like one in a bazillion.”
The 61-year-old Coburn works for a company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and hotel keys.
In his cowboy hat and boots, Coburn takes point when it comes to the press and doesn’t mind letting his emotions show.
The more retiring Martin, who with his wife owns a materials testing company in Sacramento, California, came up with few words in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, then opted to watch the Preakness from afar.
– Quite a bit of money –
After California Chrome’s 5 1/4-length victory in the Santa Anita Derby, and before his Kentucky Derby triumph, the pair were offered a reported $6 million for a controlling interest in the colt.
They turned it down.
“We were offered quite a bit of money for 51 percent of this horse and controlling interest,” Coburn said in Kentucky. “They wouldn’t race him in our colors. They’d move him, they’d change trainers.”
In addition to their reluctance to take the horse from trainer Art Sherman, Coburn said another thing turned him off the deal.
“The offer we got for this horse was from somebody that has never even put on a pair boots to go to work in the morning,” he said.
For Coburn, who makes a point of thanking not only Sherman and jockey Victory Espinoza after California Chrome wins but his exercise rider and groom, that just didn’t seem right.
To him, California Chrome, on his ride toward racing immortality, is “letting American know that the little guy can win”.
“It may not be a racehorse. It may be the idea that they have in their head or a new product or whatever, but we just hope that this horse is letting America know that the little guy can win.”