Race favourite California Chrome held off a late charge by Commanding Curve to take out the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville on Saturday.
Danza finished third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Commanding Curve, with second favorite Wicked Strong fourth and Samraat fifth in the field of 19 three-year-olds.
California Chrome is only the fourth California bred to win the race, and Art Sherman, 77, became the oldest trainer to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner. Charlie Whittingham was 76 when Sunday Silence won the 1989 Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit x Love the Chase, by Not For Love) is owned and bred by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, and was ridden by Victor Espinoza, who also won the race in 2002 aboard War Emblem.
The winner covered 1 1/4 miles over a fast track in 2:03.66 as he won his fifth consecutive race and scored his seventh victory in 11 career races. The victory in the $US2,202,800 race was worth $1,442,800 and increased California Chrome’s earnings to $2,577,650.
Uncle Sigh led the field of 19 through fractions of :23.04 and :47.37 with Chitu and Samraat in closest pursuit. California Chrome led the second pack and began to close in after six furlongs in 1:11.80.
By the time the field hit the top of the stretch, California Chrome was showing his heels to all of his pursuers, opening up at midstretch and coasting under the wire well clearing of Commanding Curve.
Trainer Art Sherman said: “Just awesome. I’m breathless. This is so cool. I think I rode the horse with Victor (Espinoza) the last 70 yards. It was a picture-perfect ride. He was right where he should have been all the way around. Coming down the stretch I was thinking: ‘Keep rollin’ big boy. Keep rollin’.’ This has to be the sweetest moment of my life. To be my age and have something like this happen, what can you say? For all my friends in California, this is for you. We did it!”
It was his first attempt at the Derby, but 59 years ago he travelled to the Derby as the exercise rider for California-based Swaps, who won in 1955. Sherman visited the horse’s grave this week at the Kentucky Derby museum on the grounds at Churchill.
Espinoza said he never dreamed he’d win a second Kentucky Derby. “But here it is. This was a typical race for him. He ran like he always does. Art (Sherman) just said: ‘You know him, ride him.’ I had the trip I wanted. I don’t mess with him too much. I just stretch his legs and little bit and then let him do his thing. Pressure will be back on for the Preakness, but that’s OK.”
Owners Perry Martin of California and Steve Coburn of Nevada bought Love the Chase for paid $8000, and someone was moved to say that only a “dumb ass” would buy a mare of seemingly limited ability to race and breed from, and so Coburn and Martin decided to name their racing operation DAP Racing, which stands for “Dumb Ass Partners”. They created a caricature of a jackass to adorn the back of their racing silks and picked purple and green for their stable colors. The initials “DAP” appear on California Chrome’s blinker hood and the left front of the jockey’s silks.
The owners paid $2500 to breed her to Lucky Pulpit. Earlier this year, they turned down a $6 million offer for 51 percent ownership of California Chrome.
Churchill Downs Racetrack welcomed 164,906 fans to the course, the second-highest attendance in Derby history.