California Chrome: The Non-Traditional Underdog

May 18, 2014

California Chrome is not an underdog. At least not in the traditional sense.

The first horse from the Golden State to win the Kentucky Derby and the first horse owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn entered into either of the completed Triple Crown events has been the overwhelming favorite the past two races.

And while the victories haven’t come extremely easily, the horse has still won by margins of 1-3/4 lengths (Kentucky Derby) and 1-1/2 lengths (Preakness Stakes). In other words, his morning line odds of 5-2 and 3-5 proved to be set well.

But this is the sport of Kings. Many trainers with significant financial backing spend their entire careers longing for a Kentucky Derby winner, let alone a horse capable of capturing a Triple Crown heading into the Belmont Stakes. California Chrome is the foal of an $8,000 filly named Love the Chase that Martin and Coburn were called dumbasses for buying.

Those “dumbasses” have parlayed what essentially amounts to chump change in the horse racing world into a chance to make history. On Saturday California Chrome became the 13th horse with a shot at the Triple Crown after the first two legs since Affirmed completed the triple in 1978.

So has it all just been dumb luck?

Frankly, the answer is probably “yes”. Head over to the DAP Racing website and you’ll be greeted by a homepage that looks like it was designed by a middle school student in a computer class. California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, is 77-years old and before his win on May 4 the closest he got to tasting Kentucky Derby fame was as the exercise rider for 1955 Derby champion Swaps.

Then there is the fact that the Kentucky Derby was the first time that the colt had been out of his home state.

On the heels of a situation that marred the image of an already struggling sport, it’s refreshing to cheer for the horse owned by a couple of guys who, for lack of a better phrase, are a lot like us.

Prior to the Santa Anita Derby, Martin turned down an offer of $6 million that would have relinquished a controlling stake in California Chrome and ultimately would have resulted in the ousting of Sherman as trainer. Another dumbass move, right?

Wrong. He and Coburn are riding this wave for all it’s worth, in an alternative sense of the word.

Because when this is all over, even if California Chrome does what hasn’t been done since Jimmy Carter was in office, the names Perry Martin and Steve Coburn won’t be in the same sentence as Bob Baffert. The name Art Sherman won’t be mentioned in the same breath as D. Wayne Lukas.

No, the big names in the sport aren’t known for taking a colt with mediocre breeding lines halfway across the country for the first time and winning two of the most prestigious races in the country.

You need a couple of Dumb Ass Partners for that.

– K. Becks

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