With an unproven trainer, unheralded ownership and a jockey more than a decade removed from his last Triple Crown win, some wondered whether California Chrome's pre-race hype would lead to an inevitable deflation.
Getting out of the gate strong and making his break at the perfect time, California Chrome galloped into the history books with a win at the 2014 Kentucky Derby.
California Chrome, which came in as an overwhelming 2-1 favorite, joins Orb as the second consecutive pre-race favorite to come out on top. Commanding Curve was a surprise second-place finisher, while other hyped horses Danza and Wicked Strong came in third and fourth, respectively.
Entering with four straight victories by a total of 24.5 lengths, California Chrome was put into a position early by Victor Espinoza to come out on top.
Before a crowd of 164,906 on a sunny day in Louisville, the pace early was decidedly slow. Uncle Sigh and Chitu raced out to an early lead, but the race was a largely settled affair for the first minute. Jockeys bided their time, waiting for the right moment to spring their horse into action, more worried about their positioning on the track than where they stood place wise.
California Chrome was no different, carrying a solid early gate to stick in third behind the two leaders. When the time came for the afterburners, though, California Chrome did not disappoint.
Vaulting in front of the faltering Chitu and Uncle Sigh, California Chrome led by at least five lengths at a certain point before Espinoza knew he could take his foot off the gas. Commanding Curve roared from the back of the pack and probably would have won the race with an extra stretch, but his last-ditch effort fell just short to come in second.
Another largely unheralded horse, Commanding Curve was a 35-1 pre-race underdog and would have been the first in Kentucky Derby history to win from the No. 17 post.
|1||5||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman|
|2||17||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart|
|3||4||Danza||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher|
|4||20||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens|
|5||6||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette Jr.|
|6||12||Dance With Fate||Corey Nakatani||Peter Eurton|
|7||19||Ride On Curlin||Calvin Borel||Billy Gowan|
|8||14||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans|
|9||13||Chitu||Martin Garcia||Bob Baffert|
|10||7||We Miss Artie||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher|
|11||8||General A Rod||Joel Rosario||Mike Maker|
|12||16||Intense Holiday||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher|
|13||18||Candy Boy||Gary Stevens||John Sadler|
|14||3||Uncle Sigh||Irad Ortiz Jr.||Gary Contessa|
|15||15||Tapiture||Ricardo Santana Jr.||Steve Asmussen|
|16||2||Harry's Holiday||Corey Lanerie||Mike Maker|
|17||9||Vinceremos||Joe Rocco Jr.||Todd Pletcher|
|18||10||Wildcat Red||Luis Saez||Jose Garoffalo|
|19||1||Vicar's In Trouble||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker|
|11||Hoppertunity||Mike Smith||Bob Baffert|
The chances of everyone in the field were buoyed when the Bob Baffert-trained Hoppertunity withdrew due to injury. Hoppertunity drew a strong No. 11 post and was the second favorite at 6-1 before pulling out. Wicked Strong (6-1) and Danza (8-1) were the only two other horses that came into the race with single-digit odds.
In the end, it mattered not. California Chrome paid out $7.00, $5.60 and $4.20. Second-place Commanding Curve earned $31.80 and $15.40, while having Danza as a show was $6.00.
The unlikely underdog story that transformed into pre-race favorite, California Chrome has not lost since last November's Golden State Juvenile. His five straight victories combined with his sterling performance Saturday afternoon will make him an overwhelming favorite for the Preakness Stakes. California Chrome is arguably the biggest threat to win a Triple Crown since Big Brown in 2008.
Kentucky Derby Champion California Chrome is +120 to win the Preakness and +180 to win the Triple Crown— Sportsbook.com ® (@Sportsbook_com) May 3, 2014
There has not been a Triple Crown winner in horse racing since Affirmed in 1978. There have been multiple close calls and even some horses that could have pulled it off without injury. But if there were any horse with a compelling enough back story and dominant enough disposition to break the curse, it's California Chrome.
The last six months saw one of the more improbable rises to prominence in recent horse racing history. Neither the product of multimillion-dollar ownership nor trained by someone of D. Wayne Lukas infamy, California Chrome's upbringing and his camp's ability to handle the spotlight caused speculation throughout the week.
Trainer Art Sherman, 77, is the oldest Kentucky Derby winner in history. Though respected around the sport coming into the race due to his decades of experience, California Chrome was actually his first Kentucky Derby horse.
"Well, I've been in the game a long time," Sherman told reporters prior to the race. "I've always been a guy who thought if it's meant to be, it's meant to be. I just want my horse to have a fair shake at it and have good racing luck."
The story of Sherman will undoubtedly get a laser focus now. As will the background of Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, California Chrome's two owners who partnered on a $8,000 whim on the mare who would birth their Derby-winning horse. Even Martin and Coburn's partnership group, Dumb Ass Partners, was a signifier of how seriously they once took the investment and how they rank among the horse racing hierarchy.
Now, this unlikely group has come together to take down the sport's royalty.
Trainer Art Sherman: "Words can't describe how I feel. It's like a dream come true." #KyDerby— Americas Best Racing (@ABRLive) May 3, 2014
Trainers Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert again saw their Derby number go uncalled. Arguably the preeminent face in the sport, Pletcher had four horses enter the field, bringing his career total to one of 40.
Danza, his most highly touted horse raced, came in third and had the disadvantage of starting the race in the fourth post. We Miss Artie finished 10th, Vinceremos 17th and Intense Holiday 12th to round out the foursome of Pletcher trainees. A five-time Eclipse Award winner for best trainer, Pletcher's only Kentucky Derby win was Super Saver in 2010.
Baffert, who didn't have a horse in the field last year, received disappointment early in the week with Hoppertunity's exit and again Saturday when Chitu couldn't capitalize on a hot start. It has now been 12 races since Baffert's last Kentucky Derby win.
And that's just the way the rest of the field would like it. California Chrome's victory and the unlikely scenario surrounding it is the polar opposite of what's typical in the horse racing world. No Baffert, no Lukas, no Pletcher and no unlimited pockets at the ownership table.
Just one historically dominant horse ready to take over the racing world.
All pre-race odds via Kentucky Derby.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: