Kentucky Derby Results 2014: Winners and Losers from the Run for the Roses
The only doubts about California Chrome going into the 140th Kentucky Derby were based on phantoms about his origins.
Yes, he was the product of a $2,000 stallion and a filly who only won a single time on the racetrack. But the California-bred had a pedigree beyond the most recent generations filled with the legends of horse racing.
He ran like one Saturday, winning the most important horse race in the world in nearly effortless style, by 1 3/4 lengths over long shot Commanding Curve in a time of 2:03.66. The drumbeats now will begin for the possibility of the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
With that in mind, here are five winners and five losers coming out of the Derby.
Winner: Owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin
In a country where kids used to grow up hearing parents and teachers say, "Anybody can grow up to be president," winning the Kentucky Derby with a horse like California Chrome is a pretty close second.
Steve Coburn celebrated his 61st birthday the day he won the Kentucky Derby. A resident of Topaz Lake, Calif., Coburn works at a company operating a machine that makes magnetic strips for bank cards, driver's license and IDs. He went in on a 15-partner syndicate for a filly named Love the Chase, who won one of six starts.
Considered a dud, the partners sold the filly to Coburn for $8,000. He and Perry Martin bred her to a $2,000 California stallion named Lucky Pulpit because they thought the pedigrees matched and got California Chrome. The second-best part? They bred her twice more to the same sire and two babies are on the way.
They turned down an offer of $6 million for California Chrome. They haven’t made that yet, but they have reached the pinnacle of their dreams—and made a lot of money in the process.
Loser: Wicked Strong
It’s almost unfair to be hard on any of the connections that followed in the wake of California Chrome because none had built a truly compelling case to defeat him in the Run for the Roses.
Wicked Strong, the authoritative 3 1/2 length winner of the Wood Memorial, inherited the role of California Chrome's main competition at odds of 6-1. His fourth-place finish is by no means a disgrace, but he wasn’t even close to the winner.
He probably will go on to Pimlico, but if California Chrome maintains his form, subsequent efforts likely will prove futile.
Winner: Jockey Victor Espinoza
Once one of the top five riders in the country, Victor Espinoza was still a major fixture in West Coast racing, but he lost his position as a go-to rider on the circuit.
In 2012, he fell to 49th on the money-earning list and was 24th last year. The 41-year-old, who won his only other Derby in 2002 aboard War Emblem for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, picked up the mount on California Chrome five races ago and hasn’t lost since.
His beautifully tactical ride in the Derby, breaking alertly and then taking back California Chrome ever so slightly to track the pace, was deceptively masterful. The horse responds to his every call. The Derby win should energize his career and remind people that while Mike Smith and Gary Stevens are the legends, he’s a pretty good rider too.
Loser: Todd Pletcher
Todd Pletcher is the most powerful trainer in all of racing.
He gets the lion’s share of the best 2-year-olds each year and dominates the baby races at the prestigious summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. He develops horses with the goal of running in the Kentucky Derby and he gets a lot of horses into the field.
Yet he has had 1 winner—Super Saver in 2010—from 40 starters. This year he ran four and Danza, the Arkansas Derby winner, finished best in third. To lose to a tiny team of nobodies from a quarter-horse track in California, to the first Cal-bred since 1962 to win, is not flattering to Team Pletcher.
Winner: Trainer Dallas Stewart
Out of nowhere, Golden Soul crashed the Derby party last year, finishing second behind Orb at 34-1 for trainer Dallas Stewart. This year, his unheralded Commanding Curve did the exact same thing, picking up the pieces and finishing second behind California Chrome at 37-1.
Commanding Curve had nothing but a maiden victory to his credit and a modest third-place finish in his last start, the Louisiana Derby. There were some experts who thought this horse was improving but his odds said otherwise.
Stewart, a New Orleans native, has never won the Kentucky Derby, but he’s clearly shown an aptitude to get a horse ready to deliver a big performance in the race. This effort might upgrade his stock. Golden Soul has run six times since his big run last year at Churchill Downs. His best finish? Fifth.
Loser: Churchill Downs
The track took a beating this past week for its poor treatment of owners and trainers looking for tickets to the big race.
Paralyzed Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte said he couldn’t even get Churchill Downs to give him a parking space. Never mind he was the rider of the great Secretariat.
The ownership of the track also was vilified for poor management at its other properties, principally the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. And bettors complained about increased takeout. When you run the biggest horse racing event in the world, you would like the publicity the week of the race to be a little bit better.
Winner: The Maryland Jockey Club
California Chrome only won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths. His final time was 2:03.66, nothing special, but the horse himself is so charismatic and the story of his owners so remarkable, that this colt has the chance to become a darling that transcends the sport.
As The Associated Press' Beth Harris notes, "Even Hollywood couldn’t have made this up."
Racing spends a lot of time talking to itself, and strikes gold every once in a while when a horse—like Big Brown or Smarty Jones—enters the larger sports conversation.
The Maryland Jockey Club hosts the Preakness Stakes—the second leg of the Triple Crown—in two weeks. They will be the beneficiary of all of this and it will show up in the handle at the betting windows.
Loser: Calvin Borel
Again, it’s tough to pin anyone as a loser after this race because California Chrome went in so dominantly.
Calvin Borel went into the Hall of Fame this year, and he is a legend at Churchill Downs, having won the Derby three times, including aboard the improbably 50-1 long shot Mine That Bird. This year he had Ride On Curlin, who was coming off the two best races of his life, but Borel could only muster a seventh-place finish.
Winner: Art Sherman
Until California Chrome’s victory, Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Wittingham was the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby, with Sunday Silence in 1989 at age 76.
Art Sherman won Saturday at age 77. Based at Los Alamitos in Los Angeles, a track better known for quarter-horse racing, Sherman had never won a graded stakes race outside of California in his long career. He jokingly said after the race, via CBS Sports' Evan Hilbert, "I'm just the same ol' Art Sherman. Except I won the Kentucky Derby."
Can a trainer’s star rise at 77? As long as he has this horse it can. It’s on to Baltimore and the Preakness Stakes on the ride of a lifetime.
Loser: Johnny Weir's Hat
What in the world was Johnny Weir wearing on his head?
Joining the NBC crew with Tara Lipinski, Weir actually made a tremendous splash at the Kentucky Derby with his terrific gender-bending style.
NBC did right by adding this duo because the Derby is not just about sports, it’s about style. Weir is ingratiating and unique, but my original question remains: What was he wearing on his head?
John Scheinman covered racing for eight years at The Washington Post, co-founded and edited Kentucky Confidential and contributes to The Blood-Horse. He lives in Baltimore.