Rarely does a niche sport garner the attention of the globe for a positive reason.
That's why California Chrome's journey to a coveted Triple Crown is so noteworthy. Here is a horse that flies directly in the face of the stereotypical horse racing conventions, which include wealthy owners, legendary forebears and elite trainers and jockeys.
Yet here we are.
Co-owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin purchased Love the Chase for $8,000 and Lucky Pulpit for $2,000. That $10,000 investment created a partnership named—Dumbass Partners.
The two then went and reeled in 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman, who had never trained a horse for the Kentucky Derby.
Now California Chrome is just the 13th horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes since Affirmed's Triple Crown victory in 1978. That $10,000 investment has turned out to be quite the win, as explained by ESPN's Darren Rovell:
California Chrome, bred for $10,000, has now earned more than $3 million on the track.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) May 17, 2014
Despite the lucrative winnings, it's hard not to root for California Chrome and Co. As Chris Murray of the Reno Gazette-Journal captures, the unexpected success has not changed them:
That's why when Coburn and Martin were offered $6 million for their horse, they turned it down, calling it a "slap in the face" because the offer came from "somebody who's never even put on a pair of boots to go to work in the morning." California Chrome is a workman's horse. He's going to stay that way.
"He's like a dream come true," Coburn said. "Some people go all their life trying to find a horse that can make it to the Kentucky Derby and we did it with our first horse. Living in Nevada, an odds-making state, I don't know what the odds are of that happen are — maybe one in a trillion?"
As for jockey Victor Espinoza, his career had hit a noticeable ceiling about a decade ago. He rode War Emblem to victory in the first two legs of the Triple Crown back in 2002 but has not finished better than 20th in earning in five of the last six seasons.
Now, he's at the apex of the sport once again thanks to one dominant horse.
The event at Churchill Downs was a blowout. That made it five victories in a row by a combined 26 lengths. Victory No. 6 in Baltimore flashed an Espinoza from his prime, as his ability to navigate early traffic in a suave manner put California Chrome in a position to blow away the field down the stretch.
That tandem is hard to ignore. Espinoza can do the gritty work when asked, he proved that much Saturday.
There's a popular theory that says California Chrome may struggle with the longer distance of the Belmont Stakes in New York. This has more to do with Ride On Curlin breaking early than anything, as California Chrome then hit final gear when the time was right—without Espinoza even lowering his whip.
Will California Chrome win the Triple Crown?
In fact, it's the inverse that should have people talking. Is there any horse this year that can run such a long distance with California Chrome? One horse coming on strong in Baltimore in a futile attempt to grab the lead before Espinoza threw the hammer down should not be misconstrued as California Chrome struggling with further distances.
Fans have not seen a horse like this in some time. There's no classification for what California Chrome does, so anything other than a prediction for a Triple Crown win is irresponsible at this point.
An unlikely story is fit for an unlikely ending, which seems to be what the globe has on its hands with California Chrome.