California Chrome's Humble Beginnings Are Focal Point of Triple Crown Journey

Chris RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2014

Exercise rider Willie Delgado laughs as he walks California Chrome around the stables after he jogged around the track at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y., Wednesday, May 21, 2014. California Chrome arrived in New York on Tuesday to begin preparations for his bid to become horse racing's first Triple Crown winner in 36 years. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

As the current most recognizable name in sports, California Chrome has a remarkable backstory not widely known that continues to be swept under the rug in favor of other oddities.

Said oddities include a bout with a cough and blister, nasal strips and even a race against an opossum, as captured by Newsday:

Yet the real story is not silly conditions around the world's best horse but the incredible beginnings of the journey that went from unlikely ownership and pedigree to the Belmont Stakes in New York, one race removed from being the first to capture a Triple Crown since 1978.

It is a story both inspirational and unique, yet it seems to have been lost in the shuffle to this point.

A classic rag-to-riches tale, things started when co-owner Steve Coburn bought Love the Chase for $8,000 and Lucky Pulpit for $2,000. Why? He wanted a fun way to procure a tax write-off.

Coburn got much more than that.

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Flash forward a few years, and he has turned down offers for California Chrome in the neighborhood of $15 million, per Jonathan Berr of CBS Money Watch.

Not bad for a guy who teamed with Perry Martin to get the original $10,000 investment secured, under the way-too-serious name of Dumbass Partners.

In fact, Coburn has turned down such lucrative offers that it seems potential suitors understand to not even ask at this juncture, as Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden notes:

Daily Racing Form CEO John Hartig explained to Berr in an email the significance of California Chrome's journey:

California Chrome shouldn't be in contention based on his pedigree. But he is -- and that is the magic. Owners with billions of dollars have not been able to breed a horse capable of winning the Triple Crown, and yet this thoroughbred looks like he can. ... Certainly, everyone loves a great underdog story, and a possible Triple Crown winner could reignite the passion for racing in old fans while also growing a new younger fan base for the sport.

The sport of horse racing boomed in the 1970s thanks to a bevy of Triple Crown winners, but it has had a difficult time growing in recent decades. As noted above, it is important for the sport to seize this moment to promote parity and grow a youthful, sustainable fanbase.

By all accounts, the last leg of California Chrome's journey should be a rather easy one. The Kentucky Derby was a rout, as was the Preakness—although other horses prematurely making a final push gave the impression the race would be close.

It wasn't. The event in New York is longer, but even horses who sat out the middle leg of the Triple Crown don't seem to have what it takes to go the distance with California Chrome. Six consecutive wins deep, jockey Victor Espinoza—back to the realm of relevancy as soon as he mounted his current horse—has shown more than enough talent to get the absolute best out of the sport's best athlete.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

For Coburn, a win in New York, while lucrative in a financial sense, is merely the realization of a dream, as recorded by Jerry Bossert of The New York Daily News“You know, it’s an incredible, incredible journey we’ve been on,” Coburn said. “To see this baby the day after he was born alive, then I saw him three weeks prior to that in a dream, and this baby turned out exactly like my dream.”

It's near-impossible to not see the dream come to fruition. This Triple Crown contender has a different feel to it and a remarkable story that has the fortitude to change the complexion of the sport as a whole.

That's the story with California Chrome—this generation's most important horse to explode out of the gates.


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