Photo: Melanie Martines
The road to the Kentucky Derby is a lifelong dream for many in the industry, and the journey to get there is not an easy one. From the twenty aspiring 3-year olds who make it to the gate, only one lucky horse will persevere the journey and be draped with a blanket of sweet Kentucky Roses. In the history of the Kentucky Derby, only 3 California-breds have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, the last Decidedly in 1962. For many who dream, only a few will overcome the greatest odds and have the opportunity to experience this excitement.
Back in 1955, a young exercise rider by the name of Art Sherman had the opportunity to accompany a very talented California-bred colt by the name of Swaps to the Kentucky Derby. Swaps had previously won the Santa Anita Derby that year and his connections hoped for a victory and to defeat the favorite in the race, Nashua. With only 10 colts in the field, it was East vs. West and Swaps beat the "best of the best" that day at Churchill Downs. It was the year 1955 when Swaps went down in Kentucky Derby history amongst the elite 3-year olds.
Flash forward 59 years later, a California-bred colt by the name of California Chrome is now taking his 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman back to Louisville for the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby in hopes of chasing that Derby dream. California Chrome hopes to follow the great Swaps in bringing home a Santa Anita Derby / Kentucky Derby double, and be the next California-bred to capture the crown. In all of his 35 years as a trainer, this is Art Sherman’s first starter in the Derby and he has said that although he has been around some great horses, he has never trained a horse as talented as California Chrome, who reminds him of Swaps. The horses look alike, have a similar speedy-running style, both were born in California, and boost that big heart and will to win.
“He’s my Swaps,” said Sherman.
A very special colt, California Chrome continues to impress with 4 straight wins by a combined total of 24¼ lengths! Take a look at his resume, and you will see he was a very nice 2-year old. At 3, things really started coming together and since then, this dynamic duo of colt and jockey has not looked back. This exciting journey with Victor Espinoza started With the King Glorious Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park, and then moved on to the California Cup Derby at Santa Anita Race Track. He beat the eventual El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) winner Tamarando with a scintillating 5½ length victory. He went off to impress us again in the San Felipe Stakes when he moved to open company from his Cal-bred stakes, and again took command in the stretch over Midnight Hawk winning by 7¼ lengths. He came back in the Santa Anita Derby and once again destroyed the field in a commanding fashion. This was as perfect as a prep that you could get before going into the Kentucky Derby.
He consistently puts up good numbers, has held his form, and has since proven that he belongs in stakes competition. There comes a point where you start believing that this young colt could be something truly special. He has had a magnificent 3-year old season and, personally for me, the most impressive performance by any 3-year old this year and should be the deserving Kentucky Derby favorite. Since the closing of Betfair Hollywood Race track, he currently trains at Los Alamitos and it's welcome sign proudly states in his honor, "Home of California Chrome".
I have had the pleasure of seeing California Chrome run in both the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby and my experience has been surreal in how he wins so impressively. Here are photos of California Chrome before and after winning the the San Felipe Stakes:
In the Santa Anita Derby, I watched horses run by me as race fans cheered on their favorite horse. Loved by many, California Chrome was cheered on by the crowd as he cleared the field winning by 7¼ lengths! The last time I had felt this type of energy was in the early days with Zenyatta. I remember being in the crowd in a few of her races and feeling the same energy.
It was so exciting to feel this type of energy back at the racetrack. As I listen around, I started to hear voices of other fans saying, “That’s the Kentucky Derby winner!”…“That horse is going to win the Kentucky Derby!”… “This is our next Triple Crown winner!”… “What a ride!”… “This is a special horse!”, “Wow!”, “Unbelievable!”…"Did you just see that"? The feeling was contagious, and as I stepped back for a second, I felt the hope of fans around me. In that moment, I was convinced that I just may have seen the Kentucky Derby winner.
California Chrome gives racing fans the hope for a Triple Crown winner. It’s been since 1978 with Affirmed that a horse has been victorious in all three legs of the Triple Crown trail. The sport needs this type of excitement that leads up to the Kentucky Derby. It’s horses like California Chrome that makes us all smile and appreciate horses who possess the determination, heart, and will to win.
In a recent article, Art Sherman was quoted with the following:
"California Chrome is a people's horse, and that's what he is. He likes people, he likes being babied, he likes you to play with him".
Along with Art Sherman, I believe this colt is a rock star. He has the talent and heart for dreams to come true. With a sprinkle of luck from the Derby Gods we'll be wishing the best for California Chrome and his connections in the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby!