California Chrome won the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, pulling away over the race's final furlongs to notch a dominant win.
Ridden by jockey Victor Espinoza, California Chrome finished ahead of long shot Commanding Curve and Danza, who took second and third, respectively. Wicked Strong, who ran in honor of Boston Marathon bombing victims, took fourth. The race was run in front of a crowd of 164,906, the second-largest in Kentucky Derby history.
Espinoza and California Chrome sat comfortably in third as Uncle Sigh and Chitu set the pace early. California Chrome then took charge at the lane as he entered the straight, made a decisive move and quickly sprinted clear of the field, ultimately winning in a time of 2:03.66, by 1 3/4 lengths.
It was the second career Kentucky Derby win for Espinoza, who gushed over his horse after the race. Espinoza previously rode War Emblem to victory in 2002.
"I never dreamt of winning two Kentucky Derbies in my entire career," Espinoza said. "It’s an awesome feeling and when I work hard, everything comes along."
California Chrome, who gained fame for his rags-to-riches tale outside the traditional rise of champion thoroughbreds, originally was a 5-2 morning line favorite, ultimately going off as a 2-1 favorite at post time.
In a sport dominated by millionaires and billionaires, California Chrome took a much-less traveled route to the pinnacle of the sport. Co-owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin bred an $8,000 mare to a $2,500 stallion, and the result was their one-horse stable that can now be called Kentucky Derby champion.
"He gave me biggest thrill I’ve ever had in my life," trainer Art Sherman said after the race.
At age 77, Sherman became the oldest trainer to ever win a Kentucky Derby.
"I thought he rode him perfect," Sherman said of his jockey, Espinoza. "I never gave him any instructions. I just said, `You know this horse, go for it.'"
"Do you non-believers believe in this horse now?" owner Steve Coburn asked after the race. "Because if you don’t, you need to have your head examined."
A field of 19 horses ran in the Derby, following the withdrawals of Bob Baffert horse Hoppertunity, and his would-be replacement, Pablo Del Monte.
The last horse to successfully win the Triple Crown was Affirmed in 1978. California Chrome will attempt to take the next step toward completing the Triple Crown when he runs in The Preakness on Saturday, May 17, live on NBC. Is California Chrome good enough to pull off the feat? Espinoza thinks the horse can go as far as he wants.
"I don’t know, you have to ask him. I think we get along together because I let him do his thing and let him enjoy the race. I don’t try to go against him and I think he likes that."
California Chrome paid $7, $5.60 and $4.20. Commanding Curve, 37-1, returned $31.80 and $15.40, while Danza paid $6 to show.