Another week and another 3-year-old colt has jumped into the Kentucky Derby conversation.
California Chrome wowed race fans this past Saturday with his stunning performance in the San Felipe at Santa Anita.
The field for the Grade II event came up a little light. Bob Baffert’s promising colt Bayern, who would have been the likely favorite, scratched out of the race earlier in the week. Instead California Chrome went off at 7/5 over another nice Baffert colt Midnight Hawk and John Sadler’s Kristo, among others.
Kristo walked out of the Keeneland yearling sales with a $500,000 price tag attached to him. We all know Baffert gets nothing but the top quality horses from some of racing’s best-known owners.
Poor Art Sherman, an excellent but fairly unknown trainer, showed the millionaires and billionaires a thing or two with his modest little California-bred.
California Chrome took the lead right out of the gate. His fractions were just a tick or two off of Game On Dude’s times, who won the Santa Anita Handicap with his own awe-inspiring performance later on the same card.
In spite of the torrid pace he set, California Chrome extended his lead with only a light tap or two from jockey Victor Espinoza’s whip. He coasted home 7¼ lengths in front of Midnight Hawk.
Don’t underestimate speed in a Derby horse. Churchill has that famously long stretch, but Derby winners are usually pretty close to the lead turning for home.
Of course, like all these 3-year-olds at this time of year, the question is can he get the mile and a quarter in the Derby?
I’m not sure. I spent a lot of time this weekend researching California Chrome’s pedigree. There weren’t a whole lot of stayers in his family tree. His sire is Lucky Pulpit, who was stakes placed at a mile and a sixteenth, but no further.
California Chrome’s grandsire is Pulpit, who won at a mile and an eighth but sired Ice Box (second in the Derby) and Pyro who won the Travers at a mile and a quarter.
The connections for California Chrome are reminiscent of other Derby winners Funny Cide and Mine That Bird. Both won the Derby and later proved it was no fluke. Each had very modest bloodlines and relatively unknown trainers.
Funny Cide wasn’t as impressive as this colt going into the Derby and Mine That Bird wasn’t even close.
Last week I wrote about Sheik Mohammed’s Godolphin Stables purchasing Cairo Prince. The price wasn’t announced but I promise you it would be enough for most of us to retire on. I have a feeling California Chrome could have been had for a much smaller bank transfer.
I still haven’t made my Derby move yet. In the last future book pool at Churchill Downs, California Chrome closed at 32/1. He’s probably worth a shot at that price. He has enough Derby points to qualify, so barring injury, he’ll be in the race.
California Chrome should be a local favorite for Northern Nevadans, too. One owner, Steve Coburn, is from Wellington, Nevada, about two hours south of Reno. The other, Perry Martin, is from Yuba City (CA), three hours west Reno, the Biggest Little City.
When the time comes, I’ll certainly bet with my head, not my heart. Right now, though, it would be pretty easy to root for California Chrome. It might not be a bad bet, either.
Chris Andrews has over 30 years of experience as a bookmaker in Nevada. Check out his new website at www.againstthenumber.com and www.sharpssports.com. You can follow him on Twitter@AndrewsSports. Contact Chris at [email protected].