California Chrome – The Valley’s Race Horse
The Museum features a section dedicated to the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes Race winner, California Chrome – a horse that not only won these races, but also stole the hearts of both horse racing fans and non-fans who admired his inspiring story of perseverance. California Chrome is the only California-bred and fed horse to have ever won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and was foaled and trained right here in the San Joaquin Valley. Chrome then defied the odds, coming back from slight injuries two years later to take the $10 million Dubai World Cup, at the time the world’s richest horse race.
Bred in California by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, California Chrome was foaled at Harris Farms in Coalinga, California, on February 18, 2011. Harris Farms has a history of delivering and developing talented foals, garnering a great deal of success in California racing. However, the farm has never had another colt that attracted as much acclaim as California Chrome.
As a foal, California Chrome was given the nickname “Junior” because of his resemblance to his sire, Lucky Pulpit, who won three races, placed in several graded stakes races, and hit the board in 13 of his 22 starts throughout his racing career. California Chrome's dam, Love the Chase, proved to be too nervous and often panicked in the saddling paddock, essentially losing races before she ever got to the starting gate.
After Steve Coburn and Perry Martin became her owners, she was only raced two more times, and then brought into retirement. The Coburns and Martins were later offered $2.1 million for the dam, years later after California Chrome’s rise to fame – an offer that was denied.
California Chrome was relatively large for a newborn horse, weighing 137 pounds and was described as “running circles around Momma” within two hours of birth. While foaling California Chrome, Love the Chase suffered a medical complication and was placed on an IV for an extended period of time, leading her and the foal to become stall-bound together. The young colt, with extra attention and affection from farm staff as they cared for his mother, imprinted on humans at an early age. As a result, California Chrome became very people-focused – a trait that has served him well in training.
The Martins and Coburns chose California Chrome's official name in 2013 at Brewsters Bar & Grill in Galt, California – a town halfway between their two homes. Each of the four owners wrote a potential name on pieces of paper and asked a waitress to draw them out of Coburn's cowboy hat. California Chrome, Coburn's choice, was first drawn and the registry accepted the name.
California Chrome's first start as a two-year-old was in a maiden race at Hollywood Park in April 2013, where he placed second by a length. The horse returned to Hollywood Park for his final race of 2013, the King Glorious Stakes – a race that he would dominate and lead his trainer, Art Sherman, to begin considering him as a Kentucky Derby contender.
However, California Chrome’s owner, Perry Martin, considered him a Derby contender long before that race. Early on, he asked Steve Sherman, who had trained horses for Martin at Golden Gate Fields, to recommend a trainer based in the highly competitive southern California area and Steve suggested his father, Art. With a reputation for having patience with young thoroughbreds and a small racing stable of only about 15 horses, Art’s techniques allowed each animal to be given individualized attention. His style of training and heightened involvement would prove to become invaluable to the future success of California Chrome.
Prior to California Chrome's first Grade 1 win at the Santa Anita Derby, his owners turned down a $6 million offer for a 51% controlling interest in the colt that would have mandated putting the horse with a different trainer. Coburn later explained, "It isn't about the money, this is about the dream."
California Chrome went on to race to the front of the field by the quarter pole and win the $1 million Santa Anita Derby by 5 1⁄4 lengths. The decisive win made him an early favorite to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby and raised speculation that he had the talent to win the Triple Crown. From this growing popularity, Denise Martin said, "He's not just our horse anymore; he's the people's horse."
California Chrome – His Road to Greatness
Leading up to the Kentucky Derby, many dismissed California Chrome's chances due to his pedigree and the supposed lack of competition witnessed in prior races. Others doubted his ability because the colt had never raced outside California. In contrast to the critics, reports surfaced that the owners had turned down a new offer of $10 million for the future champion.
The colt arrived at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 28 and was one of the last Derby contenders to arrive. Despite never having flown before, he traveled quietly. He was the morning line favorite, at odds of 5-2 and would go on to take the win. This win was his jockey, Victor Espinoza’s, second Derby victory, and would make 77-year-old Alan Sherman the oldest trainer to ever win the race.
California Chrome was shipped on May 12 to Baltimore to run in the 2014 Preakness Stakes with only a two-week break. California Chrome was assigned the number three post position in a field of ten horses – a post that he shared in common with 1973 Preakness Stakes winner, Secretariat – and was the morning line odds-on favorite at 3-5. On race day, California Chrome made a clean start out of the gate. He was close to the front through the backstretch making his bid for the lead at the far turn and was first by the top of the stretch. The press considered the Preakness to be the horse's strongest victory to date.
In post-race interviews, Coburn stated that California Chrome had become “America's Horse.” The win led him to become the only California-bred horse to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in Thoroughbred Racing history. Chrome would then continue on to the Belmont Stakes in search of the Triple Crown.
California Chrome shipped to New York on May 20 in a semi-trailer horse van to compete against the 11 horses entered the Belmont Stakes on June 7. California Chrome drew post position 2 – again something he would share with Secretariat from the 1973 Belmont. Four entries had run in Kentucky Derby but skipped the Preakness, and there were four “New Shooters” who had not run in either of the previous Triple Crown races who heightened the competition for California Chrome.
On race day, Espinoza described that something “felt off” about California Chrome. Tonalist, a horse who had not competed in the Preakness Stakes, would go on to win the race with California Chrome finishing fourth in a dead heat with Wicked Strong. Steve Coburn generated national media scrutiny when he questioned the current Triple Crown system allowing fresh horses that had not run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes to challenge horses who contested all three legs. He later apologized and said he “wanted so much for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown for the people of America.”
After the race, a review of the race showed that another horse had stepped on California Chrome's heel as both horses broke from the gate. As a result, California Chrome lost the race with tissue taken out of his right front heel and a small cut on his tendon.
Despite his loss in the Belmont, California Chrome was ranked as the top three-year-old horse in the United States by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and fifth in the world according to the World's Best Racehorse Rankings. Both chambers of the California State Legislature also unanimously passed a resolution recognizing his outstanding performance.
The horse’s humble origins played a key role in his popularity, as did the horse's people-focused attitude. As “America’s horse,” California Chrome gained an enthusiastic fan base that extended across the nation. This became apparent during the Santa Anita Derby when the horse's supporters were invited to join the owners in the winner's circle, resulting in more than 100 people cramming into the small area, who were dubbed “Chromies” referring to their status as California Chrome’s most loyal fans.
As the California racing industry struggled, California Chrome gave a much-needed boost to the sport.
After his foot injury healed, California Chrome was sent to Harris Farms for pasture rest from the rigors of the Triple Crown series. During that time, fans called the farm every day wanting to visit the horse while he rested from racing.
California Chrome's 2015 season was tumultuous. He began the year with second-place finishes in the San Antonio Stakes and Dubai World Cup. He then was shipped to the United Kingdom to train for the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot but was scratched a few days prior to the race due to a hoof bruise. Upon returning to the US in July 2015, he was diagnosed with bruising on his cannon bones, which ended his 2015 season.
After a rest of several months, he returned to training with Sherman at Los Alamitos Race Course and regained his form with a six-race winning streak in 2016, which included Grade I wins in the Dubai World Cup. Chrome’s win at the Dubai World Cup made the five-year-old California Chrome America's all-time highest-earning racehorse with $12.4 million, surpassing the mark of Curlin, winner of the Dubai World Cup in 2008. The convincing victory also makes up for the disappointment of being beaten into second place in the 2015 edition by Irish-bred Prince Bishop, and matches the prediction of 78-year-old trainer Art Sherman, who said his horse would be five lengths better this year.
Chrome went on to win the Pacific Classic and the Awesome Again Stakes before suffering a narrow loss to Arrogate in the Breeders' Cup Classic in 2016. He again won the Horse of the Year, Moment of the Year, and Vox Populi awards in 2016. Following the Pegasus World Cup in January 2017, he retired to stud at Taylor Made Farms where he and his legacy will live on with his foals.
California Chrome Day at The Big Fresno Fair
On Saturday, October 11, 2014, The Big Fresno Fair honored Valley born, bred and fed Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, California Chrome at a special presentation in between the horse races. This inspirational celebration was a testament to California Chrome’s immeasurable contributions toward not only horse racing, but to the Valley community and the mark he will leave in all of our hearts forever.
California Chrome’s owners Steve & Carolyn Coburn and Perry & Denise Martin were in attendance as well as:
- Congressman Jim Costa
- Jose Avila, District Representative for Congressman Devin Nunes
- Mary Alice Kaloostian, District Director for Senator Tom Berryhill
- Nathan Alonzo, District Representative for Senator Andy Vidak
- Fresno County Supervisor Henry Perea
- City of Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin
- City of Fresno Councilman Sal Quintero
- City of Sanger Mayor Josh Mitchell
- Harris Farms staff
- Chris Korby, Executive Director of the California Authority of Racing Fairs
- Big Fresno Fair Track Handicapper Robbie Rodriguez
- Big Fresno Fair Board of Directors
- Friends of the Big Fresno Fair President Brian I. Tatarian
- Dror & Fahmie Geron
- Debbie Stevenson
During this special presentation, Congressman Jim Costa presented a congressional record to the Coburns and the Martins in honor of California Chrome’s tremendous accomplishments as not only a racing horse but as a symbol of encouragement and hope for the entire racing community. Senator Tom Berryhill and Senator Andy Vidak were also recognized as co-authors on a resolution that was presented on the Senate floor in June, honoring California Chrome and his owners.
Following the Congressional record, California Chrome and his owners were honored with a proclamation that named October 11, 2014 California Chrome Day in Fresno County. There they were also presented a special California Chrome Key on behalf of the Cities of Fresno and Sanger out of appreciation for this hometown horse who became a champion on the track and ultimately a champion for the San Joaquin Valley.
Following these presentations, Dror and Fahmie Geron, as well as local artist Debbie Stevenson presented The Big Fresno Fair CEO John Alkire with a special painting of California Chrome. The California Chrome inspired painter Debbie Stevenson, a long-time Fair exhibitor, created a traditional-style portrait of California Chrome and entered it into the Fair’s competitive exhibits program in the Fine Arts & Photography Building. After taking a three-year break from the Fair’s competitive exhibits program, the painting entitled “Pride of California” won Debbie a 1st place award and was purchased by the Gerons. Instead of keeping this remarkable piece, Dror and Fahmie generously donated the painting to The Big Fresno Fair Museum so that the public can enjoy it for generations to come.
This donation inspired John Harris to purchase a Chapman painting of California Chrome – “California Chrome Crushes Them in the Kentucky Derby” – that was presented by Robbie Rodriguez to The Big Fresno Fair CEO John Alkire. Painter Tom Chapman began his love for art, athletics and animals at an early age and would go on to become a successful jockey in the horse racing industry. His career resulted in 2,560 wins. He began painting in 1993 as a way to relieve the stress of horse racing and after winning his first Bay Meadows Handicap, drew a painting of the horse for himself. When the owners of the horse saw the painting, they decided to make him an offer that he could not refuse. It was then that Chapman decided to hang up his hat as a jockey and begin his second career as an artist. This painting of California Chrome at the finish line of the Kentucky Derby was also donated to The Big Fresno Fair Museum.
We were also thrilled to add a special piece of racing history donated by Big Fresno Fair Track Handicapper, Robbie Rodriguez to The Big Fresno Fair Museum that day – a D.A.P. Racing Cap signed by Owner of the 1973 Triple Crown Winner Secretariat (Penny Chenery), Jockey of 1977 Triple Crown Winner Seattle Slew (Jean Cruguet) Owner of 1978 and last to date Triple Crown Winner Affirmed (Patricia Wolfson), Owners/Breeders of 2014 Kentucky Derby Winner California Chrome (Steve and Carolyn Coburn and Perry and Denise Martin), Jockey of California Chrome (Victor Espinoza), Trainer of California Chrome (Art Sherman), Assistant Trainers (Steve and Alan Sherman), Groom (Raul Rodriguez) and Owners of California Chrome’s sire Lucky Pulpit (Larry and Marianne Williams). Dried roses from the victory garland laid on California Chrome after winning the Kentucky Derby and dirt from the finish line were also donated.