California Chrome - Early Beginnings
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, 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. With extra attention and affection from farm staff as they cared for his mother, the young colt 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."