LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The flashy chestnut colt with four white stockings gleamed in the sunshine as he left 18 overmatched challengers behind in midstretch. As so often happens, the best story won the Kentucky Derby, and his name is California Chrome.
The 140th Run for the Roses was a 1 3/4-length triumph Saturday for a thoroughbred with a blue-collar pedigree, a 77-year-old trainer and an owner who said he envisioned this impossible scenario before the colt was born.
Co-owner Steve Coburn, a dead ringer for actor Wilford Brimley, said he not only dreamed what he would look like, but also that he would win the Derby, on what would be Coburn's 61st birthday.
Move over, Nostradamus. Your prophecies were never so specific.
"Our guardian angels have been watching over us, and they put our horse on the right path," Coburn said. So did Victor Espinoza, whose flawless ride produced the classic trouble-free trip that wins the Derby.
"Everything worked out," said Espinoza, a 41-year-old Mexican. "An amazing race, this horse has so much talent. By the three-eighths pole, he was going so strong, and I could see the other horses struggling a bit. I let him go, and that was it."
The 5-2 favorite broke well from post 5 and sat third on the inside behind two dueling long shots, 30-1 pacesetter Uncle Sigh and 25-1 Chitu, until Espinoza grabbed the lead after a mile in a leisurely 1:37.45.
Within a few strides, "Chromie" was gone, and seconds later, trainer Art Sherman flashed back to his days as a jockey: "When he spurted away, I said, 'Let me take over for the last 70 yards,' and I rode him in with Victor."
Commanding Curve, a 37-1 shot, gave trainer Dallas Stewart his second consecutive Derby runner-up. Danza ran third, Wicked Strong finished fourth and Samraat, who was born in the Hamptons town of Water Mill, came in fifth.
California Chrome paid $7 for his seventh win in 11 starts and earned $1,417,800, raising his total to $2,752,650. He ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.66, the slowest Derby on a fast track since 1974.
Espinoza's second Derby win, and first in 12 years, made Sherman the oldest trainer to win it. (Charlie Whittingham was 76 in 1989.)
Sherman hadn't been to the Derby since 1955, when he was an 18-year-old exercise rider who traveled from California in a railroad boxcar with Swaps, another Cal-bred who wore the blanket of roses. You may not believe this, but Swaps is buried at Churchill Downs, and on Thursday, Sherman visited his grave.
"I said a little prayer," he said, "and it came true. Now California Chrome is my Swaps."
The first California-bred Derby winner in 52 years starred in a script too outlandish even for Disney. He was born in the little town of Coalinga in the San Joaquin Valley, famous for producing fruits and vegetables, not a world-beater whose sire's stud fee was a puny $2,500. Coburn and his partner, Perry Martin, bought the mare Love the Chase for $8,000 and bred her to the stallion Lucky Pulpit, and out came California Chrome.
"We're really blessed," Coburn said. "I can't say any more than that."
Santa Anita Park hosted a party Saturday for the local star, giving away T-shirts that said "Bring It Home, Chrome." Now the golden Derby trophy is bound for the Los Alamitos quarter-horse track, Sherman's base in Orange County.
"He's the rock star, and I'm just the manager," Sherman said. "And we're going all the way."
Coburn and Martin named their stable Dumb Ass Partners because someone told them that anybody who buys a racehorse is just that. Their purple silks feature a green jackass on the back.
Coburn said he and Martin recently turned down a $6-million offer for 51 percent of California Chrome, who has won five stakes in a row by a combined 26 lengths. Other horses have been chasing him for months and nothing changed on racing's greatest stage before a crowd of 163,906, second in Derby history.
Sherman was asked if he thought his life would be different.
"I'm still the same Art Sherman," he said, "except I've won the Kentucky Derby."