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California Chrome triumphs at the 140th Kentucky Derby

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- California Chrome made it look easy on Saturday, pulling away down the stretch to win the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths.

In a sport dominated by wealthy owners and regally bred horses from Kentucky's bluegrass country, this was a victory for the little guys. Owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn bred an US$8,000 mare to a US$2,500 stallion to produce the winner of the world's most famous race with their one-horse stable.

“This is just a dream come true and a great birthday present,” said Coburn, who turned 61 on Saturday.

California Chrome ran 1.5 miles in 2:03.66 and paid US$7, US$5.60 and US$4.20. The chestnut colt was sent off as the 5-2 favorite by the crowd of 164,906, the second-largest in the Derby's 140-year history.

His trainer, Art Sherman, 77, became the oldest trainer to win the Derby, 57 years after he traveled from California as an exercise rider for Derby winner Swaps. He watched that race from the barn area; this time he smelled red roses in the winner's circle.

Sherman was all smiles after the race. “He gave me the biggest thrill I ever had in my life,” he said.

California Chrome has the unlikeliest pedigree for a Derby champion. His mother, named Love the Chase, won just one race. She was purchased by Coburn and Martin, a move that prompted a trainer to call them “dumb asses” for getting involved in racing.

Feeling inspired, they named their operation DAP Racing, which stands for Dumb Ass Partners. Their silks include an image of a donkey.

Coburn lives near Reno, Nevada, rising at 4:30 a.m. for his job as a press operator at a 13-employee company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and driver licenses.

Martin lives on the California side of the border near Reno, running a laboratory that tests high-reliability equipment, like car air bags and medical equipment.

Coburn and Martin's partnership is based on a handshake, and their wives are friends who enjoy the sport, too. The group came up with California Chrome's name by drawing it out of a hat. The horse hadn't even been out of his home state until this week.

“Sometimes you don't get a lot of respect,” Sherman said. “We're in Kentucky and you know most of the Derby winners are bred here and few outside of Kentucky.”

Sherman visited Swaps' grave near the Derby museum earlier in the week and whispered a prayer: “I hope he's another Swaps.”

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California Chrome #5, ridden by Victor Espinoza, pulls away from Chitu #13, ridden by Martin Garcia, coming out of the fourth turn en route to winning the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, May 3. (CNA)

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