Jockey Victor Espinoza guides California Chrome to a wire-to-wire victory… (Benoit Photo )
Saturday's Santa Anita Derby is an eight-horse race, but the kind of buzz that has accompanied California Chrome, ever since he blew the field away in the March 8 San Felipe, makes it difficult for the other contenders to get any attention.
California Chrome not only runs like the wind -- he has won his last three races by a total of 19 lengths -- but he and his connections present several stories that are hard to ignore.
There is much talk that he would become only the fourth-ever Cal-bred to do so if he won the Kentucky Derby. Right now, before he goes to the gate for the $1-million, Grade I Santa Anita Derby about 3:42 p.m., he is favored to do just that.
Besides the Cal-bred angle, he would be the first Kentucky Derby winner to train regularly at Los Alamitos, a quarter-horse facility in Cypress now expanding its facilities to hold a short thoroughbred meeting later this year. There were approximately 20,000 foals brought into the world in 2011 whose owners thought about having a Derby horse. Suffice to say, approximately 19,999 didn't think of Los Alamitos as a training ground.
California Chrome's owners are Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, who also oversaw his breeding.
But most intriguing is his trainer, 77-year-old Art Sherman who, it would appear, gets involved with a hot Kentucky Derby horse every 59 years or so. He was the exercise rider for Swaps in 1955, so this winning the Derby stuff would be old hat for Sherman. Except that, when Swaps won, Sherman was 18 years old. Much has changed.
"I'm not sure about this points stuff for the Derby now," he says, "but I do know we have enough."
Sherman is embracing this chance, rather than letting it eat away at him. He is a veteran of many years as a jockey, although not one with Hall of Fame credentials. He used to fatten up riding the short fair meet at Pomona.
"I'd make enough there to cover me for the rest of year," he says.
And his moments with Swaps were not the only memorable ones of his teenage racing years.
"I was at Gulfstream, riding, just trying to make it," he says. "I had $150 to my name. I saw a horse, California Kid, and I put $50 across on him. I had never bet that much on anything. The horse won, I collected $1,200 and I just put it out there and looked at all that cash. I had never seen so much."
Winning Saturday would bring Sherman 10% of the owners' winning share of $600,000. More nice cash to look at.
The eight-horse race might be a misnomer. On paper, the Santa Anita Derby appears to be a three-horse affair. The other two main contenders, Bob Baffert's Hoppertunity and John Sadler's Candy Boy, brought morning line odds of 3-1 and 9-5, respectively. California Chrome is 6-5.
Mike Smith will ride Hoppertunity and Gary Stevens will ride Candy Boy. Both are Hall-of-Famers, but California Chrome's jockey, Victor Espinoza, is no fuzzy-faced kid, either. So the jockey element may not make a difference.
They might as well couple the others into one entry. A victory or even strong showing by Rprettyboyfloyd at 20-1, Friendswith K Mill (20-1), Big Tire (20-1), Schoolofhardrocks (10-1) and Dublin Up (30-1) will bring shock waves and a hefty payout.
That's especially the case with Rprettyboyfloyd and Dublin Up, who are maidens.
First post time is noon.
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Post position order for today's Santa Anita Derby, the eighth race of the card (Post: about 3:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network). Includes morning line odds:
*--* P HORSE ODDS 1 Rprettyboyfloyd 20-1 2 Friendswith K Mill 20-1 3 Hoppertunity 3-1 4 Big Tire 20-1 5 California Chrome 6-5 6 Candy Boy 9-5 7 Schoolofhardrocks 10-1 8 Dublin Up 30-1 *--*