Most owners, if they found themselves with a horse like California Chrome that showed such exceptional talent and potential in the spring of his three-year-old season, would naturally have Derby dreams. For Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, those dreams actually began three years ago.
“I knew he was going to be a special horse the first time I saw him, when he was a day old,” said Coburn. “I told (my wife) Carolyn, 'This is going to be a special colt. I just hope we can afford the ride.' We've had Derby dreams since he ran his first race.” One could say Coburn's Derby dreams began even earlier than that.
“I had a dream two weeks before he was born,” he said. “I got up out of bed and told Carolyn that I had had a dream about the baby, it was going to be a colt, and he was going to have four white stocking feet and a blaze face. That's how he got his name, California Chrome.”
Martin also realized he had something a cut above the ordinary the day the colt was born. “We got the word that the mare was foaling, and we got there a couple hours after he was born,” he said. “He was already up and jumping around and running circles around momma.”
Coburn and Martin now find themselves in the enviable position of heading down the elusive Derby Trail. Incredibly, they are heading there – in their first real venture into racing – with a horse they bred and for which they recently turned down $6 million for 51 percent. But they are just a couple of ordinary guys.
“You tell people about the (racing) industry, and all they see are the big hats and big suits and big money,” said Coburn. “But 85 percent are just like me and Perry; they start small. We were taking money out of our savings and retirement to keep this horse going.”
Coburn, a native of Arizona, moved around the Southwest in his youth, working at an oil and gas refinery in Bakersfield, gunsmithing, and serving two stints in the US Army. Nearly two decades ago, he and Carolyn settled in Gardnerville, Nev., where Coburn works for JCP Enterprises, a manufacturer of magnetic tape for credit cards. Carolyn works in the medical field. Theirs is a simple lifestyle.
“We live 11 miles from our post office and 20 miles away from the closest grocery story in a rural area of Nevada,” Coburn explains.
Martin, an Illinois native who grew up in Chicago, fell in love with horse racing at an early age.
“A friend took me out to the races when I was 16, and I loved it,” he said. “After I had a driver's license, I took myself! I always dreamt about owning a horse.”
Martin now lives in Sacramento, where he and his wife, Denise, operate Martin Testing Laboratories. Realization of his ownership dream began with a five percent interest in a racehorse with a Blinkers On partnership.
Martin and Coburn bought Love The Chase outright from Blinkers On when the racing partnership they were part of was being dissolved upon her retirement. The two men met for the first time at Golden Gate Fields, shook hands and formed a new partnership that they named DAP. Martin explains, “When Steve and I decided to purchase her, a groom walked by and said, 'Anyone who buys this horse is a dumb ass.'” Hence, the name Dumb Ass Partners.
The two men and their wives have since become the best of friends. The partners then bred Love The Chase to Lucky Pulpit, resulting in California Chrome – her first offspring. She now has two full sisters to California Chrome on the ground.
The next few weeks may provide a wild ride for them. California Chrome will make his next start April 5 in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Derby – the premier West Coast prep for the Kentucky Derby.
“I wake up every day and hope he's in good health,” said Coburn.
“It's hard to think about anything else right now,” added Martin.
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