Mark Story: California Chrome's Derby story outran his Derby performance

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 5, 2014 

  • Preakness Stakes

    When: Saturday, May 17 (6:18 p.m.)

    Where: Baltimore (Pimlico Park)

    TV: NBC-18

    Belmont Stakes

    When: Saturday, June 7

    Where: Elmont, N.Y. (Belmont Park)

Before you put away the mint julep glasses, a look at who is up and who is down as a result of the 140th Kentucky Derby:

Cash The Ticket: California Chrome's backstory. It might be the sport of kings, but horse racing is most compelling when "the paupers" beat the princes. From "everyman" owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin to 77-year-old journeyman trainer Art Sherman to the highly modest breeding of California Chrome, this Derby winner has a chance to be a feel-good tale for the ages.

Trash The Ticket: California Chrome's winning performance. The Derby-winning time, 2:03.66, was the slowest over a track labeled fast since 1974. The Beyer Speed Figure earned by that effort, 97, is the lowest ever assigned to a Kentucky Derby or Preakness winner. Writing in The Washington Post, Andrew Beyer said "this slow time is not merely an indication the current crop of 3-year-olds is subpar, it can be seen as an indictment of the modern American thoroughbred."

With that, it is still possible that California Chrome could win the Triple Crown by being much the best of a bad lot.

Cash The Ticket: Dallas Stewart. The Kentucky-based trainer has now had relatively unheralded horses finish second in the past two Kentucky Derbys. One year after Golden Soul was runner-up, Commanding Curve rallied from ninth at the top of the stretch to lose by 13/4 lengths Saturday.

Trash The Ticket: Todd Pletcher. On the plus side, the Pletcher-trained Danza finished third, the first time a "Todd Squad" horse has hit the board in a Derby since 2010. On the other hand, North America's premier trainer has now started 40 horses in the Kentucky Derby and has seen exactly one, Super Saver in 2010, wear the roses.

Cash The Ticket: The Churchill Downs giant video board. Thanks to the new $12 million, 171 foot-by-90 foot high-definition board, it's possible that the 140th Kentucky Derby was the first one in history in which all Derby patrons could see the race.

Trash The Ticket: Churchill Downs management. The week leading up to the Derby was filled with public complaints from Triple Crown-winning jockeys, current horse owners and average joe bettors about how poorly Churchill management treats various constituencies of the horse-racing industry. How people are treated clearly doesn't affect attendance on Derby or Kentucky Oaks days, but the other 363 days a year, Churchill Downs could use all the public good will it can get.

Cash The Ticket: California. Before Saturday, the last time a horse born in the Golden State won the Kentucky Derby, John F. Kennedy was living in the White House. The horse was Decidedly; the year was 1962.

Trash The Ticket: Calvin Borel. The first Saturday in May of 2014 featured something all but unheard of in recent years: a trainer unhappy with the ride that three-time Kentucky Derby winner Borel gave his horse. From the 19th post position, Borel immediately veered Ride On Curlin sharply left toward the jockey's comfort zone, along the inside of the track. Unlike the rail-hugging rides that led Borel to Derby glory in 2007, '09 and '10, however, this time the jockey never found room to run.

Afterward, trainer "Bronco Billy" Gowan was none too happy with the way his horse came to finish seventh. "Once he finally got a clear run, he was flying at the end, but it was too little, too late," Gowan said. "I thought he had a horrible trip." (For the Preakness Stakes, Gowan has replaced Borel with Joel Rosario, who finished 11th in the Derby aboard General a Rod.)

Cash The Ticket: Younger brothers. Riding in his first Kentucky Derby, Jose Ortiz, 20, guided Samraat to a fifth-place finish. That was out of the money but good for family bragging rights. Nine places back in 14th was Uncle Sigh, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., 21, Jose's older brother.

Trash the Ticket: Rosie Napravnik. Her third chance to become the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Derby ended with Vicar's in Trouble finishing dead last, 19th. Still, it was a good weekend for Napravnik, 26, who won the Kentucky Oaks for the second time in three years, this time aboard trainer Steve Asmussen's impressive filly, Untapable.

Cash the Ticket: Thoroughbred horse racing. Given the controversy swirling around Steve Asmussen after PETA's undercover videotaping of how the trainer cares for his horses, an Asmussen sweep of the Oaks and the Derby would not exactly have been a PR boon for the sport.

Instead, Asmussen's Tapiture finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby — and the likable California Chrome crew got the spotlight.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

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