LOUISVILLE — Willie Delgado heard the cheering and saw a white face — that white face — framed by purple blinkers barreling down the stretch. Knowing what the crowd of 164,906 was about to witness in this 140th Kentucky Derby, he vainly tried to join the show that his chromed-out equine partner was performing down the Churchill Downs lane.
"All I saw was that white blaze and I said, 'It's all over,'" said Delgado, exercise rider for racing's newest classic winner. "They even had to say, 'You have to get back' because I started running to the middle of the track."
The dream of what California Chrome achieved on the first Saturday in May is something that has been running through co-owner Steve Coburn's mind since before his homebred colt was born.
The come-to-life version of the prophecy blew all prior notions out of the water — much as California Chrome did to his 18 rivals and remaining critics.
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Everything Coburn, trainer Art Sherman, and the rest of his camp claimed that California Chrome was prior to the Kentucky Derby was supported in a 10-furlong tour de force that saw the flashy chestnut colt win the first leg of the Triple Crown by 13/4 lengths over Commanding Curve.
In becoming the first California-bred to win the Derby since Decidedly in 1962, racing now has a golden boy that — much like 2013 Derby winner Orb — is already stirring up visions of his name being etched as the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
"About three weeks prior to the colt's birth, I had a dream and I told my wife," said Coburn, who bred California Chrome along with fellow owner Perry Martin. "I said, 'I believe it's going to be a big chestnut colt with a white face.'
"(The Derby was) our dream child doing exactly what we thought he could do as a baby. I said this horse would win the Derby. I told people this colt will go down in history."
And a storybook hero California Chrome would be. The affable Sherman, who was the exercise rider for 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps, becomes the oldest trainer to win the classic at age 77.
Though California Chrome's pedigree hinted the Derby distance would be a challenge for him, the son of Lucky Pulpit has now won five consecutive starts dating to last December by a combined 26 lengths.
"I was very confident, I've been around a long time," Sherman said. "You have to let the horse tell you what he needs to do."
In a season that was without a definitive divisional leader for much of the winter into spring, California Chrome steadily blossomed into a talent that none of his classmates have been able to seriously challenge the past six months.
Since finishing off the board in three of his first six starts, maturity has kicked in and taken the colt with tactical ability to a different level. When he won the Grade I Santa Anita Derby by 51/4 lengths on April 5 under a hand ride from jockey Victor Espinoza, the nitpicking began in the quest for his rivals to come up with some way to deny him come May.
"I didn't think that California Chrome had any chance going into this race and I was very, very wrong," said trainer Dale Romans, who saddled Medal Count to an eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. "I was wrong. I was a very big skeptic. I didn't think he fit the profile to win the Derby.
"I'm very impressed the way he came into it, the way he looked, the way he was prepared and the way he ran."
Though California Chrome did not have a workout over the Churchill track prior to the race, Delgado said the colt foretold the future when it took two people on either end of the shank to handle him going into the paddock.
Breaking from post No. 5 as the 2-1 favorite, California Chrome delivered his winning move by the time the 19-horse field hit the first turn. With Uncle Sigh taking on the surprising role of pacesetter with Chitu to his outside, Espinoza eased California Chrome into third just off the rail and relaxed through fractions of :23.04 and :47.37.
"I didn't want him trapped, I wanted him to run his race," said Espinoza, who won his second Derby, having guided War Emblem to victory in 2002. "When I hit the first turn, my horse's head was just outside a bit from the front horses and that was it. I was like, 'What a relief, I can let him stretch his legs.'
"I think that won the race there."
Multiple stakes winner Samraat was glued to California Chrome's hip on the backstretch and tried to stay with him as the race winner cruised up to take a short lead at the head of the lane.
Only Commanding Curve, who got into the field because of defections, managed to cut into the daylight California Chrome opened up as he rallied from 18th early on to give trainer Dallas Stewart his second straight runner-up effort in the Derby.
"I was just hoping California Chrome would give in a bit and he didn't," Stewart said. "And we were running at him. I'm very proud of him."
Todd Pletcher-trainee Danza made a big run after getting bumped early to finish third, 11/4 lengths behind Commanding Curve. Final time for the distance was 2:03.66.
"I knew my horse could run," Sherman said. "And I knew he'd be the horse to beat once we got him here."