He sure was.
California Chrome extended his winning streak to five races, won by a combined 26 lengths. It was the second Derby win for Espinoza, who rode War Emblem to victory in 2002.
“I thought he rode him perfect,” said Sherman, a former jockey. “I was riding the last 70 yards with Victor, so I think he was riding two. He had a lot of weight on him, I can tell you that.”
Espinoza had California Chrome sitting comfortably in third in the 19-horse field as Uncle Sigh and Chitu set the early pace.
California Chrome made his move on the final turn in tandem with Samraat. It looked like those two would decide the outcome, until California Chrome sped away to become the first California-bred to win the Derby since Decidedly in 1962.
“This horse has so much talent,” Espinoza said. “By the three-eighths pole I knew that was it. I could see other horses struggling a little bit, and he was just smooth.”
Commanding Curve, a 37-1 shot, rallied for second, with Danza third. Wicked Strong was fourth and Samraat finished fifth.
Commanding Curve returned $31.80 and $15.40, giving trainer Dallas Stewart his second straight runner-up finish with a double-digit longshot. Danza, named for actor Tony Danza of “Who’s the Boss?” fame, paid $6 to show as the 8-1 third choice.
Trainer Todd Pletcher came up empty with his four starters, finishing third with Danza, 10th with We Miss Artie, 12th with Intense Holiday, and 17th with Vinceremos.
Wicked Strong, the 6-1 second choice, was fourth. Samraat was fifth, followed by Dance With Fate, Ride On Curlin, Medal Count, Chitu, We Miss Artie, General a Rod, Intense Holiday, Candy Boy, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Harry’s Holiday, Vinceremos, and Wildcat Red. Vicar’s In Trouble, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, finished last.
Before the Derby, Coburn had told anyone who would listen that California Chrome “would go down in history.” He remains just as unabashed.
“I believe this horse will win the Triple Crown,” he said, something that hasn’t been done since 1978, when Affirmed swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in a five-week span.
“That’s where we’re going.”