California slept easy last night.

Slept easy with the peace of mind that all was right in the world of racing. California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby. Let me repeat that: California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby. There it was, right on the ESPN crawl: “California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby.”

The frenzy that had been building even before the California-bred colt won the Santa Anita Derby on April 5 with an eye-opening burst through the homestretch reached its apex Saturday at 3:34 p.m. Pacific.

That’s when Victor Espinoza pushed the button on California Chrome as the field of 19 turned for home in the world’s most famous horse race, and the chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit responded as he had in his previous four starts with Espinoza in the saddle, turning on the jets and zeroing in on the finish line like a horse possessed, drawing off to another daylight victory, this one by nearly two lengths.

California Chrome’s triumph transcended racing. On Santa Anita’s upgraded mezzanine Saturday, fans of all shapes and sizes, tall, short, thin, fat, black, brown, yellow and white, young and old and of all genders, stood transfixed, cheering him on, surrounding giant flat-panel TVs in a maze of humanity 12 deep and a thousand feet wide, a microcosm of perhaps what was happening all over the land.

With all due respect, Zenyatta was never like this. For many, this was a unifying moment, the feel-good story of a lifetime, one to absorb and enjoy fully, knowing it would never happen again. The California Chrome saga has gone mainstream, on the threshold of joining household names like Upset, Silky Sullivan, Man o’ War, Seabiscuit and Secretariat.

California Chrome’s nondescript sire and dam (Lucky Pulpit-Love the Chase) rival those of Joppy and Saggy, who begot Carry Back, a runner in 21 races as a 2-year-old prior to winning the Kentucky Derby in 1960.

If he does nothing else, California Chrome has put himself on the lead for an Eclipse Award as outstanding male 3-year-old of 2014, and is in prime pouncing position to dethrone two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan for those honors this year.

For Sherman, The Little Trainer Who Could, the beat goes on as the pressure intensifies to keep alive the prospect of California Chrome becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Now, it’s on to Baltimore for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in just two weeks, on May 17.

“The Derby win was wonderful to see,” said retired Hall of Fame great Eddie Delahoussaye, who watched the race at his Arcadia home. “It was great for Art Sherman and all his boys. He’s been at it a long time, and Art and I have been friends for quite a few years.

“I’ve won races for him and we’ve been to the sales together. We both came up from the bottom. When I came out here, there was Shoemaker, Pincay, McCarron, guys like that. Art was in the same boat. We paid our dues, so it’s great to see him win the Derby.

“I called him this morning and he said he’s going to keep the horse at Churchill for the time being before shipping to Baltimore. He said, ‘They keep talking about me being 77 years old.’ I said, ‘You’re 77 years young. It’s not old.’

“Art did have some concern about coming back in two weeks for the Preakness, since he’s never run back in two weeks, but he said the horse is doing good, ‘So I’ve got to go.’”

When the whole world is rooting for you, the tension escalates to a crescendo pitch. Disappointment is not an option when loyalty borders on idolatry.

In other post-Kentucky Derby news:

Santa Anita handled $4.1 million on-track Saturday, up 41 percent from the $2.9 million last year at Hollywood Park. Overall, handle was $21.3 million, an increase of 12 percent over the $19 million last year at Hollywood Park. On-track attendance was 26,211, a whopping 158 percent increase over Hollywood’s 10,152 last year.

Retired trainer Mel Stute, who sent out favored Snow Chief in the 1986 Kentucky Derby, was thrilled for all connected with Team Sherman, including Espinoza. “This kid is always happy,” Stute said. “I’ve never seen him with a frown on his face.”

Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally minced no words when asked Thursday his pick in the Run for the Roses. “They won’t beat him,” McAnally said of California Chrome, and Sunday morning he elaborated.

“Looking at all the prep races leading up to it, the Florida Derby, the Arkansas Derby, all those races, those horses didn’t compare to California Chrome,” McAnally said. “That was why I liked him.”

Said trainer Richard Baltas: “California Chrome runs his best race every time. He’s fired five bullets in a row, and I give the credit to the trainer and the help.”


In becoming the first California-bred to win the Kentucky Derby since 1962, California Chrome made worldwide headlines Saturday, and, he took a giant stride toward greatly enriching the life of Eddie Espinoza, 72, who resides in nearby Whittier.

A winner of the Santa Anita Derby Millionaire Contest on Santa Anita Derby Day, April 5, Espinoza not only cashed a Santa Anita-sponsored win wager of $7,500 for $26,000 on Saturday, he moved closer to a $1 million jackpot should “Chrome” complete racing’s Triple Crown by winning his next two starts, the Preakness Stakes on May 17 and the Belmont Stakes on June 7.

Espinoza and his wife, Susan, watched Saturday’s Derby from Santa Anita’s Eddie Logan Suite on the track’s Club House turn with a group of family and friends.

“I was jumping up and down, especially my heart!” said Espinoza, a retired customer service executive. “I didn’t know the horse went up to 5-2, so I was really surprised we won that much money. I’m trying to get my wife to go with me (to the Preakness in Baltimore). I’m just amazed. I’m in awe and we thank God for these blessings; it’s unbelievable.”

Espinoza, who has been coming regularly to Santa Anita on Saturdays for “about 20 years,” reserves Sundays for his wife.

“We go to church and then we go to breakfast,” said Susan Espinoza. “This is so awesome and we are so grateful.”

Although Eddie Espinoza is ticketed for a trip to Baltimore in two weeks, he and his wife are adamant about where they will be should California Chrome be in search of a Triple Crown sweep at Belmont Park June 7.

“We’re going to watch it right here, on the front row, in the Eddie Logan Suite,” the couple said in unison.

Along with an $8,000 score in the Santa Anita Derby, the Espinozas have now collected $34,000 in winnings, courtesy of The Great Race Place, which will provide them with a $10,000 win ticket on the one and only California Chrome in the Preakness, which could set the stage for a million-dollar score in the Belmont.


Puerto Rican champion Tonito M. is scheduled to make his U.S. debut in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Stakes for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Jerry Hollendorfer, who took the first flight out of Dodge (read Kentucky) last night, was back at Santa Anita supervising workouts Sunday morning.

The Hall of Fame trainer said Rafael Bejarano would ride Tonito M. in the Barrera, which also is expected to lure Ferocious (Joe Talamo) and Kobe’s Back (Corey Nakatani).

FINISH LINES: Apprentice rider Gonzalo Nicolas is at Huntington Memorial Hospital recovering from a fracture in his sternum in the breast plate area, according to his agent, Vince DeGregory. A 23-year-old native of Guatemala, who has been in the U.S. since he was 13, Nicolas is a graduate of Riverside High School. He was injured when his mount, Granny Calling, broke down when four-wide on the turn for home in Friday’s first race . . . Joe Steiner rides this weekend at Hastings Park in Vancouver where he piloted Aspen Getaway to a 7-1 upset in Saturday’s $50,000 Jim Coleman Province Stakes . . . Agent Mike Ciani reports Hall of Fame jockey and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux will begin riding full time at Santa Anita next Saturday, May 10.