First, familiarize yourself with what the new “DAP’’ means in America. It isn’t the knocking of fists together as a sign of respect, nor is it a product used to caulk your bathtub. No, “DAP’’ is emblazoned on the purple silks of the horse with whom we’re falling in love, California Chrome, and it stands for Dumb Ass Partners, accompanied by a donkey logo.
“Dumb asses,’’ is how a trainer responded when Steve Coburn and Perry Martin spent $8,000 on a mare named Love the Chase, armed with a dream that she would breed a Kentucky Derby-winning horse. Not oozing of the wealth usually associated with thoroughbred racing owners, the partners chose to poke fun at themselves and stay true to their mission. Here in 2014, when bluebloods invest megamillions in locating super horses, Coburn and Martin really did seem like dumb asses.
That is, until California Chrome started dominating races leading up to Churchill Downs. With four routs in recent stakes events by a combined 24 lengths, Coburn and Martin were offered $6 million for a 51 percent share of the chestnut colt. The Dumb Ass Partners said no thanks and banked on what they’d seen all along with their own eyes, ignoring the daunting truth that no California-bred horse had won the Derby in 52 years and that winning the race would be akin to a bum crashing a wide-brimmed-hat society party.
“The first time we saw him, we knew it was going to be something special,’’ Coburn said on Derby eve. “We’re going to go down in history.’’
The question now is how much history. In winning the 140th Derby in an impressive backstretch romp, California Chrome — would you believe the sire in this breeding process cost only $2,500? — may end up as the most cost-efficient champion in the history of sports. Go ahead and give Miguel Cabrera a $292 million extension. Go ahead and spend $1.5 billion to buy the heretofore downtrodden Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling, who is not a racist, according to the woman who ruined his life. If this horse wins the Triple Crown, with the oldest trainer ever to win the Derby (77-year-old retirement home resident Art Sherman) and a jockey (Victor Espinoza) who grew up driving a bus in Mexico City, well, I suspect some of those Kentucky bluebooks may reconsider the money they’re wasting. And before someone asks, no, the Dumb Ass Partners didn’t pull off the Derby with advanced metrics. Coburn reports to a factory, where helps make magnetic strips on the back of credit cards. Martin runs a testing lab near Sacramento.
You could have downed 15 Mint Juleps and not concocted this story.
“I think we get along very well together,’’ said Espinoza, who won his second Derby. “He’s just an amazing horse.’’
“I’m the same old Art Sherman,’’ the trainer said, “except I won the Kentucky Derby.’’
I think we gave up on Triple Crown winners about five years ago. Asking a horse to win three races in five weeks, when the distances are longer than accustomed, is damned near impossible. The last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed, in 1978, and while we’ve seen eight horses the last 17 years win the Kentucky Derby/Preakness double, the Belmont Stakes has become the inevitable downer.
Can California Chrome, with its humble entourage, make history of the epic sort? “This is just a dream come true,’’ said Coburn, who won the Derby, naturally, on his 61st birthday. “If you don’t believe in this horse now, then you’ve got to have your head examined.’’
By the way, anyone seen that bigmouth trainer lately? The Dumb Ass Trainer?