Chrome and Curlin Make Great Showing

Billy Gowan, Ride On Curlin’s trainer, congratulated the California Chrome group on their win.

Billy Gowan, Ride On Curlin’s trainer, congratulated the California Chrome group on their win.

California Chrome held off a hard-charging Ride On Curlin to win the Preakness Stakes. He followed up his Kentucky Derby win with another impressive outing and now is just one win from the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Up next is the Belmont Stakes on June 7 in Elmont, N.Y. After the race in Baltimore, I talked with California Chrome’s jockey, Victor Espinoza, trainer Art Sherman, owner Steve Coburn and exercise rider, Willie Delgado. I also caught up with the Louisville connections of Ride On Curlin, owner Dan Dougherty and trainer Billy Gowan. In the last 36 years, a total of 12 other horses have won the Derby and Preakness, only to come up short in the Belmont, including War Emblem in 2002. Espinoza was also the jockey for War Emblem.

KENT TAYLOR: What did you learn from you first shot at the Triple Crown?

VICTOR ESPINOZA: I learned a lot. I think the first time it was kind of like, you know, some things that I was not ready for. Some things I did that I shouldn’t have done. Some things I did that I’m glad that I did. Now I have a second chance, so I’ll probably enjoy myself a little bit better and I’ll go day by day. As long as California Chrome comes out good and ready for the next step, I’ll be ready too.

TAYLOR: As crazy as it sounds, are you now willing to say that turning down that $6 million dollar offer was a great decision?

ART SHERMAN: Great decision. Actually, he knew more than I did, and now the horse is worth $30 million.

California Chrome with Victor Espinoza, for trainer Art Sherman and owner Dumb Ass Partners Steve Colburn and Perry Martin.

California Chrome with Victor Espinoza, for trainer Art Sherman and owner Dumb Ass Partners Steve Colburn and Perry Martin.

TAYLOR: Is $30 million even more than you could have ever dreamed of?

STEVE COBURN: Not only yes, but hell yes. The man that I said, not only no, but hell no to, actually shook my hand and said, “You know what? I respect what you did.” This man actually believed in us because we knew we had a good horse, and this horse wouldn’t be who he is today without the trainer, Art Sherman, exercise rider, Willie, and especially the groom, Raoul, because this groom sleeps with this horse more than he sleeps with his wife.

TAYLOR: How much does this sport need a Triple Crown winner?

COBURN: In my opinion there are trainers out there that train horses just to upset the apple cart. I honestly believe that they need to change this sport so that those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby are the only 20 eligible to run in all three races. If you bow out in the Preakness, you don’t come back for the Belmont. I honestly believe that if the Triple Crown is not won this year by California Chrome, I will never see it my lifetime simply because there are people out there trying to upset the apple cart. They don’t want a Triple Crown winner. They want a paycheck.

TAYLOR: Two down, one to go. How did it feel to watch him cross the wire?

WILLIE DELGADO: Unreal. Right now I don’t have the words to describe it. The funny thing about it, I came home and wanted to spend time with my daughter for this one. To be this close to the Triple Crown, it’s really a dream come true. If he keeps on bouncing back like he has been, then they’ll be in trouble up there, too.

TAYLOR: You seem to have studied the Belmont a little. Is there a strategy to winning the race?

DELGADO: I mean, my opinion, you don’t train harder for a farther race, you just maintain him. Art and Alan, they’ve done a great job. I have no words to describe it. We have one more to go.

TAYLOR: You want to win the race, but finishing second in the Preakness is still something to celebrate, isn’t it?

DAN DOUGHERTY: All week long I was hoping for a 1-2 race, and I thought we’d be in it. I was thrilled to see him come on there at the end. California Chrome is a heck of a horse. We’ve gotten along so well with the Chrome family.

TAYLOR: Is Ride On Curlin noticeably improving to you?

DOUGHERTY: He really is. He’s bigger, better and stronger. Even from the Derby, he’s bigger, better, stronger. I got to look at the race again. I don’t know how hard the horses were ridden at the end, but I knew he was coming on. I won’t take anything away from Chrome, and I’d love to see him win the Triple Crown if we can’t win the Belmont.

TAYLOR: As they were coming down the lane, did you think that Ride On Curlin was going to pass him?

BILLY GOWAN: I thought he had a shot. He runs up to Chrome, but Chrome didn’t stop. He found him another gear. I mean, you’ve got to take your hat off to California Chrome. Good horse. A good horse. But I am so happy for my horse. He was training super all week and I thought he would run good, and he did run good.

TAYLOR: With the mile-and-a-half distance, do you feel like that improves your chances?

GOWAN: Maybe he’ll back up at a mile and a half. He hasn’t backed up at a mile and a quarter or a mile and 3/16ths, so maybe he’ll back up for me a little at a mile and a half.

Photos by AMBER CHALFIN | Contributing Photographer