(Reuters) - California Chrome won the 140th Kentucky Derby in brilliant fashion at a bright and sunny Churchill Downs on Saturday, adding another fairytale chapter to America’s most famous and revered horse race.
Perfectly ridden by Victor Espinoza, the three-year-old colt pinned back his ears and sprinted clear of his rivals to win the $2.2 million classic by one and a quarter lengths.
Commanding Curve, one of the longshots in the 19-horse field, charged home late to finish second while Danza battled on for third but no-one came close to catching the winner.
Unbeaten in four starts this season, California Chrome started as the 5-2 favorite after romping to victories in each of his four previous races, including last month’s Santa Anita Derby, that was one of the key lead-up events to the Run for the Roses.
And he lived up to all expectations with a breathtaking display of acceleration, breaking nicely from the barrier and sitting third until the field turned for home.
As they made their way round the bend, California Chrome made his move, bursting into the lead before the shadows of the iconic twin spires as the crowd of almost 165,000 let out a mighty roar.
His 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman became the oldest man to train the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Sherman had never even had a runner in the Derby before but was an exercise rider for Swaps when he won the race in 1955.
“Words can’t describe how I feel right now,” Sherman said at the victory presentation. “This means a whole lot to me.”
For Mexican-born jockey Victor Espinoza, it was his second win in the Derby after he saluted on War Emblem in 2002. The 41-year-old showed his experience with a cool and calculated ride, keeping his mount out of harm’s way before unleashing him in the stretch.
“I really don’t mess with him too much,” Espinoza said. “I just let him enjoy himself around the race track and stretch his legs.”
California Chrome became just the fourth horse from the Golden State to win the Derby, with a classic rags to riches tale that has endeared him to the American racing public.
He was bred for just $10,000, a pittance in a sport where regally-bred horses change hands for millions of dollars, by two men who were new to the race game but took a gamble on a mare that no-one else wanted and got a foal of extraordinary talent.
And the dream may not be over yet with co-owner Steve Coburn immediately declaring California Chrome would go for the Triple Crown, the holy grail of U.S. racing.
“I think we’re in a pretty good place now,” Coburn said. “Our guardian angels have been pretty good to us.”
Reporting by Julian Linden in New York; editing by Gene Cherry