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Chicagoan California Chrome co-owners fine in background

CaliforniChrome owners Steven Coburn right Perry Marthold trophy after Victor Espinozrode CaliforniChrome victory 140th running Kentucky Derby horse race Churchill

California Chrome owners Steven Coburn, right, and Perry Martin hold the trophy after Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome to victory in the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman) ORG XMIT: DBY

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Belmont Stakes Odds

Weights: 126 pounds. Distance: 11⁄2 miles. Purse: $1.5 million.
First place: $800,000. Second place: $280,000.
Third place: $150,000. Fourth place: $100,000.
Fifth place: $60,000. Post time: 5:52 p.m., Ch. 5.

PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds

1. Medal Count Dale Romans Robby Albarado 20-1

2. California Chrome Art Sherman Victor Espinoza 3-5

3. Matterhorn Todd Pletcher Joe Bravo 30-1

4. Commanding Curve Dallas Stewart Shaun Bridgmohan 15-1

5. Ride On Curlin Billy Gowan John Velazquez 12-1

6. Matuszak Bill Mott Mike Smith 30-1

7. Samraat Rick Violette Jr. Jose Ortiz 20-1

8. Commissioner Todd Pletcher Javier Castellano 20-1

9. Wicked Strong James Jerkens Rajiv Maragh 6-1

10. General a Rod Mike Maker Rosie Napravnik 20-1

11. Tonalist C. Clement Joel Rosario 8-1

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Updated: June 7, 2014 5:22PM

ELMONT, N.Y. — The smell — of hay and horse and the byproduct of both — grew stronger as they inched closer to Maywood Park.

As first dates went, watching harness racing was a strange one. But on a summer evening in 1985, there might have been nothing Perry Martin loved more than horses. He got hooked at Arlington Park as a boy, disappearing to the track more once he got his driver’s license.

At 29, Martin was teaching physics and working part-time loading trucks at UPS when he met Denise.

It would have seemed preposterous, had you told them that night: The two Chicago kids would marry, start a family and, a generation later, co-own California Chrome, who at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday will try to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Maybe there was some magic that night, though — Denise won her first bet.

◆ ◆ ◆

It came to Steve Coburn in a dream.

Coburn, who co-owns the horse with his wife Carolyn and the Martins, dreamt weeks before California Chrome’s birth that he would be chestnut with white markings — in horseman parlance, “chrome.”

After he was proved prescient in February 2011, Coburn had another premonition.

“When he was a day old,” Coburn said, “I knew something big was going to happen. And he hasn’t proven us wrong yet.”

Coburn tells the creation myth with relish, down to the naming of the horse, in which the owners drew a slip of paper from a cowboy hat.

He’s the public face of Dumb Ass Partners, named after a groom who doubted their $8,000 purchase of California Chrome’s mother.

Perry is the quiet one, having skipped the Preakness Stakes and eschewing interviews since. He and Denise will be in attendance Saturday at Belmont Park.

“He doesn’t say a whole lot,” assistant trainer Alan Sherman said Thursday. “Unlike Steve.”

It was the calculating Martin, though, who emailed trainer Art Sherman, Alan’s dad, with a plan for which races California Chrome could run — and win — to reach last month’s Kentucky Derby.

At the time, he’d yet to run a race.

“He mapped out a trail for this horse,” Alan Sherman said Thursday after California Chrome ran on a muddy track around dawn.

“It’s actually worked to a ‘T,’ so it’s kinda amazing.”

The trainers thought then Martin was crazy.

Now, California Chrome is the Belmont’s 3-5 morning-line favorite.

“How do you map out a trail for the Kentucky Derby when he’s 2 years old?” Alan Sherman said. “Things usually don’t work out like that.”

◆ ◆ ◆

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is a book about a mathematician who predicts the future using science.

Denise was reading it at La Villa Restaurant on Pulaski when she met Perry, and she eventually was talked into the first date.

“Perry started a conversation about the book,” Denise said via email, “and we formed a friendship.”

They knew of each other from UIC. After graduating from Lane Tech, Perry attended Michigan Tech and received a UIC advanced degree in solid-state physics.

In 1987, they left Chicago for a home outside Sacramento, California, where Perry worked as an Air Force metallurgist.

A Madonna alum from Logan Square, Denise shadowed a Sacramento horse trainer while she was pregnant, and the Martins settled down to raise their kids.

Living in Yuba City, California, Perry and Denise now own and run Martin Testing Laboratories, which evaluates product safety and reliability.

Their analytical minds served them well in racing.

In 2008, the Martins and Coburns each bought 5 percent of Love the Chase through a larger syndicate. They later combined to buy the horse outright upon her retirement and bred her with a $2,500 sire, Lucky Pulpit.

For the talk of California Chrome’s humble roots, Love the Chase is related to two 1950s Kentucky Derby champs. One, 1955 winner Swaps, was exercised by a teenaged Art Sherman.

The owners bet on California Chrome’s distant bloodline to shine through, but winning is no birthright.

Smart ownership “is a far greater challenge,” Denise said.

California Chrome has had just that, starting with Perry’s plan, which allowed him to win enough money to enter prestigious events.

“Perry is the type of person that loves to enjoy the moment that horse crosses the finish line,” Denise said. “He does his homework ahead of time and keeps a lot of information stored in his head.

“He won’t be found with his nose pressed to the program too often.”

◆ ◆ ◆

The first horse to run in Dumb Ass Partners’ silks — green and purple with a bucktoothed cartoon donkey — evokes dreamy descriptions from his more talkative owner.

Never mind that Saturday’s task has swallowed up the last 12 horses to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

“This horse could have been born to anybody,” Coburn said. “He was born to us, and we’re very blessed with that.”

The Martins agree, even as they shy from the spotlight.

“It keeps us aging baby boomers engaged,” Denise said. “We thought it would be a stress reliever, but, boy, it sure does keep your heart pumping.”


Twitter: @patrickfinley

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