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‘This dream was not for sale’

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By David Whitlock

Even if you’re not a horse racing fan, you’ve got to love the story of how this year’s Kentucky Derby winner, California Chrome, fulfilled the dream of his owners, Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. It’s a story that inspires us to dream big and take the necessary steps to give dreams a chance of being realized.

After the Derby victory, Coburn couldn’t stop staring at the replay of the race. When a reporter asked him what he was thinking about, Coburn simply said, “Our dream child doing exactly what we thought he could do when he was a baby.”

Maybe by now you’ve read about the story that explains his comment. Several years ago Coburn was thinking about buying an airplane as a tax write-off. But that was a bit too expensive for his relative modest means. So Coburn’s wife decided they should buy a horse instead. For $8,000 they purchased a mare named Love the Chase and for $2,500 bred her with a stallion named Lucky Pulpit.

From that union California Chrome was born.

Three weeks before Love the Chase gave birth to California Chrome, Coburn had a dream. He could see what the horse would look like and even how he would act.

Coburn believed his dream child was destined to win the Kentucky Derby. Before the race, he told reporters, “I know in my heart that this horse is just as good, if not better, than any horse out there today.”

One measure of how serious a person is in seeing a dream fulfilled is to find what it would take to give up on it.

Shortly after the March 8 San Felipe Stakes, Coburn and Martin were offered $6 million for 51 percent of California Chrome.  That’s more than just a chunk of change to most people, including Coburn and Martin. Indeed, they had sunk their life savings and retirement in getting California Chrome to the races.

But if they took the offer, they would have had to change the horse’s silks and replace the 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman (now the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby).

And in their minds, California Chrome would no longer have been their “dream baby.”

When asked why they wouldn’t sell, Coburn’s answer was simple: “Because this is our dream.” (Coburn elaborated to reporters that he told those making the offer, “Not only no, but hell no.”)

It was Olympic athlete Jesse Owens who said, “We all have dreams.

But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.”

Co-owners Coburn and Martin and trainer Sherman didn’t just dream, they believed it, they saw it, they planned it and they worked it.

And they wouldn’t allow their dream to wear a “for sale” sign.

Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) tells the story of Monty, the son of an itinerant horse trainer. Monty dreamed of owning his own horse ranch. For his writing project during his senior year in high school, Monty wrote about his dream. His seven-page paper described his 200-acre ranch in precise detail, complete with a diagram of the ranch and a floor plan for his 4,000 square foot ranch house.

The teacher scribbled an “F” on the paper.  

Monty went to the teacher and asked why the paper had received a failing mark. The grammar and syntax were fine, the teacher acknowledged. But he told Monty the dream itself was unrealistic.

Then, he explained to Monty why the dream was impossible and offered to re-grade the paper if Monty would write another one with a more realistic dream.  

After thinking about it for a week, Monty turned the same paper back to the teacher and told him: “You can keep the F, and I’ll keep my dream.”

The true story ends years later with this same teacher taking his students on a field trip to a 200-acre ranch with a 4,000 square foot house owned by a now grown and successful Monty.

No one knows, of course, if the Kentucky Derby will be the last victory for California Chrome or if it’s his first win toward winning the Triple Crown.

But one thing is for sure: He has already made believers out of doubters because his owners were willing to risk it all and tell potential buyers: “You can keep the money; we’ll keep our dream.”

David B. Whitlock is Pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Lebanon, KY. You can contact him at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.