Kentucky Derby hopeful has Tech connections

IRON MOUNTAIN -Catherine (Sandona) Martin’s son, regardless of the partnership name, knows something about race horses.

Perry and Denise Martin, along with Steve and Carolyn Coburn, are co-owners of California Chrome, a favorite to win this year’s 140th Kentucky Derby.

Catherine Martin, 83, born and raised in Iron Mountain, can’t wait for the first Saturday in May. Her face lights up when talking about her son and California Chrome.

“I’m ready to roll,” Catherine said recently from ManorCare, planning to shake some health issues and join her family in Louisville. “There’s a box (at Churchill Downs) for all of us.”

Catherine, with a Kentucky Derby hat on order, is also contemplating the Derby’s favorite drink -mint julep.

“I’m going to try one,” she said of the mint, bourbon, sugar, and water concoction.

Catherine left Iron Mountain for Chicago in her 20s and has spent the past 20-plus years in Dickinson County. Her husband, Chuck, “my sweetheart,” says Catherine, passed away in 2008.

Perry Martin grew up in Chicago, developed a love for horses there, but did find his way to the U.P. He recalls with pleasure his many happy summers with his grandparents and their beagle “Duke” in Iron Mountain.

He earned a degree in applied physics from Michigan Technological University, attending the Houghton school from 1974 to 1978. Perry also owns an advanced degree in solid state physics from the University of Illinois (Chicago).

“We’re trying to put (Derby) fever in its proper place,” said Perry Martin, managing and 70 percent majority owner of this year’s top West Coast three-year-old thoroughbred. “We can’t lose focus on everything else. We’ve got two businesses to run. The horse is our third business.

“But we’re really happy and excited. It’s hard to think about anything else right now.”

The Martins own and operate Martin Testing Laboratories, located at the former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento.

“We test high-reliability equipment, the kind where somebody dies if something goes wrong,” said Perry, president of Martin Testing.

California Chrome has been the talk of horse racing, with six wins in 10 starts. The California-bred chestnut prevailed in the last four races by more than a combined 24 lengths.

The recent $1 million Santa Anita Derby was another run-away for California Chrome, blazing past the field by 5 1/4 lengths.

“I’m very humbled to have a horse like this,” said 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman, a workout rider in 1955 for Kentucky Derby champion Swaps. “I can’t believe the races I’ve been seeing.”

California Chrome’s owners believe strongly in Sherman. They rejected $6 million from a bloodstock agent to buy 51 percent controlling interest in the 3-year-old.

“They wanted control of the horse. I said we want to keep the trainer and run in our colors, and they said no,” Perry Martin said. “Then it was very simple and we said, ‘No, thank you.'”

The Martins, from Yuba City, Calif., and Coburns, from Wellington, Nev., teamed up when their original ownership group dissolved. They started their stable with an $8,000 mare, Love The Chase.

“A groom walked by and said, ‘Anybody who buys this horse is a dumb ass.’ Steve and I shook hands. We’re the Dumb Ass Partners,” Perry said of the stable name known as DAP Racing.

Love The Chase’s first foal with Lucky Pulpit was California Chrome. Perry researched the match himself.

“We’re just everyday people,” Coburn said. “Actually, we’ve been pointing this colt to the (Kentucky Derby) since he hit the ground.

“It’s mind-boggling to think we have the No. 1 three-year-old in California and the United States right now.”

California Chrome’s jockey is the highly-regarded Victor Espinoza, who won the 2002 Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem.

“I feel confident about him,” Espinoza said.

California Chrome’s Churchill Downs cheering section will also include Catherine’s son, Roy Martin from Downers Grove, Ill., and family friend Mary Carlson of Iron Mountain.

Catherine, much-cherished by her family, has a horse named after her. Perry Martin will be starting Catherine’s Cause, a promising two-year-old filly currently in training at Golden Gate Fields.