A Divine Hand at Derby Day?

California Chrome's owner believes his horse's victory was part of a grander plan...

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California Chrome. Photo credit: KentuckyDerby.com

“For a Winning Owner at the Derby, Belief in an Unseen Hand.”

That headline jumped out at me from Sunday’s post-Kentucky Derby New York Times. Come on–God was hanging out in the infield of Churchill Downs among the crazy-hatted, mint-julep-sloshed gamblers? Giving one horse above the rest the push it needed to run away with first place?

Then I read on. This wasn’t a story about bets and winner’s circles. It was about something more important. Something that touches every one of us.

It began with a dream that owner Steve Coburn had, three weeks before his colt was born:

“He woke his wife. ‘I believe it’s going to be a big chestnut colt with a white blaze,’ he told her.

When Carolyn Coburn walked up to a stall and first laid eyes on California Chrome, she called to her husband. ‘Come here,’ she said. ‘There is your dream.’ ”

The day the chestnut brown horse with a white blaze was born? The birthday of Steve’s sister, Brenda, who passed away years ago from cancer.

What was behind Steve’s unusual dream? What did it mean that the vision came true on his sister’s birthday?

The death of a loved one is, for many of us, the hardest thing we will ever have to deal with. Perhaps that’s why, in our grief, we see things that normally we would ignore. Our minds are attuned to make connections that comfort us. I believe the omen was meant to show Steve that for everything, there is a plan, a blueprint. That something as painful as losing his sister to a terrifying disease doesn’t mean life is meaningless and random.

I told my own family’s story about the grief we felt after losing my grandparents. It wasn’t a horse that brought us comfort, but a baseball game did play a big role. It didn’t matter who won or lost, only that we got the sense that Pop and Nana hadn’t simply disappeared from our lives.

In Steve’s mind, California Chrome became inextricably linked to the memory of his sister. After the horse’s easy victory at the Derby, that connection was the first thing he brought up in the post-race press conference:

“[Brenda] died of cancer at age 36,” he said. “It will be 36 years this year since there’s been a Triple Crown winner.”

Does any of this mean California Chrome was destined to win the Triple Crown? I wouldn’t bet the farm–and neither should you. But if he does, you can bet your bottom dollar on who Steve Coburn will be thinking about.

Hate horse racing? Let me hear it. If you’ve got your own story about a sporting event that’s given you unexpected aid in a time of distress, even better.

As always, we invite you to share your story for publication using our online submission form.

Photo credit: KentuckyDerby.com

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