Expect the Unexpected

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Steve Coburn: Chomping at the bit


Steve Coburn watches his horse, California Chrome, lose the Belmont Stakes.

Steve Coburn watches his horse, California Chrome, lose the Belmont Stakes.

Steve Coburn is a Sore Loserman and Bad Sport.

His horse, California Chrome, had won the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness, and was running last Saturday for all his worth in the Belmont Stakes, vying to become just the 12th thoroughbred to win the Triple Crown. But it wasn’t meant to be.

So close, but not really. California Chrome didn’t lose the Belmont by a nose, a head, or a length. He lost by more than four lengths and then not cleanly, tying with Wicked Strong, who caught up with him, for a fourth place finish, out of the money.

Interviewed immediately after the race, Coburn initially acknowledged that California Chrome didn’t do the job. “He didn’t have it in him apparently,” he said. But he continued with an angry tirade.

He said other horses in the race tried “to upset the apple cart,” and he criticized horses, such as the Belmont winner Tonalist, that only ran in the Belmont and not in the Derby or Preakness. “It’s all or nothing. This is not fair to these horses. This is the coward’s way out. If you’ve got a horse, run him in all three,” he shouted in bitter disappointment. “Our horse had a target on its back.”

Had things ended right there I wouldn’t be blogging about Coburn. I would have accepted his rant as being made in the heat of the battle.

But things didn’t end there.

The next day, after no doubt an evening of fielding a ton of criticism from friends, colleagues, and family (his poor wife looked mortified as he ranted on camera), and a night to sleep on it, he remained unchanged in his opinions.

An interviewer asked him if he regretted what he had to say after the race.

“Not only no, but Hell no, I do not regret it one bit, it’s the truth.”

He said horses need to run in all three races, Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes for the Triple Crown.

Only running in one race, he said, “Would be like me at 6’2″ playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair.”

He said only three horses ran in all three races and the same 20 that ran in the Derby are the only ones that should have been allowed to run in the Belmont:

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/california-chrome-owner-steve-coburn-belmont-race-losing-24047737

When asked if a leg injury California Chrome sustained coming out of the gate at the Belmont might have played a role in the horse’s poor finish, Coburn brushed the question off. He acknowledged the horse had a “quarter tear” to his leg but rambled on about how he was America’s horse and everyone loved him, yada, yada, yada. With things like the way they are, Coburn said he’d never see another Triple Crown winner in his lifetime.

And THAT’S what makes Steve Coburn this week’s Sore Loserman and Bad Sport. Ignoring facts and promulgating misguided fiction for his own self-interest.

I’m not a horse-racing expert, but even I know this:

Did California Chrome have a target on his back?
Yes! And so does every horse who vies for the Triple Crown. Look at Secretariat in 1973. A horse called Sham went super hard after him in the Belmont. But Secretariat out-gunned him to deservedly win the race.

Speaking of Secretariat, didn’t he win the Triple Crown after a 25-year drought of winners?
Yes! No doubt many people during that quarter of a century thought they might never see another Triple Crown winner again.

Haven’t there only been 11 Triple Crown winners since 1919. And none since Affirmed in 1978?
Yes! Winning the Triple Crown is NOT an easy accomplishment. Of the 4,144 entrants since 1919, 289 have won a single leg of the Triple Crown, and 52 have won two out of three. The odds were totally against California Chrome winning the Triple Crown. Coburn’s suggestion that only the same horses run in all three races would skew the odds in favor of his horse. (Some horses might scratch, leaving a very small field.) Why should the odds be skewed in any horse’s favor?

Isn’t the Belmont, at a mile and a half, the Triple Crown’s longest race?
Yes! The Belmont has been the undoing of many a fine horse used to shorter tracks. It tests a horse’s stamina. Over the years, 23 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but have lost the Belmont.

Wasn’t California Chrome’s “quarter tear” injury a likely factor in why he ran the Belmont so poorly?
Yes! Time to acknowledge that little fact Mr. Coburn.

The following day, after standing behind his rant, Coburn issued an obligatory “apology.” He said he felt ashamed, and apologized to Tonalist, the entire horse racing world, and his wife Carolyn.

During the apology though, he left out California Chrome. He owes him an apology too for acting like another four-legged creature, a jackass.

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