For a guy who was put on a pedestal in the last month, the co-owner of California Chrome spit the bit after his horse ran out of gas in the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown on Saturday.
In the genteel world of high-stakes racing, this is how to be a sore loser.
Steve Coburn had some time to think about it on Saturday night, and didn’t get any more gracious by yesterday when he tossed in a distasteful metaphor for good measure.
The Star Tribune’s Rachel Blount gives Coburn the “what for.” The Triple Crown is for special horses. It’s not a participation award.
The 11 Triple Crown champions proved their greatness against every horse that wanted to test them, including fresh ones. That’s the way it should be. Since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, 11 other horses with a shot at the sweep lost in the Belmont Stakes; eight were defeated by horses that didn’t run in all three legs, and their connections didn’t label the winner a coward or a cheat.
Every year after the Derby, only a few horses continue on the grinding Triple Crown trail. This year, only three Derby horses went on to the Preakness; those same three made it to the Belmont.
If we’re ready to give in to the notion that modern thoroughbreds are too fragile and coddled to win the Triple Crown, there are other potential tweaks. Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, wants to spread the races over eight weeks rather than five. Perhaps a better idea is to breed stronger, more durable horses.
“This is a good man who cares about his trainer and his horse. Everywhere he went with his cowboy hat and his down-home accent and his ready smile, he piled up street cred for the Triple Crown, his quest to earn it and for Team California Chrome,” long-time race writer Jerry Izenberg says.
There was a giant target on Secretariat’s back, and when Sham went after him in the Belmont, Big Red said “come on, let’s run,” and Sham, after trying to stay with him, never ran very far ever again after that. There’s a target that shows up in various ways on the backs of every horse that wins two and goes after a historic third.
Not one of them has gotten it since Affirmed, back in what feels like it must have been the Ice Age. Some of them were beaten by horses who laid out of the first two races. But there is no record of a single one of those demanding to change the rules after their defeats.
Not until now.
The Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley was less charitable.
How about we add a fourth leg of the Triple Crown? We can call it the Steve Coburn Run for the Hills. Because this clown needs to take his horse, and his 10-gallon hat, and his mouth, and go home. And since he didn’t run in any of the three races he’s whining about, he should be sufficiently rested to win the Steve Coburn Run for the Hills in record time.
Coburn is like the politician who shows up at campaign headquarters on election night with two speeches in his pocket — one for victory, the other for defeat. And he probably had a dandy of a victory speech at the ready had his horse captured Saturday’s Belmont Stakes and become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the Triple Crown.