Steve Coburn was one of the two "Everyman" owners of the horse California Chrome, which came up short in its attempt to become the first horse in 36 years to win the Triple Crown. In his open, jovial way, he became a beloved figure to the public and press. Endearing, a man who seemed to embrace the world around him and enjoying the ride of his life.
Then, after the race, he opened his mouth one too many times.
It wasn't that he wasn't a gracious winner. It wasn't that he was bitter. It wasn't that he was mean-spirited. It wasn't that he came across as a lout. It was...well, all of that.
The background is that to win the Triple Crown, you have to obviously run in all three races and win them all. But the other horses don't have to run all all three races. A horse can skip one -- or even two -- of the races, and run in the final leg, the Belmont Stakes, fresh. That's what makes the Triple Crown so hard. That's why there have only been 11 Triple Crown winners in history. That's why winning the Triple Crown is so honored.
Back in the 1970s. there oddly were three Triple Crown winners. For a short while, people began to wonder if the Triple Crown was too easy, but reality settled in, and it turned out to just be one of those flukes of time, and over three decades have passed since Affirmed accomplished the feat.
But after his horse failed to win the race, good old boy Steve Coburn went into a whiny, nasty rant.
It's hard. People in horse racing know that. But thems are the rules. Thems have always been the rules. For 139 years. And so, you only have 11 Triple Crown winners. People know that. Including, presumably, Steve Coburn.
"I thought he was gaining ground, but he didn't have it in him apparently. You know what, he's been in three...this is his third big race, these other horses, they always set them out. They set them out to try to upset the apple cart. I'm 61 years old and I'll never see in my lifetime, I'll never see another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this. It's not fair to the horses that have been in the game since Day One.
"I look at it this way, if you can't make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can't race in the other two races. It's all or nothing. Because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people that believe in them to have somebody to come up...this is the coward's way out in my opinion, this is the coward's way out.
"Our horse had a target on its back, and everybody else lays out one or they won't run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, they'll wait until the Belmont. You know what, if you'v got a horse...that earns points to run in the Kentucky Derby, those 20 horses to start the Kentucky are the only 20 available to run in all three races."
Good old boy, indeed.
Now, to be fair, I'm sure that some of this can be attributed to Mr. Coburn being upset at his horse losing out on history. And when people are upset, they can sometimes say really stupid things. But to be equally fair, I'm also sure that some of this can be attributed to Mr. Coburn simply acting like a jerk.
The Belmont Stakes is the longest race in the Triple Crown, at a mile-and-a-half. There are runners who excel in long distances, but are no good in sprints. So, they don't enter sprints. I would assume that the same holds true for horses. In addition, track conditions and layouts are not the same from venue to venue, and some horses run better at different courses. There are entry fees involved, as well, and so some owners might want to spend their money where they have the best chance to recoup it. There are also limits to how many horses can actually run in any given race. That's why you don't see races with, say, 30 horses...
And perhaps most notable at all -- when deciding which of the three races to enter...no one has any idea that there will be a horse that is attempting to win the Triple Crown at Belmont. In the last 36 years, it's only happened around a dozen times. So, two-thirds of the time, the odds are that a horse won't be going for the Triple Crown there. And in a sport that is virtually based on "odds," those are really, really bad ones -- which makes it all the less likely that "beating a Triple Crown contender" factors into the decision where to race.
I suppose it's possible that some owners are afraid of enter all three races. But it's pretty clear that that's hardly the motivating factor. Let alone even a noteworthy one. But even if it ever is, that's the owner's right. It's one more of the things that makes winning the Triple Crown so difficult. And therefore, make it so honored.
The thing is, of course, if Steve Coburn feels this way about how unfair the Triple Crown races are, he's had plenty of opportunity to express it. The press has been cramming microphones in his face for nearly the past two months. Yet he never uttered a peep about it. He just talked about pretty much everything else. Including a lot about how he and his partner were "Everyman."
It turns out he himself is not. Because every man is a whole lot more gracious than that, even while being deeply disappointed. What he is, is a really sore loser.
Steve Coburn may well be a nice fellow, and a good fellow, and a hail fellow fellow well met. But he just fell off his pedestal. And he wasn't pushed. He jumped.
The name of the group that owns California Chrome is Dumbass Partners, with the logo being an ass. The reason, we've been told, is because when the horse's mother, Love That Chase, was bought, someone said that only a dumb ass would spend 8,000 for her. Now we know that there might be another reason for the name.
To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.