Monday, July 14, 2014


The would-be Champion 3y.o. rests from the Triple Crown grind while the 2013 Champion Juvenile Male remains unbeaten seeking a repeat Eclipse Award; Belmont Stakes hero targets the Spa.

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Friday, June 13, 2014


Once upon a time, journalists covering a sporting event reported instead of sensationalized.  Sadly, that is not the case these days.  NBC set a TMZ-quality landmine co-owner Steve Coburn fell headlong onto, nearly destroying the memory of CALIFORNIA CHROME’s thrilling Triple Crown run and failing to do justice to TONALIST, his connections, and a win in the Belmont Stakes.

There are a few people who are tired of the mainstream media creating an unnecessary diversion to an event, in this case TONALIST’s victory in which his connections were robbed of their rightful glory.  Instead, NBC chose the low road to get a reaction uncomfortable to watch and listen to.  Alas, the statements were regretted and Coburn’s apology officially closed the door on the Triple Crown season.

While it’s important to have reaction from the connections of the principal horse in the Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line, choosing to interview a very disappointed and raw Coburn instead of consummate professional, trainer Art Sherman, after the loss was a calculated strike to keep pace with shock journalism.  NBC should have handled the Belmont Stakes aftermath with the delicacy that only professionals from the thoroughbred racing industry can supply.

It is not in the nature of some people to assess a situation before reacting.  Some can learn to mute that response under stressful situations to avoid offending others.  Coburn was not born with a silent spirit nor has he experienced enough disappointment at the highest level in thoroughbred racing to rate as kindly as his talented colt.  Perhaps inebriated by the spotlight and the drink in his hand, he spoke from his heart and without a filter.  Despite his wife Carolyn’s inaudible reminders and gentle prodding, nothing could not stop the runaway Coburn.

Coburn has only owned horses in partnership according to Equibase, which led to his teaming with Perry Martin.  It should have come as no surprise that Coburn used strong statements along the Triple Crown trail (including biting comments about disabled access at the Derby), considering the moniker he and Martin agreed to call themselves.  DAP (Dumb Ass Partners) is a reminder of what they were predicted to be when they purchased CALIFORNIA CHROME’s dam, LOVE THE CHASE.  Prior to his post-Belmont Stakes rant, the lightly bred CALIFORNIA CHROME, Coburn and the rest of the team were used as examples of the American Dream realized.  Some even suggested their stories, necessarily told, were exploited to the “nth” degree for network gain.

NBC reporter Kenny Rice, positioned near Coburn and the rest of the CALIFORNIA CHROME team, merely asked for his reaction to the race.  I don’t fault Rice, who seemed to be getting instructions from the truck as he made no eye contact for the first few seconds of the interview.  After admitting his colt “just didn’t have it,” Coburn seemed to kindle a fire brewing inside himself.  Only Rice throwing it back to the truck after that initial comment would have controlled the vigor of Coburn’s response, but likely would not have extinguished it.  While I don’t fault Coburn for defending his prized colt against a system he feels does not respect the Triple Crown contender’s plight, calling out Evans and Christophe Clement for using TONALISIT as the “coward’s way out” was, at the very least, regrettable.  

Outside of the media, Coburn was being forgiven considering the circumstances.  Dale Romans was understanding when he was interviewed about the situation on Steve Byk's At the Races, chalking Coburn’s remarks up to the disappointment over the loss and defense of his talented colt.  Romans was more upset over the late arrival of GENERAL A ROD to the stakes barn on Belmont Stakes day.

The winner’s owner, Robert Evans, was baited by Bob Costas to respond to Steve Coburn’s comments but would not bite.  The working man Coburn and the fortunately reared Evans is a study in contrasts.  Evans is a son of Thomas Mellon Evans who owned Buckland Farm and campaigned multiple champions including Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner PLEASANT COLONY, has been around the business his whole life.  He is on the NYRA Board of Trustees, has been part of the Jockey Club for 15 years and is Director of Jockey Club Information Systems.  Together with his brothers Edward and Thomas, Jr., he owned versatile G.I performer PLEASANT TAP.  Evans has owned horses since 1965 and he campaigned multiple graded stakes winners SEWICKLY and SHARED INTEREST, especially well-known to New York racing fans.  He won graded stakes at Woodbine with MARSH SIDE and NEW NORMAL in the recent past and ranked as high as 19th on the earnings list in 2008 according to Equibase.

It was unfortunate, and a huge disservice, that NBC did not give Evans, Clement, and Joel Rosario their just due.  Costas wasted time during the award ceremony trying to fuel a controversy instead of mentioning that Evans was completing a Triple Crown for his family.  It would have been nice for novice racing fans and hardboots alike to know that PLEASANT COLONY appears in the dam side of TONALIST’s breeding.  TONALIST, like Evans, is carrying on his family’s work that spans decades in the game.

Last weekend I heard personalities on the Roger Stein Show and Thoroughbred Los Angeles who accusing Coburn of being a “sore loser.”  They implied that, only in losing, had Coburn brought up how wrong he felt it was to let horses contest the Belmont Stakes who had not qualified for the Kentucky Derby.  That simply is not true. 

I was alerted by Craig J. (aka. @derbyologist) who recalled Coburn stating that to continue on the Triple Crown trail a horse should have qualified to run in the Derby.  

It is unfair for those radio personalities and handicappers to call Coburn out about the content of his opinion, just because those comments resonated louder and with a sharper tongue after the disappointing loss.  Those vilifying Coburn for his comments were equally at fault for verbalizing their own knee-jerk reactions.

Coburn has since apologized for the vigor of his rant to nearly everyone who watched or was connected to the Belmont Stakes telecast.  Clearly, a few days removed (and likely many “discussions” with his wife) he was remorseful over the firestorm his passion created.  Coburn has realized that he is not above the game and how blessed he, Martin, and the rest of the CALIFORNIA CHROME crew are despite the disappointment.  I will be anxious to listen if those same radio personalities and guests will soften their opinions about Coburn a week later.

What’s left to ask, is Coburn wrong in his assertions that the Triple Crown races should be contested by only Kentucky Derby contenders?  Should there be a requirement that a horse race in at least two of the Triple Crown races.  Should the sequence undergo alterations?

The answer lies in researching the Triple Crowns won in the past and what thoroughbred racing represents in the sports landscape.  The only conclusion about Coburn's rant is that he's wrong.  

Eliminating the best possible horses, for each of the individual Triple Crown races, would diminish the accomplishment of the next winner.  In the many years where there is no 'Crown on the line, Coburn's ideas would diminish the Preakness Stakes and relegate the Belmont Stakes as unnecessary.
The industry should leave the sequence as it stands.  Extending the time between the Derby and Preakness will only give horses more time to succumb to injury.  Let’s remember Charlie Whittingham’s quote:  “Horses are like strawberries, they can spoil overnight.”  Two weeks is perfect spacing between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, as the last 13 Triple Crown contenders have proven since AFFIRMED won in 1978.  Three weeks to the Belmont is also ideal, as SECRETARIAT, SEATTLE SLEW, and AFFIRMED brilliantly illustrated.

Thoroughbred racing, for all its faults, has a system in place that can produce wonderful stories like CALIFORNIA CHROME’s unlikely winning streak leading to a Triple Crown bid.  This game is one of the last true American sports, operating under the same principles that our country was founded on.  It rewards each participant in the game for hard work and discipline.  It teaches humility and respect, something sorely lacking in many sports these days.  On precious few occasions, good racing luck combines to give us moments that carry us through the inevitable difficult times.

Each Triple Crown race stands on it’s own, jewels for Kentuckians, Marylanders, and New Yorkers to behold  and cherish whether or not there’s a Triple Crown on the line.  When there is a Belmont Stakes day that compels 100,000 or more fans to descend upon Elmont, NY by plane, train, or automobile. 

The Triple Crown is supposed to be difficult to complete.  One day it will be won by a Champion of epic proportions.  CALIFORNIA CHROME losing in his bid doesn't diminish the excitement he generated or the fact that he’s an unusual talent.  He’s still a champion in my eyes, as he is to his connections, whether or not he wins the Eclipse Award.

CALIFORNIA CHROME is not a Triple Crown winner, and that’s okay by me.