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updated: 6/8/2014 11:37 PM

Ill-timed comments tarnish Chrome's run at history

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  • Posters supporting California Chrome's bid for the Triple Crown litter the ground at Belmont Park after the horse finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y.

      Posters supporting California Chrome's bid for the Triple Crown litter the ground at Belmont Park after the horse finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y.
    Associated Press

  • Exercise rider Lee Vickers kisses California Chrome after he finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y.

      Exercise rider Lee Vickers kisses California Chrome after he finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes horse race, Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y.
    Associated Press

  • California Chrome, center, is flanked by Wicked Strong, left, and Tonalist, right, as they run down the backstretch during the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park, Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y.  Tonalist went on to win the race, denying California Chrome the Triple Crown victory.

      California Chrome, center, is flanked by Wicked Strong, left, and Tonalist, right, as they run down the backstretch during the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes horse race at Belmont Park, Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Elmont, N.Y. Tonalist went on to win the race, denying California Chrome the Triple Crown victory.
    Associated Press

 
 

Horse racing probably could turn horseradish into horse manure.

Seriously, the sport can't win for losing, especially when California Chrome loses the Belmont Stakes and one of his owners comes across as a poor loser.

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Steve Coburn actually made some sense but somehow managed to sound senseless.

Horse racing's luck turned luckless decades ago and Coburn is the latest contributor to the pattern. He soiled the sport Saturday with angry comments to a huge NBC audience.

Then on Sunday, Coburn, co-owner of the terrific California Chrome, made even more controversial remarks as a guest on a couple network morning news shows.

This wasn't what the racing industry expected when California Chrome approached a chance to win the Belmont and in the process the Triple Crown.

This sport already was in enough trouble: Fewer people are willing to take on the expenses of owning racehorses; fewer horses are running than in the sport's glory days; some that are running are overmedicated; other options are more attractive and available to gamblers; tracks around the country are struggling to survive.

Over the weekend the sport was poised to finally enjoy a small measure of relief. California Chrome would win the Belmont, become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years and emerge as a sports celebrity.

This horse and his charming owners wouldn't cure racing's ills, but they would at least distract from them for a while.

Didn't work out that way, did it?

The hope was that California Chrome's story would resonate throughout the nation. Now horse racing can only hope that it skulks away quietly.

Coburn opened his mouth immediately after losing the Belmont and in a couple minutes squandered weeks of goodwill, good vibes and good publicity.

Chrome's entire small ownership group previously had been as heartwarming as their heartwarming horse was. In the sport of kings, Coburn and partners are common folk who hit the jackpot like all of us commoners dream of doing.

Then California Chrome lost and Coburn went on national-TV rants. He ripped the Triple Crown format and referred to other horse owners -- including Belmont winner Tonalist's -- as "cowards" for not competing in all three legs of Triple Crown.

I cringed watching and listening to Coburn further turn sour what had been such a sweet story.

Earlier in the day I spent a couple hours at Arlington Park talking with a few horsemen about the imminent Belmont and the overall state of horse racing.

I imagine that they also cringed later in the day while hearing, or hearing of, Coburn's rant.

The shot in the arm that racing was going to receive from California Chrome instead shot the sport in the foot.

Oddly enough, Coburn has a point about archaic Triple Crown rules. Oh, if only he made it in a more appropriate way and at a more appropriate time.

Horse racing's crown-jewel events specifically and horse racing generally do need dramatic reforms.

Back at Arlington we had discussed spreading the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont over four months instead of the customary five weeks, sort of like golf and tennis space their Grand Slam events.

Logistics complicate this proposal, of course, though perhaps not as much as the sanctity of history and tradition does.

However, the sport can't remain tied so much to the past during the present that it leaves itself without a future.

California Chrome didn't help horse racing as much as he would have by winning the Belmont. Steve Coburn certainly didn't help the sport by sprinkling his comments with words like "cowards" and "cheaters."

Horse racing is in too much distress for one day, one horse and one owner to save it.

The sport can only hope it's also too resilient for those same elements to kill it.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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