Commentary: California Chrome’s owner was right – but timing was wrong

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Q13FOX Sports

By Aaron Levine

We start by putting our spotlight on the rant by California Chrome’s co-owner, Steve Coburn, immediately after his horse failed to win the Belmont Stakes – and the Triple Crown.
Coburn said on NBC yesterday: “It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since Day One. If you can’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races. It’s all or nothin’ – it’s all or nothin’ – because it’s not fair to these horses who have been grinding their guts out for these people and for the people who believe in them. This is a coward’s way out in my opinion – this is a coward’s way out.”
My take? Coburn has a very valid point – but because of the timing of his words, he came off as an incredibly sore loser.
Coburn was upset that some horses specifically skip the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness to stay fresh for the Belmont Stakes. That makes it much harder for ANY horse to win the Triple Crown, because a potential Triple Crown winner has to run all three races, against others who have rested. He also argued that horses that don’t have enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby in the first place, shouldn’t be eligible to run in the other Triple Crown races.
I fully agree. After all, that’s how it’s normally done in pro sports, right? If a team doesn’t qualify for the playoffs, they don’t all of a sudden get a chance to play the best team in the Championship Round, do they?
“Tonalist” won the Belmont Stakes yesterday – in just his second race since February. California Chrome had to race three times in the last five weeks. Even if California Chrome was the best horse, how is that fair?
That’s like making Usain Bolt run a couple miles immediately before running a 100-yard dash against well-rested sprinters. He still might win, but it puts him at a clear disadvantage.
The problem is – Coburn picked the wrong time to sound off – because he tarnished his image, tarnished the feel-good story, and most importantly, tarnished his own argument.
Remember, Coburn has had the spotlight for the past month. He had multiple chances to push that platform in the weeks leading up to the finale at Belmont. The dialogue and discussion amongst those in the horse racing world would have been more civil, and possibly more productive. And while Coburn might have been viewed by some as making excuses for his horse before the race, I believe his thoughts would have been taken much more seriously by a universal audience. 
Instead, it came off as sour grapes.
If Coburn had an agenda – waiting until right after he lost – was not the best decision.
There’s a difference between being proactive and reactive. Coburn was the latter – and has many people shaking their heads at him, rather than considering his argument.


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