Steve Coburn, California Chrome's opinionated co-owner, stepped over the line Sunday morning at Belmont Park in live interviews with "Good Morning America" and ESPN, 13 hours after his colt failed to win the Triple Crown by dead-heating for fourth behind Tonalist in the Belmont Stakes.
Coburn again bitterly denounced owners and trainers of horses who didn't run in all three races of the series. Then he likened the advantage of fresh horses in the Belmont to being "like me, who's 6-2, playing basketball against a kid in a wheelchair."
He made the analogy in both interviews, and on "Good Morning America," he was asked if he considered it offensive. "No," he said. "I'm just trying to compare the two. Is it fair for me to play against a child in a wheelchair? Is it fair for them to hold their horses back?"
After the Belmont, Coburn vented on NBC, saying skipping the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness to prepare for the finale "is the coward's way out," pointing his finger as he said it. His wife, standing behind him, was seen telling him to stop. After the interview, he turned to her and yelled, "I don't care!"
Before Sunday's rant, Art Sherman, California Chrome's trainer, said he expected Coburn to apologize for Saturday's remarks. "I think in the heat of the moment, he got a little angry," Sherman said. "He hasn't been in the game long, and he hadn't had any bad luck. The horses aren't cowards, the people aren't cowards. He'll probably make a pretty good apology for that."
He did anything but.
"It's the truth, and I stand by what I said," Coburn told "Good Morning America."
"The 20 horses that run in the Kentucky Derby should be the only ones in the next two races. You might compare it to a triathlon, where you've got to bike, swim and run. If you don't do one of them, you're not going to make it to the other two."
Only two other horses, Ride On Curlin and General a Rod, ran in all three. Ride On Curlin bled and was eased. General a Rod finished seventh.
"I don't regret a thing I said," Coburn told ESPN. "Triple Crown means three. They nominate the horses for the Triple Crown. You have to earn points [from stakes] to qualify for the Derby. You don't need points to run in the Preakness or Belmont. If you want to call me a sore loser, have at it. You can call me up. Here's my number," then rattled off the 10 digits.
Two hours earlier, Tonalist's trainer, Christophe Clement, expressed surprise about Coburn's post-Belmont rant.
"That owner really got excited," he told Newsday. "You can't change the Triple Crown rules. To me, there is no controversy."
Clement found Coburn's accusations off base because he said he and owner Robert Evans originally planned to run in the Derby. Clement said there was no master plan to skip the first two races to freshen Tonalist for the Belmont.
"Mr. Evans would have loved to run in the Kentucky Derby," Clement said. "He had a workout I didn't like before the Wood. It was a minor issue, but he wasn't ready for the Wood, so he couldn't qualify for the Derby."
Evans said Saturday he had "no comment" on Coburn's remarks. Well, not a direct comment. Evans' late father, Thomas Mellon Evans, owned Pleasant Colony, first in the 1981 Derby and Preakness but third in the Belmont. Pleasant Colony also is the maternal grandsire of Tonalist, completing an Evans family Triple Crown.
"I've been where Steve Coburn's been, and it's not fun when you don't win," Evans said. "Pleasant Colony was a wonderful horse. It was very quiet when he didn't win, and it's very satisfying to be able to make up for that."