Co-owner Steve Coburn says winning connections took 'coward's way out'

California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn, center, reaches for

California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn, center, reaches for posters to sign before the Belmont Stakes horse race on Saturday, June 7, 2014. (Credit: AP / Kathy Willens)

Steve Coburn, the brash and bombastic co-owner of California Chrome, cried foul on live television after his chance at history was foiled because his horse lost the Belmont Stakes to a horse that sat out the first two races of the Triple Crown series.

Speaking on-air with NBC reporter Kenny Rice just minutes after Tonalist won and California Chrome finished tied for fourth, Coburn accused Tonalist's owners and trainer for taking the "coward's way out" by skipping the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"It's all or nothing!" Coburn said. "Because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people who believe in them to have somebody come up like this.

"This is a coward's way out in my opinion. This is a coward's way out."

Coburn already had established himself as an opinionated straight-shooter in the weeks leading up to the race. And faced with a camera and microphone in his face after the race, he went all-in on the flaw he sees in the system that he believes cost his horse a place in the sport's lore.

"I'm 61 years old, and I will never see in my lifetime another Triple Crown winner because the way they do this," he said. "It's not fair to these 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 run them in the other two races."

What he said was nothing new for him. He expressed the same opinion during the week, even noting that he's probably going to say it again. But it was the timing and delivery of his words immediately after the loss that instantly turned the video into an outburst for the ages.

The owner of Tonalist, Robert Evans, said "I have no comment on that" when informed of Coburn's comments calling him a "coward." Tonalist initially was considered a possible Kentucky Derby competitor, but he got sick with a lung infection in March, knocking his schedule out of whack.

In Coburn's eyes, that's tough luck. And if it was up to him, Tonalist should have been automatically disqualified from either of the next two races, especially Belmont with a chance for a horse to complete the Triple Crown for the first time in 36 years.

"Our horse had a target on its back," Coburn said.

Still, California Chrome looked to be in prime position to make a run at history as he reached the final turn, sitting just on the outside of the front pack. But jockey Victor Espinoza said he already knew by that point that his horse was tired -- "a little empty," he said -- from the stretch of big races.

"He ran back to back races in different tracks, and all those fresh horses, too," Espinoza said.

That other horses kept their pace while California Chrome grew tired added to Coburn's rage.

"I thought he was gaining ground but he didn't have it in him apparently," he said. "You know what? This is his third very big race. These other horses, they always send them out. They send them out to try to upset the apple cart."

As Coburn railed against the rules, his wife Carolyn kept poking him in the back, clearly trying to get him to restrain himself. No such luck.

"I don't care!" he said as the camera cut away, and clearly he meant it.

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