Damage control came a day late.
Steve Coburn, California Chrome's uncensored co-owner, made a tearful apology Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America" for his irate rants after Saturday's Belmont Stakes and Sunday morning on "Good Morning America" and ESPN.
"I'm very ashamed of myself, very ashamed," the 61-year-old Nevadan told host Robin Roberts with his wife, Carolyn, sitting by his side. "I need to apologize to a lot of people, because I was wrong."
Coburn's turnaround came 24 hours after he proclaimed: "It's the truth. I don't regret a damn thing I said."
Even before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Coburn said only horses who run in the Derby should be allowed to compete in the next two classics. After his Triple Crown contender finished in a dead-heat for fourth behind Tonalist, Coburn accused trainer Christophe Clement and owner Robert Evans of taking "the coward's way out" because their colt didn't run in the first two.
On Sunday, Coburn made a bizarre analogy, comparing Tonalist's win to "me, being 6-2, playing basketball against a kid in a wheelchair."
He apologized Monday to Clement and Evans, saying: "[Tonalist] ran a beautiful race, and they deserved that. I didn't mean to take anything away from them." Coburn also expressed regret to his wife and to his trainer, Art Sherman, and Sherman's staff.
On Saturday, Carolyn Coburn tried to hush up her husband as he raged on NBC after the disappointing defeat. She appeared to say, "Stop it. You stop it, Steve." She poked him in the back, but he said "I don't care!" as the camera cut away.
When Roberts asked about that exchange, Carolyn Coburn said, "Honestly, I don't remember exactly what I said, but he was very emotional and I was trying to calm him down."
A photo on Facebook shows her with a shocked expression Saturday as she looks at him. She looked dismayed Sunday morning as they left Belmont Park after the television interviews.
It was not uncommon to see Steve Coburn enjoying an adult beverage during the five-week Triple Crown run through Louisville, Baltimore and New York. When Roberts asked if there had been any prerace "celebrating," he paused briefly and said, "It was the emotions of the whole journey coming together at one time."
Television is an intimate medium that brings people into your living room, and nothing plays worse on it than anger. Coburn's outbursts marred a feel-good story embraced by the mainstream media and millions with little or no interest in horse racing. ABC reported that Carolyn Coburn said: "I'm proud of him for coming up here and doing this. It was something we needed to do. Our story has given so much joy to so many people. I hope these 30 seconds don't destroy all that."
Coburn had been a colorful, entertaining presence throughout the spring. He was the front man for a likable bunch taken on a glorious ride by a colt who cost only $10,500 to produce. As Coburn's predictions of victory kept coming true, maybe he figured the amazing run was destined never to end.
"This is America's horse," he said, "and I wanted so much for him to win the Triple Crown for the people of America, and I was very emotional.
"It's part of a learning process," he said. "I'm going to do better."
Lee Park, director of communications for the New York State Gaming Commission, confirmed in an email to Newsday that Belmont Park's stewards are investigating whether General a Rod arrived late at the assembly barn before the Belmont. If they determine that occurred, the colt could be disqualified and forfeit the $35,000 he earned for finishing seventh.