By Bill Finley

This is America, so Steve Coburn, the co-owner of California Chrome, has every right to have his say, even if his say came across as bitter and irrational. Maybe he doesn’t care that he made a fool out of himself when he called good people who did nothing wrong “cheaters” and then only made things worse when he somehow came up with a bizarre and politically incorrect analogy comparing California Chrome’s supposed disadvantage against fresh horses in the Belmont to kids in wheelchairs. Dumb ass, indeed.

The real problem is that he’s taking what should still be a wonderful feel-good story down with him. Obviously you can’t get mad at California Chrome, who, it appears, is smarter than his owner. Trainer Art Sherman, who is humble and classy, also gets a complete pass. But do we really like California Chrome as much as we did before Coburn started running his mouth? And do we really want to see him front and centre and winning important summer and fall races like the Travers and Breeders’ Cup? I know I don’t. Yes, California Chrome is only guilty by association, but guilty nonetheless.

In less time than it took for Tonalist to win the Belmont Stakes, Coburn and his mouth ruined five of the best weeks racing has had in a long time. We fell not just for the horse and his accomplishments but for the entire story, a story that included these “regular guy” owners who parlayed the mating of a C-list sire and a cheap mare into a dream that stretched the boundaries of reality. We fell for Coburn’s apparent folksiness. We cheered when he called out Churchill Downs, everybody’s favourite whipping boy, for allegedly treating his partner, Perry Martin, poorly at the Kentucky Derby. We even got a kick out of the fact that he looks a lot like Wilford Brimley because who doesn’t like Wilford Brimley?

Now it turns out that the story, at least the part that involves Coburn, is a fraud. I don’t know if he gives money to orphans and children, rescues kittens out of trees and volunteers at the soup kitchen in his free time, but there is something very unlikeable about him now. He is what we all hate, a sore loser. It didn’t have to be this way. When NBC approached him after the race, he should have been gracious, accepted defeat and congratulated Tonalist and his owner Robert Evans and his trainer Christophe Clement.

After their horse won a Classic race and won it fair and square, it was what they deserved. If he was so upset and frustrated that he knew he was ready to say something stupid, he should have declined the interview. Sunday morning he had his chance to make amends and trainer Art Sherman predicted that Coburn was going to apologize. Instead, Coburn jammed his foot even further down his mouth, a feat even more impossible than a modern horse winning the Triple Crown. Had he done either, kept quiet or said the right things, we’d still love California Chrome, Triple Crown winner or not.

Coburn’s complaints are baseless and his idea that a horse must race in each Triple Crown race to remain eligible for the next leg is dumber than a box of rocks. It’s so dumb, it’s not worthy of further debate. His calling the winners cheaters and cowards is as low class as it gets.

No one has said yet where California Chrome is going to race next. He’s not going to be that much in demand as a sire, which makes it likely that he will stick around for a 4-year-old campaign if he doesn’t get hurt. We haven’t seen the last of California Chrome.

Going forward, it won’t be the same. There won’t be 100,000 people in the stands at his next race and the national media will have moved on to something else. He’ll still have his fans, but not as many as before. Coburn took care of that. In a perfect world Coburn would issue a sincere apology or, better yet, sell his half of the horse. Don’t count on either, not from someone this clueless when it comes to being a stand-up guy or doing the right thing. At the very least, he should just shut up and go away. If nothing else, do it for the horse.

Reprinted courtesy of ESPN.com and Thoroughbred Daily News