NEW YORK – Steve Coburn, cowboy hat wearing co-owner of California Chrome, didn't back off one bit Sunday morning in venting his anger over what he again said was a competition format that was unfair to his horse in his unsuccessful try for the first thoroughbred racing Triple Crown in 36 years.
Coburn was just as hot as he was after Saturday's race in which California Chrome finished in a tie for fourth behind fresh-legged winner Tonalist, who had not run in either of the first two legs of the Triple Crown: the May 3 Kentucky Derby and the May 17 Preakness.
"You might compare this to a triathlon,' Coburn said in a trackside interview on Good Morning Americaat Belmont Park.
"You know you've got to swim and you've got to bicycle and you've got to run. … You don't make it to run if you're not going to do the other two.''
Trainer Art Sherman said earlier Sunday that California Chrome suffered a right hoof injury when he was stepped on by another horse at the start of the race. But Coburn continued to hone in on the format.
California Chrome ran his third Triple Crown race in five weeks. Only two other horses in the 11-horse Belmont field also ran in all three. Ride On Curlin was last and General a Rod was seventh.
USA TODAY Sports columnist Christine Brennan says Steve Coburn made a valid point on why the Triple Crown is unreasonably elusive.
Tonalist's previous race was here May 10 when he won the Peter Pan Stakes. He had previously not raced since February.
"It says Triple Crown. You nominate your horse for the Triple Crown. That means three," said Coburn. "Even … the Triple Crown trophy has three points on it. … Those 20 horses that start in the Kentucky Derby should be the only 20 allowed to run in the Preakness and the Belmont for the Triple Crown."
Rivalries haven't stopped others from winning the Triple Crown.
When Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978 he did it by beating Alydar by 1 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby, a neck in the Preakness and a head in the Belmont Stakes.They were the only two horses to run in all three races.
When Seattle Slew won the 1977 Triple Crown, there were two other horses that ran all three. The Belmont had eight horses.
In 1973 Secretariat defeated Sham in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Then in the Belmont he shook off his rival in a speed duel to win by 31 lengths and Sham faded to fifth. The second, third and fourth place horses in a five-horse race had not run in the Preakness.
Coburn also used another analogy that will draw scrutiny.
"They hold out two (races) and then come back and run one," said Coburn. "That would be like me at 6-2 … playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair. They haven't done anything with their horses in the Triple Crown … You figure IT out. You ask yourself, 'Would it be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheel chair?"
Coburn said more of the same in an interview with ESPN. In that interview, he said that if anyone wanted to call him a sore loser they could call him – and he gave out a phone number.
With other media members gathered around, he declined further comment.
"Google it (his remarks)," he told the media.
Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer, was more at ease Sunday morning as he discussed the hoof injury and the disappointment of coming up short in the try for the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
California Chrome started in the No. 2 gate. Sherman said he had a "good chunk" of hide taken off his right, front hoof when he was stepped on at the start of the race by Matterhorn out of the No. 3 gate. There was blood on the back area of California Chrome's hoof as he returned to his barn after the race. The foot was bandaged Sunday.
How much did it affect him in the race?
"Well, it couldn't have helped him any," said Sherman. " … But hey listen, the horse has had like six straight races (six straight previous wins) and had perfect trips. You know sometimes in this game when you do have a bad trip, that's part of it. You know racing luck means a lot."
Sherman added, "He might have been stinging and didn't feel comfortable.''
California Chrome joins the list of a dozen other horses who have won the first two legs since Affirmed and not closed the Triple Crown deal in the Belmont.
Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin in his shoe that day of the Belmont in 1979, Big Brown had a cracked hoof going into the Belmont in 2008 and had a shoe displaced during the race. I'll Have Another was scratched the day before the Belmont in 2012 due to a tendon injury.
Sherman said the plan was to run California Chome this fall in the Breeder's Cup, at Santa Anita in his home state of California. The horse was to be flown back to California Sunday with the hoof bandaged and cushioned.
"We can heal that (the hoof) up. It will take me about 2-3 weeks. And then we'll stop on him for about six or seven weeks and give him some pasture. So Chrome is going to need his rest. It's been a tough campaign for him," said Sherman.
"He listen, we'll … fight another day. I'm just happy he's all in one piece," said Sherman. "It was kind of scary. You come back and see a horse bleeding from the foot. … He's never had anything wrong with him. He's been very fortunate.''
Coburn said after the race the others took the "coward's way out" by waiting in the wings to beat California Chrome in the Belmont.
Coburn operates a press for a Nevada firm that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and hotels keys. The other co-owner, Perry Martin, owns a materials testing lab in Sacramento, Calif. They got California Chrome via a $10,000 breeding investment ($8,000 to buy a mare and $2,000 for a stud fee to a stallion).
Sherman on the "coward's way out" remarks by Coburn: "The horses aren't cowards and the people aren't cowards. … I think it was a little out (of context) myself. But, hey, he was at the heat of the moment. And don't forget, he's a fairly new owner. Sometimes the emotions get in front of you. … He hasn't been in the game long and hasn't had any bad luck."
Sherman said he'd prefer the Three Triple Crown races be spread out over more than five weeks. "Your horse needs time to recoup," he said.
What does he think about Coburn's suggestion that only horses who run in the Derby be eligible to compete in the Preakness and Belmont?
"Well, you know, it's hard for me to say that. It's a tradition," said Sherman. " … How many is it? Like 12 (other horses since Affirmed) tried this and had won the two legs of the Triple Crown and can't make the third. So you know it's got to be difficult. Thirty-six years we've been waiting. We might have to wait another 36 years.''