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Champion horse has character owner lacks

Kentucky New Era

The Sun's editorial writer is out of the office. This editorial was published June 9 in the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville.

California Chrome, the muscular chestnut colt who looked prime to win the Belmont Stakes and earn the first Triple Crown in 36 years, probably attracted more goodwill for the sport of horse racing than any runner since Secretariat dominated at Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course and Belmont Park in 1973.

California Chrome had the entire nation pulling for him, and even after he faltered Saturday and ran fourth in the Belmont, his story was compelling. Dominating opponents in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness despite a humdrum pedigree, he was still a champion after the Belmont.

We cannot say the same for his co-owner, Steve Coburn.

Quicker than the jockeys could slide out of the stirrups, Coburn was complaining that Belmont winner Tonalist had an unfair advantage because he had not run in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes - the two races leading up to the Belmont.

How does an owner who is new to the sport manage to change so quickly? One minute he was the adorable underdog with a big smile and the next he was scowling and ranting like an insufferable bore.

Coburn's nationally televised outburst after the race was followed by bitter grumbling on Sunday when many thought or hoped he would come to his senses and apologize or just disappear. (He finally did issue an apology on Monday.)

As good as his horse has been for the sport, Coburn is not the kind of ambassador we'd like to see for an industry so important to Kentucky's identity and economy.

The Triple Crown begins with the Kentucky Derby. There is no Triple Crown without our Run for the Roses.

Only 11 horses have achieved the toughest test in horse racing by winning the Triple Crown. The first was Sir Barton in 1919. The last one was Affirmed in 1978.

If Coburn settles down enough to review horse racing history, he'll learn that requiring a commitment for 3-year-old thoroughbreds to run in each of the three legs of the Triple Crown is probably impossible. Ultimately, it would diminish the Preakness and the Belmont - both of which are highly regarded races even without a Triple Crown victor.

Coburn's reaction to losing proves an old adage that applies to horse racing and life in general. Adversity reveals character.

California Chrome has it. He'll recover from a cut above the right hoof that he suffered as the horses broke from the starting gate Saturday. He'll bounce back. He'll probably run again, just like a champion.

Don't expect the same from the owner.

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