California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was gracious as he and partner Perry Martin received the Kentucky Derby trophy for their horse’s triumph last month at Churchill Downs.
That doesn’t mean Coburn has changed his mind that the Triple Crown series needs fixing.
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After California Chrome’s bid to become the first Triple Crown champion in 36 years failed with a fourth-place tie behind winner Tonalist in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, Coburn said in a postrace interview that skipping the Derby and Preakness to only run in the Belmont was "the coward’s way out."
Coburn apologized on Monday, but on Saturday night said that he has received "thousands" of texts and voicemails this week and "97 percent of these people agree with me. … What’s that tell you?
"Some of these phone calls were from big owners and big trainers, along with the little guys," said Coburn, who was greeted by a sprinkling of boos in his return to the famed track. "And they agreed with me that something needs to be done to keep this an even playing field for all of the horses."
Triple Crown traditions were among Coburn’s many targets during California Chrome’s impressive run to the brink of becoming the 12th winner of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. It included Churchill Downs management over its hospitality, whom he said pledged to make things better after the two sides talked on Saturday.
Coburn’s post-Belmont tirade to NBC drew the most attention and criticism, most of which was written off as sour grapes on social media. His tone was softer during Monday’s interview on ABC’s "Good Morning America," in which he apologized to Tonalist’s connections, as well as Martin and California Chrome trainer Art Sherman, 77, who groomed the $10,000 chestnut colt into a Derby and Preakness champion now worth millions.
California Chrome’s owners said the horse is doing well in his recovery from an injured right hoof sustained early in the Belmont that affected his run.
Coburn, dressed in jeans, a blue plaid shirt and his trademark cowboy hat, reiterated his apology and said it had been accepted, and appeared ready to move on as he signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans.
As for another opportunity at the Triple Crown, he didn’t sound eager to go through that process just yet.
"If I ever had another horse to win the Kentucky Derby, I’d have to talk him (Martin) and say I don’t want to go the other two (races)," Coburn said. "It’s too tough on me."