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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Column: California Chrome co-owner shows he's a sore loser

Sports shouldn't be a breeze

Back in January, the sports website Bleacher Report posted a column identifying the worst sore losers in sports.

That list included the likes of tennis star Serena Williams, Dallas Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant, U.S. women’s soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo, and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

There’s a new name to add to that list: California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn.

The 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome vied to be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win the legendary Triple Crown, which is widely considered to be one of the toughest feats in sports. Only 11 horses have completed the task.

Since then, 13 horses have claimed the first two legs, but fell short in the Belmont Stakes. That number includes California Chrome, who finished fourth in Saturday’s race won by Tonalist.

Coburn clearly wasn’t happy with the result or the way the Triple Crown is set up. He called it a “coward’s way out” when horses that do not run in the Kentucky Derby nor the Preakness run in the Belmont.

“Our horse had a target on its back,” Coburn told NBC. “Everybody else lays out one, or they won’t run in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. They’ll wait until the Belmont.”

The only fair thing to do, Coburn said, is to have those 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby carry the eligibility for the next two races. Right now, Coburn said, it’s all or nothing.

“This is not fair to these other horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people that believe in them to have somebody come in like this,” he said. “This is a coward’s way out, in my opinion. This is a coward’s way out.”

Sure, it can’t be easy to be so close to the Triple Crown and yet come up short. Give Coburn an outlet to vent some frustration right after the race.

Coburn should have left it there, but he didn’t. He continued voicing that sentiment on NBC’s TODAY show, which aired on Sunday, saying it’s all about the money.

“There’s more trainers and owners that do not want to see a Triple Crown than those who do,” he told NBC. “Yesterday was a fine example of that.”

So it’s one big conspiracy to keep a horse, owner, trainer, jockey, family and support staff from achieving one of the sport’s biggest feats? These owners are concerned only about money?

Of course they are.

Like it or not, horse racing, like every other professional endeavor, is a business. It is a multimillion-dollar industry to breed these horses and compete in these types of events. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes generate the most attention nationally, bring among the biggest purses and draw the top horses to compete. That’s the whole point.

Granted, the horses themselves are athletes. They train just like LeBron James or Tom Brady or Derek Jeter to compete at the highest level, and the horses deserve all the accolades associated with sports greatness.

But that greatness must be earned. It’s not handed down. If it were easy, we’d all be able to do it.

In horse racing, it’s finishing first in three races over a five-week span while competing against those who qualify for the event. Some competitors, those who do not compete in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, will come into the Belmont States fresher than California Chrome did. There lies the challenge. There the great rise above the rest.

A competitor who strives to be the best wants to deal with the adversity before them. It’s what makes them the great. It’s why sports fans look up to them with such admiration: because it was hard, not because it was easy. Sports fans don’t like excuses or complaints because the system isn’t fair.

Steve Coburn: Worst. Sore loser. Ever.

J.R. Oppenheim is assistant sports editor for the Daily Lobo. Contact him at assistantsports@dailylobo.com or via Twitter @JROppenheim.