If Only Horses Could Talk

Steve Coburn post Belmont Stakes rantby Art Parker

If California Chrome, this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, could talk what would he say? I’m convinced the first thing he would say is “Shut Up” to both of his owners. Every time a Chrome owner opens his mouth it is a monumental gaffe and a public relations disaster. They are so bad they make Vice President Joe Biden look like a PR guru.

The latest episode of Verbalized Chrome’s Disease came when owner Perry Martin blasted Del Mar Race Course for wanting California Chrome to make an appearance on Pacific Classic Day, not to run since he is not back in training but to appear for a boost to racing. Apparently what made Martin lose it was the fact that Del Mar didn’t offer to pony up some big bucks for Chrome to travel from Los Alamitos to San Diego. Del Mar is obviously trying to generate interest in its biggest day and an appearance by Chrome would help.

As I understand it Del Mar requested the appearance and Martin didn’t want to do it, but said he would send them an email and tell Del Mar what he expected. He asked Del Mar for $50,000. There is no doubt the owners must consider expenses, like insurance and travel, etc., but $50,000?

Martin was quick to point out that they own a race horse not a parade horse and that they are in business. I fully understand the business angle and I would hate for anyone to downgrade Chrome to a parade horse, not that he is personally going to know or care. But what I must question is the total lack of willingness to help out the team, with the team being thoroughbred racing. I feel sure Del Mar could have made some financial allowances and they should have at least offered to offset any expenses. But for Chrome’s owners to take a cold, selfish approach centered on money is not in racing’s best interest. That attitude would be like Derek Jeter refusing to sign autographs for kids because they don’t pay him.

Without the sport and the fans, owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn wouldn’t have anything to complain about because there would be no racing.

There are a couple of other things to remember now that the Del Mar episode has come to the public. Remember when Martin was so irritated at Churchill Downs because of its poor hospitality? Next thing we know Coburn shows up at the Preakness, without Martin, and runs his mouth about how the people in Baltimore know how to treat folks and made sure he bad mouthed Churchill. Of course we remember Belmont, when Chrome lost his bid for the Triple Crown and was defeated fairly. Coburn showed his worst side by proclaiming Chrome’s opponents as cheaters and cowards. Boy, was that a great day for thoroughbred racing!

So, why didn’t Coburn, the owner that was supposed to be the PR man, have something to say about the Del Mar deal? Could it be that the Chrome team decided they were better off with Coburn keeping his mouth shut and not talking with the media? If so, maybe they should make another change because Martin doesn’t excel when it comes to PR either.

But the two things that really bothered me about Martin’s approach to the Del Mar deal was what he said in a press release he sent out. First, he claims that he listened to the Del Mar idea and then said there would need to be financial considerations and he would need to talk with his partner (Coburn). Then Martin said, “Steve and I knew that what was best for the horse was staying home and concentrating on his return to racing.” But Martin sent an email with his demand for $50,000 anyway. My question for Martin is this, if doing what is best for the horse is the most important thing and if you already know what that is, which is to stay home, then why did you send a demand for $50,000? If your horse is better off not going to Del Mar then why didn’t you just say “thanks, but no thanks,” we will keep him here and not send a demand for the appearance fee?

The second thing is the way Martin referred to the media as “pocket media” suggesting that the media can be bought by someone simply picking up a bar tab. As the editor of a newspaper I would suggest that Martin is wrong, but at the same time he should learn from his own allegation…you can get a lot more with honey than vinegar, which is something he and Coburn know nothing about.

Poor California Chrome. If he could only talk. I wonder what he would say to his bellyaching, cry baby, loud mouth, unappreciative, selfish, wannabe big shot owners that embarrass him and the sport of kings?

I bet he would say, “Shut Up!”

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with Brisnet.com and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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