ELMONT, N.Y. — As California Chrome began his recovery from a foot injury that might have contributed to his flat performance in the Belmont Stakes, his co-owner, Steve Coburn, stood by harsh comments about owners and trainers who run fresh horses in the third leg of the Triple Crown.
An unrepentant Coburn said the Belmont, which pitted numerous fresh horses against a tired California Chrome, was "like me, at 6-foot-2, playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair."
Coburn had become one of the stars of California Chrome's Triple Crown quest with his bold predictions of victory and his talk of representing the little guy in a sport full of blue bloods. But his postrace comments brought a sour note to a defeat that left many fans and stakeholders disappointed regardless.
Coburn said he firmly believes horses who don't run in the Kentucky Derby should not be allowed to compete in the subsequent legs of the Triple Crown. Tonalist, the Belmont champion, did not run in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness.
"Triple means three," Coburn said in his Sunday morning diatribe before ABC cameras. "If you don’t realize that, maybe you need to go back to school and figure this out."
He walked away before other reporters could ask questions, grumbling, "I've said what I'm going to say. Google it."
Coburn and others, including Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas, had already stirred discussion of reforming the Triple Crown. Chuckas believes the races should be more spaced out, with the Kentucky Derby run in early May, the Preakness run in early June and the Belmont Stakes in early July.
"I haven't changed my opinion," Chuckas said after the race. "For all the reasons I've stated before, I think the industry needs to seriously sit down and talk about the races. It's not just about the Triple Crown. It's about the undercards. It's about the trainers. It's about the horses, who are not bred for this schedule."
Tonalist's owner, Robert Evans, and his trainer, Christophe Clement, said they had no comment on Coburn's comments. But Evans also supports more extended breaks between the Triple Crown races.
Clement expressed admiration for the deposed Triple Crown contender, who was trying to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to pull it off.
"California Chrome did a great thing. … There's nothing negative," he said Saturday. "I trained for this. Of course I'm going to try to do everything I can to win the race, and I'm very happy with Tonalist and I'm sure we will manage to find a way to sleep tonight — no disappointment."
Meanwhile, California Chrome walked gingerly Sunday morning, with a wrap around his injured right front foot. Trainer Art Sherman said his horse lost a chunk of his hoof in a collision with Matterhorn, just after the field of 11 broke from the gate at Belmont Park.
"It couldn't have helped him any," Sherman said of the impact on California Chrome's run. "I was watching the replay, and on the backside, he was in all kinds of trouble. [Jockey] Victor [Espinoza] was trying to get him out, and they were pushing him down in there. He didn't have racing room. But hey, listen, the horse has had six straight races with perfect trips. Sometimes in this game, when you do have a bad trip, that's part of it."
California Chrome still finished fourth, just 13/4 lengths behind Tonalist.
Sherman said in his years as a jockey, he could always feel the effects of a foot injury underneath him. Watching California Chrome fail to accelerate down the stretch in the 11/2 -mile Belmont, he could tell "something was bugging him."
"It was kind of scary," Sherman said Sunday. "You come back and see your horse bleeding in the foot. He's never had anything wrong with him. He's been awful fortunate. But I'm sure we will have this under hand."
California Chrome was expected to fly from New York to California on Sunday afternoon with his foot protected by a cushioned bandage. Sherman said the injury will probably heal in 2-3 weeks, and California Chrome will then spend a few weeks relaxing in the pasture.
"Chrome is going to have a needed rest," he said. "It's been a tough campaign for him."
But Sherman said he will prepare California Chrome for the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita Park on Oct. 31-Nov. 1. He also hopes to race the horse as a 4-year-old.
The amiable trainer distanced himself from Coburn's descriptions of rival horsemen as "cowards" and "cheaters."
"I don't do that," he said. "I can't make excuses. What's cheaters? … That's not really what you should do in these types of races."
He tried to put Coburn's remarks in context.
"Don't forget, he's a fairly new owner," the 77-year-old trainer said. "Sometimes, emotions get in front of you. He hasn't been in the game long and hasn't had any bad luck."
Though he refused to bash the winning connections, Sherman is another advocate for a more extended Triple Crown schedule. He's not sure he'll live to see the next horse to pull it off.
"Boy, I tell you, unless a couple things change, I doubt it very much," Sherman said. "Unless you come up with some freaky horse."
Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun