By Julian Linden
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Steve Coburn, the outspoken co-owner of California Chrome, continued his bitter attack against the rules of the Triple Crown a day after his horse was beaten in the Belmont Stakes.
Winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, California Chrome had the chance to become just the 12th horse to complete the elusive treble but came up short when he dead-heated for fourth place in the Belmont on Saturday.
Like so many other horses that had failed at the final hurdle, California Chrome struggled to reproduce his best over the 1 1/2-mile (2,400 meters) distance of the Belmont.
Perhaps fatigued after competing in three races over five weeks, California Chrome also found the challenge of racing against fresher opposition too much.
His trainer and jockey both accepted the loss with grace, saying the horse had been beaten fair and square, but Coburn launched a scathing attack on the connections of the horses that beat him.
Immediately after Saturday's race, he called them "cowards" and "cheaters" because they did not run in all three races - which they are not required to do under the rules.
California Chrome injured his foot at the start, suffering a small cut behind his right hoof but Art Sherman, the colt's 77-year-old trainer, said it had no impact on his flat performance.
Sherman also told reporters on Sunday that he had no problems with the rules that had been in place for almost 150 years and expected Coburn to apologize for his comments.
"Horses aren't cowards and the people aren't cowards," Sherman said.
"He was at the heat of the moment. Don't forget he's a fairly new owner. Sometimes your emotions get in front of you. He hasn't been in the game long and hasn't had any bad luck."
But Coburn was unrepentant, insisting his horse had been robbed by an unfair system.
"These people nominate their horses for the Triple Crown and then they hold out two (races) and then come back and run one," Coburn told ESPN.
"That would be like me at 6 feet 2 inches playing basketball with a kid in a wheelchair...
"Would it be fair if I played basketball with a child in a wheelchair?"
The format for the Triple Crown had already been under scrutiny because no horse has achieved the feat for 36 years.
The advocates for change have suggested the gaps between each of the races should be widened to give the best horses more time to recover but the traditionalists argue that the Triple Crown would be devalued if it became too easy.
California Chrome's jockey Victor Espinoza, who also won the first two legs on War Emblem in 2002 only to be beaten in the Belmont, said the Triple Crown was not impossible but only a very special horse with a luck on his side could do it.
"I don't feel bad because of California Chrome, he was just a little bit empty," Espinoza said.
"But I'm sure, one of these days, sooner or later, we need to break this, this bad karma."
The connections of Tonalist declined to respond to the comments Coburn made about him, but plenty of others did, deriding Coburn on social media as a sore loser.
“I don’t regret a thing I said," Coburn said.
"If you want to call me a sore loser, have at it. You can call me up. Here’s my number."
(Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Gene Cherry)