California Chrome co-owner Coburn rips Churchill Downs

The Baltimore SunMay 17, 2014 

BALTIMORE, Md. — After winning the 139th Preakness on Saturday, California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn went out of his way to praise the hospitality he received while in Baltimore this week.

But he also made some pointed remarks about the way his group was treated two weeks earlier at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. While he wouldn’t go into great detail, he said the treatment there factored in his co-owner Perry Martin’s decision not to attend the Preakness.

“The hospitality we received at Churchill Downs wasn’t very good, and Perry Martin, he decided that he and his family were going to watch the race some (other) place within the world. I can’t tell you where it’s at, because I don’t even know where in the (heck) it’s at.”

Coburn mentioned Martin’s family having some difficulties at the Kentucky Derby, including his 84-year-old mother not being able to get to the winner’s circle.

“I honestly believe that it was a bad, bad day at Churchill,” Coburn said. “Even though we won, it was a bad day for my partner and his family.”

Churchill Downs has been a bit under fire recently for its assistance to those in the industry. Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte issued a statement during the week of the Derby saying that the access in recent years has been inadequate for him to get around in a wheelchair.

“Being confined to a wheelchair since my racing accident in 1978, it is no easy feat to maneuver through the crowds that attend the Derby festivities,” Turcotte wrote in the statement. “It becomes a nearly impossible task when there is virtually no assistance from the track.”

Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher issued an apology that week, saying “we’ve obviously fallen short.”

On Saturday night, Asher released the following statement: “We’re disappointed the overall experience for the owners of California Chrome apparently did not measure up to the stellar performance of their horse in the Kentucky Derby. We have an excellent and veteran team of volunteers from throughout our community that serve as official Kentucky Derby hosts and they work tirelessly to communicate with owners and trainers and to help guide them through the Kentucky Derby Week experience. Our team worked to satisfy the California Chrome team’s needs when they were communicated to us and regret that their experience at Churchill Downs appears to have fallen short of expectations. We would certainly look forward to discussing with them any issues stemming from their Derby experience, and wish California Chrome and his team to best in their pursuit of the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes.”

Coburn said after Saturday’s Preakness that the Louisville track could take a lesson from the Maryland Jockey Club.

“I’m serious as a heart attack,” he said. “Because you know what? We got to Churchill and not only did I complain, but there were other trainers and owners, and even the jockeys were complaining about the way they were treated. I’ve said this once, I’ve said it 50 times, Churchill Downs needs to call Maryland to get a lesson in hospitality. Because these people right here, they’ve treated us like we’re royalty, and I can’t say thank you enough.”

Throughout the process, Coburn has been the outspoken half of California Chrome’s ownership duo, with Martin preferring to remain in the background.

Wearing his trademark cowboy hat after Saturday’s race, Coburn said he’ll be among many pushing Martin to be in New York for the Belmont Stakes on June 7, as California Chrome runs for horse racing’s first Triple Crown since 1978.

“We’ll drag his butt to Belmont if he doesn’t want to show up on his own, so I’m hoping he will,” Coburn said. “He’s missing out on a lot of fun.”

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