ELMONT, N.Y. — The physical damage California Chrome emerged with following his Triple Crown-ending, fourth-place run at the hands of Tonalist in Saturday's Belmont Stakes was not as bad at it looked and could be healed in as little as a two-week span.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner was battered but still standing sound at Belmont Park on Sunday morning. The reputation of co-owner Steve Coburn, however, took another self-inflicted turn for the ugly.
A white bandage protected California Chrome's right front foot, which had a chunk taken out of it after he apparently was stepped on by Matterhorn coming out of the gate, a factor that likely contributed to his emotional defeat in the final leg of his Triple Crown quest.
When given the chance to mea culpa following his inflammatory comments after his colt's defeat, Coburn not only stood by his bitter post-race statement that horses who skip the Kentucky Derby and/or Preakness then run in the Belmont were taking "a coward's way out," he piled on further Sunday morning.
In television interviews conducted with Good Morning America and ESPN, Coburn reiterated he thought it was "unfair" that horses are allowed to skip one or both of the first two legs of the American classics and then show up rested for the Belmont.
"I don't regret a damn thing I said," Coburn said. "If your horse is good enough to run in the Belmont, where was he in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness? I may have gone off half-cocked yesterday, but that's the way I feel.
"It says Triple Crown, not one out of three. Not two out of three. It's not fair to them to have somebody just show up at the last minute and run."
Having previously been viewed as an endearing figure due to his everyman background and bold way of speaking about his homebred colt, Coburn likely lost any remaining positive sentiment when he repeatedly compared the task of having to face fresh horses in the Belmont to "playing basketball with a child in a wheelchair."
"They want to call me a sore loser? Call me," Coburn said, and then proceeded to give out his number. "We'll talk. I really don't care what other people think."
Trainer Art Sherman was also rightfully disappointed after California Chrome suffered his first loss in six starts this year. The 77-year-old handled his morning after duties, however, with his customary dignity.
Sherman said that in addition to getting stepped on and suffering a gash on his right front quarter, California Chrome also had a superficial cut near his tendon. He figured it would take a few weeks for the foot to heal completely and that they would likely give the son of Lucky Pulpit a 6-7 week freshening to prepare for the fall.
"It couldn't have helped him any," Sherman said when asked how much the foot injury might have compromised California Chrome in the Belmont. "He only got beat 2 lengths and wasn't himself. I just think that this is one of the races we couldn't win but he didn't disgrace himself, he laid his body down.
"He just needs some time off, this Triple Crown is a rough trail to go through."
Prior to Coburn's appearance on Good Morning America, Sherman said he thought his client would apologize for the statements he made after the race.
"That's not really what you should do," Sherman said. "It was the heat of the moment and don't forget he's a fairly new owner. He hasn't been in the game long, hasn't had any bad luck."
Trainer Christophe Clement had a much more enjoyable, quiet morning Sunday as his barn relished Tonalist's rallying win in the 11/2-mile Belmont.
Having won the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes on March 10 in just his fourth career start, Tonalist kept grinding away at pacesetter Commissioner in the stretch of the Belmont to win by a head.
"They didn't give him the race, he had to fight pretty hard to do it," said Clement, who earned his first victory in a Triple Crown race. "He confirmed he was up there with the best 3-year-olds in the country at the moment. With his pedigree and the way he's built, I would expect to continue improving for the year."
Clement said no plans have been made as to where Tonalist might start next, but owner Robert Evans has mentioned the Grade I Travers at Saratoga in August as a likely goal.
WinStar Farm's Commissioner was also in good order following his brutal beat and is also expected to be a player in the top summer races. The son of A.P. Indy will head to WinStar for a short respite, with the Grade II Jim Dandy and Grade I Haskell Invitational as potential next starts.
"Just very proud him. Maybe he's the Will Take Charge of 2014," said WinStar president Elliott Walden, referring to last year's 3-year-old champion who took the honors despite not winning any of the three classics. "It was a tough beat. The horse ran every step of the way. For me, I'd rather get beat a length or length and a half than a head."
Dale Romans said the third-place effort in the Belmont from Medal Count proves that the son of Dynaformer "is starting to back up what I say about him all the time." Romans could look to try the colt back on the grass or consider the Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 24.
Ride On Curlin, runner-up in the Preakness Stakes, will head back to Kentucky and get some time off after being eased at the quarter pole of the Belmont.
Trainer Billy Gowan said the son of Curlin bled "about a 3 on a scale of 10," but ate well Saturday night and had no other physical ailment.
"The bleeding is what stopped him," Gowan said. "His head went up, and that's a tell-tale sign. The bleeding will stop one dead in their tracks because they can't get their air. (Jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) did the right thing.
"We'll look at (the Travers) but we're going to give him 30 to 45 days off. It's been a long grind, for me and the horse."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.