It turns out horses and strawberries aren’t the only things that can go bad overnight. Steve Coburn, the noisy half of the Dumb Ass Partners who own California Chrome, has failed his Broadway audition, even while his horse was gallant in defeat.
Shortly after Frank Sinatra Jr mangled the lyrics to “New York, New York” (demonstrating to the breeders in attendance the limitations of the sire side influence), Coburn showed that he can’t make it in New York, and perhaps not anywhere else either.
If at first you spotted him an allowance for blowing off some steam after five weeks in the spotlight and a few too many over a long afternoon that ended in crushing defeat, he could be forgiven. But when he doubled down on his dumbass remarks in the cool morning light of Sunday, he joined history’s long list of one-time folk heroes who show feet of clay once they kick their shoes off. But at least we know he wouldn’t ever try to play basketball against kids in wheelchairs (don’t click on this, just trust me, please).
If it never occurred to Coburn that dissing your competitors by all but guaranteeing victory, and then calling them cheaters and cowards after they beat you is bad form, we can only hope he is reminded of it every now and then until he gets it.
Here we are tempted to cite Kipling and his sage advice about treating triumph and disaster just the same, but instead will just note that, next time, perhaps we could chill on believing that every Derby/Preakness winner is a super horse, or that every talkative guy in a cowboy hat is a folk hero.
I am not one of those guys who rant about a mass media that likes to build up folk heroes only to tear them down once they start to crack. That’s like complaining about circus geeks who also happen to enjoy the taste of chicken. Yes, I mean you, Bob Costas! Once Coburn had fouled the bed, Costas was a bit too eager to invite everyone in for an orgy, and credit to Robert Evans for not taking the bait.
Of course, many others who helped build Coburn up were only too happy to help tear him down, now that his freshness date had expired. But at least there was a little subtlety about it in places. This is, as best I can tell, Joe Drape telling Times readers that Coburn was drunk:
Steve Coburn, a voluble co-owner of California Chrome, had kissed his wife, Carolyn, before the race and still looked flush from it as Chrome loped into the backstretch
Here is Drape writing about Coburn prior to the Preakness:
Coburn is employed by a Nevada company that makes magnetic tape for items like credit cards and hotel keys
And here is Mike Tierney writing about Coburn in the NYT after the Belmont:
With his five weeks of fame over, unlikely to be extended or renewed, Coburn will return to his factory job for the 6 a.m. shift on Tuesday.
It’s small wonder that, even as the American population continues to drink up mass media with a Big Gulp, they seem to have a lingering disdain for the people who produce it. Could it be because all too often they see people not unlike themselves – plain-spoken, middle class, ordinary – lauded as good people while on the ascent, and then derided as dumb hicks once their usefulness is at an end?
Chip Woolley, the cowboy trainer of Mine That Bird, comes to mind. In the week before the 2009 Derby, when he was just some hick curiosity who pulled his no-hope gelding behind a pickup truck all the way from New Mexico to Louisville, he could feel the derision. Then, once he became a Derby-winning trainer he was criticized for remembering all the subtle slights and taking mild offense. But in his post-Derby interview, in a high pressure moment at the apex of his career, he was thoughtful and generous enough to give credit to Bird’s previous trainer, showing more class and grace in that moment than Steve Coburn, or Bob Costas, could ever hope to possess.