Like so many of those who find themselves in the category, nouveau riche, the comedy team of Martin and Coburn (Perry Martin and Steve Coburn) are struggling with both their new-found fame and figuring out how to juggle that fame with fortune and the ownership of a wonderful Thoroughbred.
California Chrome earned a boatload of cash for them, and like drunken sailors on shore leave–they don’t know when to stop.
In fact, it appears that they can’t get enough of the stupidity, ’cause they keep on opening their yaps and sticking their big-ole cowboy boots in ’em. You don’t need me to recap the events that have led us to today–everyone even vaguely connected to horse racing knows the tail of the tale. But you might enjoy my take on the poo-storm, and the solution to the problem that we’re going to call…Muck Dynasty…
I never much cared for Steve Coburn. Everyone’s allowed their opinions, but I sat back during the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby and observed. I was amused, sure: it’s always nice to read a story about “little guys” who strike gold. Or oil, a’la “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
But even so, it all felt fake to me. Mr. Coburn’s nice guy facade would fall sometime, I wagered against myself. I spent the entire week prior to the Belmont Stakes–at Belmont–attending media and social events. At every event, I observed Mr. Coburn loving the attention and the accolades–who wouldn’t?
All of America seemed to be in love with his horse, so, by extension, the fans and media fawned all over him. If they couldn’t get their hands on Chrome, Mr. Coburn was the next-best thing. He gave ’em a show: cowboy hat, boots, removing the hat to wave at the crown, big smile.
No doubt this began as a genuine show of sheer, child-like delight. It’s hard for most of us to imagine how we’d feel, were we in his Tony Lamas. I’d be overwhelmed, grateful–crying a lot, and praising God. But I like to think that I’d handle it all with grace and class.
(N.B.: By “class,” I mean, the real thing. Not like the pink t-shirts you see at the county fair, with a bright red, metallic rubber rose and the phrase, “Classy Lady” emblazoned on front.)
I watched Mr. Coburn’s behavior during Belmont Stakes Week, and (like my Grandmother), I kept shaking my head and clucking my tongue. It was like watching a storm get stronger and stronger, fed by the build-up of time and circumstances. The more people (fans, media) kissed his butt, the more Out There he became.
By the media party on Friday night, I believe that even he wasn’t sure what was real, and what part was him, putting on a show.
I sat in my chair at the party, and watched virtually everyone pat his back, shake his hand and take selfies with him. I’m not judging those who did, I just had no desire to feed the beast.
Almost everyone, it seemed, was convinced that the Belmont Stakes–the race itself, 1 1/2 miles on Big Sandy–was merely a formality. No doubt, Mr.Coburn was the biggest believer of all.
“He believes his own press,” I intoned to myself as I winced in embarrassment for him.
“He’s drunk the Kool-Aid,” my friend, artist Brian Fox, states often about many in similar circumstances.
When Mr. Coburn strode into that room at the media hotel, he did so with the puffed chest and conviction of a conquering hero. Of course he enjoyed the accolades and outpouring of love–again, who wouldn’t?
But at the party, I noted the presence of the owners of two other reasonably-famous Thoroughbreds: Penny Chenery (Secretariat) and Patti and Dean Reeves (Mucho Macho Man). I’ve known Penny for 11 years; I met the Reeves just that afternoon.
Both their horses proved themselves to be worthy of the racing pantheon.
And yet the owners of these two truly great horses were the souls of grace and class, every moment of the party–and no doubt, all week long. Many people fawned on them (as they should have), but instead of behaving like Jethro Bodine at Possumfest 2014–all three accepted the love and accolades graciously, with warm smiles and sincere “Thank yous” every time. In fact I heard many sound bites in which both Penny and the Reeves referred back to California Chrome and his bid for the Triple Crown.
That’s how it’s supposed to be done.
But Chrome didn’t win–and we all heard the utter lack of class with which Mr. Coburn accepted that loss. It was like watching a train wreck: you know that there’s shrapnel and a lot of blood-letting, but still you’re compelled to watch it. You fool yourself into thinking that there really is no loss of life–the blood is fake–that it’s just a bunch of metal that got crunched.
And that’s how the six-o’clock news makes its money. it counts on our collective craving for the deniable events like train wrecks.
And Steve Coburn.
So Mr. Coburn made a big, giant idiot of himself.
The next day he refused to apologize.
Then he apologized.
He kept giving sound bites: it was like watching a big-mouthed rock, balancing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. We had to watch, because we couldn’t bear to miss the moment when it fell to the bottom and shattered into a million shards.
When Mr. Coburn ran out of steam–and ran back to his lair in California–Perry Martin took over duties behaving boorishly. This week brought fresh, new California Chrome mis-steps. (It’s been over a month since the Belmont Stakes: no doubt it’s hard to go from being the Center of Attention to being Just You, hanging at home in Calfiornia. Better find a reason to be quoted…)
Fortunately, Perry Martin–whom I liked even less than Mr. Coburn because he just couldn’t bother to show up for his horse’s races–decided to pick fights with everyone in his path this week.
Imagine that: he could have had the joy–the excitement–of riding the Triple Crown Trail with his magnificent horse, but he chose to sit at home for that. For this–a fist-fight with journalists and Del Mar–he crawled out from under his rock.
Martin and Coburn gave us a show, in every respect. It could have been a good show: they might have been horse owners (like Penny Chenery and Dean and Patti Reeves) who, themselves, win fans. People who are always referred to with great respect.even decades later.
But, no. Both men proved themselves to be like magic show MCs, displaying freaks out of the back of their Conestoga wagon. Both proved to be classless, and really bad juju for the image of the sport of horse racing.
That is, we fans and pros in the sport know that they behaved like big, giant boobs.
People outside the sport–especially those who dig ferociously with their little spoons of half-a**ed, faux “journalism”–are constantly on the lookout for negative stories about horse racing.
At first, Coburn’s cowboy affability was entertaining, at least.
Then his true colors came to the fore.
Then Martin wanted in on it.
Unfortunately their beautiful, magnificent, graceful horse always will be thought of in the same breath as the stupids who own him. But the sting of that connection can lessen.
Here’s what you do, boyz:
* Let Art Sherman become the name and face associated with California Chrome. The man is a wonderful, talented horseman. A great trainer. He loves your horse–and he will do what is best for Chrome. Get out of the way, and let your horse’s trainer speak on his behalf. And decide his career path.
* Hire a PR person to take over every single media request. (You should have done this last year, but better late than never.) Allow this person to send out any and all press releases, and participate in all interaction with the media, on your behalf. You stink at it.
You’ve proven quite clearly that you can handle neither fame nor fortune. The glare of the lights and the whirring of video cameras excite you too much. Both of you need handlers. And muzzles.
* Stay at home–count your money–and shut your pieholes.
Everyone likes to catch an episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” now and then.
But a steady diet of hillbilly platitudes and Jethro’s failed pugilistic efforts?
The phrases, “Wheee, doggies” and “I loves me some possum soup” are funny at first–then they grate on the nerves.
Ring-ring-ring! Hello? Mr. Coburn, Mr. Martin: it’s the 1960s. They want their big-mouthed bumpkins back.
And here in the 21st Century, those dudes from “Duck Dynasty”: if you wouldn’t want to live next door to them, how do you feel about entrusting them with a million-dollar Thoroughbred and his career?