As California Chrome triumphantly galloped past the finish line to win the 2014 Preakness Stakes on Saturday, NBC's camera panned to the owner's box, where owner Steve Coburn openly wept with joy. Noticeably absent was Coburn's co-owner, Perry Martin.
Apparently, that was no mistake.
Coburn admitted in his post-race press conference that Martin and his wife, Denise, canceled their trip to Pimlico at the last minute in part because they had fallen behind in their business endeavors. The more noteworthy assertion, though, was that the Martins declined to attend the second leg as a result of their displeasure with the way in which they were treated at Churchill Downs.
"We really wanted [Martin] to be here," Coburn told reporters (via Dalton Main of WDRB.com). "But I can understand why he's not here. The hospitality we received at Churchill Downs wasn't very good."
Coburn was not specific in regard to the mistreatment, but it's believed to be related to Martin's 83-year-old mother. Coburn's wife, Carolyn Coburn, told Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times that officials at Churchill Downs did not assist Martin's mother, who is wheelchair bound, when she needed to get through the throngs of people to be near her family at the winner's circle.
“Churchill did not go out of their way to get her to where she needed to be and to assist us,” Carolyn Coburn said. “Steve and Perry did everything, got her in her seat, then we had to get her to the rail so she could watch the race, then get her to the winner’s circle.”
The Martins have not publicly commented on the situation. Steve Coburn admitted his partner, with whom he invested a mere $10,000 to breed California Chrome, is a much more private person. However, Coburn also indicated his partner would have likely had a better experience had he made the trip to Pimlico.
"I've said this once, I've said it 50 times, Churchill Downs needs to call Maryland to get a lesson in hospitality," Coburn said. "Because these people right here, they've treated us like we're royalty, and I can't say thank you enough."
Churchill Downs spokesperson John Asher issued a statement, per Hoppert, apologizing for any inconvenience: "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.”
California Chrome, a 3-5 pre-race favorite, became the 34th horse in history to win the first two Triple Crown legs. He defeated second-place Ride On Curlin by 1 1/2 lengths and was at least eight lengths ahead of the rest of the pack.
With six straight wins under his belt, California Chrome will attempt to become the first horse to capture the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Only 11 of the 34 horses to win the first two races have gone on to win the third, a pointed sign of just how different the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes can be in comparison to its two predecessors.
Coburn did not say whether the Martin family is planning to make the trip to New York. If it does, Belmont had better have a first-class experience waiting. Because, if not, Martin's more boisterous co-owner will loudly and proudly tell them about it.