Steve Coburn, part-owner and breeder of California Chrome, said he loves Pimlico Race Course and its hospitality, and also had some choice words for Churchill Downs.
In post-race comments after California Chrome won the Preakness Stakes May 17, Coburn compared his experience in Maryland with his time at Churchill, where the Lucky Pulpit colt won the Kentucky Derby May 3.
"All I can say is my partner [in California Chrome], Perry Martin, is a very private person," Coburn said. "And Perry, I hope you're listening to this because we love you and really wanted you to be here. But I can understand why he's not here. The hospitality we received at Churchill Downs wasn't very good, and Perry decided he and his family were going to watch the race somewhere else in the world.
"I'm serious about this. I'm a serious as a heart attack. We got to Churchill and not only did I complain, but there were other trainers, owners, and even jockeys 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 royalty, and I can't say thank you enough."
Coburn said part of the problem was that Martin had trouble getting his 84-year-old mother back and forth on Derby day. He said some staffers were of assistance, "but apparently they didn't do quite enough. I honestly believe it was a bad, bad day at Churchill. Even though we won, it was a bad day for my partner and his family."
In response, Churchill released a statement from vice president of communications John Asher.
"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," Asher said. "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."
California Chrome will bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 when he runs in the June 7 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park.