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What Can Be Learned From Being a Poor Loser


On Saturday, June 7, the sport of horse racing took center stage as California Chrome attempted to win The Belmont, the third jewel of The Triple Crown. Horse racing has been waiting 36 years since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978. There have only been 11 Triple Crown winners in the storied history of this event and the sports world was energized with the possibility of California Chrome becoming number 12. However, he fell short, finishing tied for fourth place. Many sports experts have stated that winning the Triple Crown is the most difficult thing to do in sports. Three year old horses will run 3 races in 5 weeks, with The Belmont, being the longest at one and a half miles in length. Most horses don’t run three races in three months. It takes tremendous talent, bloodlines, an expert trainer and a skilled jockey to all play a role in the possibility of achieving this elusive goal.  As I have mentioned numerous times in my newsletters, my great uncle, Hirsch Jacobs, is in horse racing’s Hall of Fame and was the winningest trainer in horse racing history when he died in 1970. He won 3,596 races, but never won a Triple Crown race. His daughter, Patrice Wolfson with her late husband, Louis Wolfson, owned Affirmed. I was lucky enough to see Affirmed race 7 times and grew to appreciate how fortunate I have been to have seen such a tremendous horse compete in person.


Immediately after The Belmont, California Chrome co-owner, Steve Coburn was interviewed by NBC Sports. Obviously, he was terribly disappointed. The media had been focusing on Coburn and his co-owner Perry Martin as the nation was captivated by the story of two “normal guys” who got lucky enough to have a horse with no great bloodline history to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Coburn appeared to enjoy the media attention and was not afraid to speak his mind, while Martin stayed in the background. Coburn erupted in the interview, pointing his finger at the camera, stating that it wasn’t fair that all of the horses racing in The Triple Crown races weren’t required to run in all three. He claimed, “This is the cowards way out”. He vehemently complained about how The Triple Crown racing system is not fair. The next day, after having time to calm down, Coburn was once again interviewed and repeated his rant. It wasn’t until this morning that a tearful Coburn apologized on “Good Morning America” for his rant. Obviously, someone with some common sense got to him before he destroyed everything that was so wonderful about this story.


So what do we learn from this? After watching the interview after the race, I felt this was one of the poorest displays of sportsmanship I have ever seen. A lot of people were extremely disappointed that California Chrome didn’t win, but as I’ve stated many times,

“Sports is the greatest theatre in the world, everyone knows their part, but no one knows what will happen”. Coburn’s behavior reminded me of a 10 year old who just lost a big game, not of a 61 year old man. Coburn knew the Triple Crown rules before his horse ran in any of the races. Would he have acted the same had his horse won? Of course not. Numerous times I have discussed that we do not spend enough time teaching kids how to lose and how to fail. We spend too much time talking about winning and success and the excitement associated with coming out on top. Losing/failure are the greatest teaching tools we have in sports, as well as in life. However, failure happens and is inevitable at some point in sports. Learning how to react when you lose, what to say and how to respond to other’s is probably more important than yelling “We are number one”. It took Coburn almost two days to apologize for his rant in a tearful interview. If he had been prepared to deal with his emotions better, had his horse lost, this issue would have never occurred. There was a proper time and place to discuss his concerns about the Triple Crown rules, but it wasn’t immediately after his horse lost. He will now have a reputation as a “sore loser”. I learned years ago, “Be humble in victory, and gracious in defeat”.

As always your thoughts…

3 thoughts on "What Can Be Learned From Being a Poor Loser"

Wayne Krosch says:

I am glad Coburn did what he did. He is correct about the triple crown rules. He brought that attention to the flaw in the rules of the general public. Now the rules commitee will more apt to fix the flaw. Otherwise the ones that only run two races instead of three can’t buy off the rules commitee so easily. I believe in a man who has some backbone to speak his mind when he knows he is right in this situation.

Susan Nealy says:

Couldn’t agree more that losing graciously is just as important as winning, and we do way too little to prepare our youth for this. Those skills cross over from sports to most aspects of life. What an opportunity we have to embrace and cultivate that in sports.

Mr. Coburn did react badly and offend many. Once words are out, one cannot take them back. He did, at least, finally apologize and congratulate the horse that won. Better late than never. We also have opportunities to cultivate the notion of forgiveness, which may be as difficult as apologizing. In the day of media coverage, sensationalism, hype, etc. there is extra pressure on people who are on the verge of great feats. It can’t be easy. It seems they want it so badly that they have to find a reason why it didn’t happen.

Maybe that’s why Murray would reach for a certain part of his body as if injured when he would lose even a point in his long quest to win a major, or why people cheat on line calls. They want it so badly.

Training youth early to be gracious in losing–whether it be a race, a match, or a point–can only help them throughout life, which is full of ups and downs. Coaching them in the art of forgiving can help people move on in life. Just my thoughts.

Ray D says:

Sports is entertainment and we all want our hero’s (coaches players and horses) to perform well. I love horse racing and remember so many great races including rooting loudly for California Chrome. I wanted him to win as much as any fan. I was truly disappointed he lost but more grateful I had an opportunity to witness his greatness for two amazing races in the hunt for the triple crown. As disappointed as I am in his owner; I am truly disturbed by the free pass the media continues to get when they freely poke the bear.

He is not a trained professional (I assume), that was one of the biggest moments in his life and he was disappointed. The story has gotten so big that dignity and respect take a back seat to a sound bite. I am not good at expressing my anger and/or disappointment…it is a skill I have yet to mastered at 52. I play high stakes poker and need to be in the zone however there are times I am sure my behavior is on par or worse than that quick sound bite we witnessed.

Thank God I have not gone viral for the world to see. Luckily I am highly retrospective, often remorseful and very quickly to fix the error (s) I have made.

The previous very smart writer said above; once the words go out they are there forever. I did not see GMA and only recall the statements and how I felt it trashed the greatness of his horse, him and the rags to riches story.

I wish him well and hope he can find peace. I also hope we keep the triple crown as a herculean task so we rarely if ever we witness greatness from 3 year. When we do it will be amazing and the type of entertain we long for.

May the media look for another angle and attack the truly deserving instead of a guy who in a matter of minutes went from the top of the world to the depths of despair.

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