Horse partners play a game of risk - The Buffalo News
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Horse partners play a game of risk

They’re either my kind of people or just plain stupid, ultra-competitive common folks who refuse to place a price tag on success or ignorant owners who fail to comprehend the risks that come with horse racing. The dilemma before the owners of California Chrome is one for all of us.

What would you do?

The answer would be easy if you already had millions of dollars stashed away in a vault the way LeBron James does or Tiger Woods does. You would go for the win without thinking twice. You would take your place in history and, either way, walk away from the sport with eternal peace.

Steve Coburn and Perry Martin are not LeBron James or Tiger Woods. The co-owners of California Chrome, which moved two-thirds of the way to winning the Triple Crown with Saturday’s win in the Preakness, were sports nobodies who lived in relative obscurity before winning the Kentucky Derby.

Coburn is a regular guy with a regular job, an outgoing man with a faulty filter between his brain and his mouth. He’s a press operator for a Reno, Nev.-based company that makes magnetic strips for credit cards and hotel keys. He’s four years away from retirement and was never a wealthy man.

Perry is quieter and more private. He lives in suburban Sacramento, Calif., where he and his wife own and operate an equipment-testing company that ensures, among other things, that air bags work properly and paint on vehicles withstands various road and weather conditions.

Coburn and Perry formed Dumb Ass Partners, a self-deprecating name for their enterprise that poked fun at their inexperience after they put up $8,000 for a mare and another $2,000 fee for breeding California Chrome. Two weeks ago, after California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby, they looked brilliant.

Now? You be the judge.

If the reports are accurate, Coburn and Martin were offered $6 million for the horse before the Kentucky Derby. They declined. The prospective buyer countered with $6 million for 51 percent (see: control) after the Derby. They declined again, claiming they were lowballed while chasing a dream.

Coburn has been swept up in the success of his horse and is enjoying the ride. Over the weekend, he gushed over the hospitality at Pimlico Race Course and by extension criticized the lack thereof at Churchill Downs. Score one for Average Joes who lack the stomach for pomposity that accompanies the Derby.

Martin reportedly skipped the Preakness because he didn’t care for the attention that came with owning California Chrome. Plus, he devoted so much time in recent weeks to horse racing that he was behind on his work. He watched from afar while Coburn reveled in victory and soaked up the attention.

If investors were willing to pony up $6 million for California Chrome before it won the Derby, the price has at least doubled. Some believe the horse could be worth some $20 million before the Belmont Stakes once breeding fees, potential movie rights and merchandise are added into the equation. It’s worth considerably less if it fails to win the Triple Crown.

That’s life-changing money, and one heck of a score, that can disappear if something catastrophic happens between now and the Belmont on June 7. The old adage in horse racing: Take the money and run. These guys are running and taking the money, which some would say is consistent with the name of their partnership.

History is working against them.

Eleven horses have won the Triple Crown, none since Affirmed became the third in six years in 1978. Twelve horses before California Chrome won the Derby and the Preakness over the last 25 years. Four failed to finish in the money in the Belmont. The last two didn’t reach the finish line. Big Brown pulled up lame in 2008, and I’ll Have Another was scratched with tendinitis in 2012.

Barbaro was worth millions after winning the Derby in 2006 and worthless when it was euthanized eight months after shattering its legs in the Preakness. California Chrome could lose value for numerous reasons between now and the Belmont. It suffered from throat blisters leading into the Preakness, which became national news.

There was talk Sunday that California Chrome might not enter the Belmont if it’s not allowed to wear nasal strips that were worn during his first six races. (UPDATE: Nasal strips were approved for the Belmont on Monday.) It’s hard to fathom if Coburn and Perry are all about winning, as they attest. They refuse to put a price on their dream, but they should know their dream could come at a price.

What would I do?

Let’s be realistic. I’m not LeBron James or Tiger Woods. I’m more like Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. As much as I enjoy winning, as much as this goes against my instincts, the reward isn’t worth the risk. I’m taking the money and setting myself up for life. I’m quitting while I’m ahead.

I’m a novice when it comes to horse racing. But I know baseball. I would rather stop at second and keep the inning alive than get thrown out at third for the last out while trying to stretch a double into a triple. I can always invest in another horse.

Now, what would you do?


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