‘Princess’ Team Shows How to Lose With Dignity

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Owners and fans cheer Close Hatches following her win in the Ogden Phipps Owners and fans cheer Close Hatches following her win in the Ogden Phipps

Steve Coburn taught the public a lesson that many turf writers learn within their first year on the job: when dealing with connections after a loss, expect the unexpected.

Coburn’s version of “unexpected” went over like a lead balloon for a number of reasons, and it’s a shame he wasn’t standing in the enclosure behind Victory Lane for the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps. That’s where I watched the race – and watched a textbook tutorial on how to lose a race with grace.

A number of the King of Prussia Stable connections, all sporting Princess of Sylmar hats and purple ties and shirts, poured into the enclosure after the horses left the paddock. I’ve liked this group since they came to the press box after last year’s Kentucky Oaks, whooping, hugging, and handing out lilies from Princess of Sylmar’s blanket. Their joy in victory is infectious, and I think it’s part of what made people embrace their horse as a fan favorite.


The buzz around the Princess grew since her unexpected Oaks win, and rose to a roar as she knocked down three Grade 1 victories after that. Owner Ed Stanco had the option of resting the Princess on her laurels following her Beldame Invitational victory over older horses (including Royal Delta), but after much consideration, he gave the filly’s fans what many wanted — sending her to California for the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

The gamble didn’t pay off. After an awkward break, the ‘Princess’ lost a potential Distaff crown to Beholder, and it cost her the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly.

“It was a stinging defeat,” Stanco told Albany Times Union’s Tim Wilkin the day after the Distaff.

“It is frustrating and disappointing to have the season she had and to accomplish things no other fillies had ever done in history and then have it end this way,” trainer Todd Pletcher told Wilkin, noting that the Santa Anita track was not suited to Princess’ running style. “And, unfairly, it seems. But we knew that coming in. We knew it was a risk.”

When the field turned for home in Saturday’s Ogden Phipps, Princess of Sylmar and jockey Javier Castellano were poised on the outside, driving for the wire on their home dirt. The King of Prussia crew around me was deafening, voices cracking, cell phone cameras hoisted aloft to capture what they hoped would be redemption. There’s a funny phenomenon that takes over people who really love a horse, as fans or otherwise, wherein they briefly seem to feel that if they flail a little harder or yell a little louder, their energy can push the horse just a few more inches forward — and King of Prussia was giving the race all they had.

When the wire came, we all knew from where we were standing that she didn’t get there fast enough, and the group fell silent. “Just a few more strides,” one person muttered.

What followed was somewhat remarkable.

As the horses came back from the gallop out, the group started clapping and shouting again. Their Princess was unsaddled directly across from them, and they gave her a round of applause. They called out to Castellano, “Great job, Javier!” and to their filly, “Good job, Princess! We love you, Princess!” as the frothy chestnut took the long walk back through the tunnel to the barn.

It was touching, and not because I think the horse understood them or could even pick out their voices over the crowd. It was touching because rather than letting the disappointment get to them, they silently and quickly decided to instead celebrate what their horse had accomplished. After a finish as agonizingly close as that one, no one could have blamed them if they had focused on the second-place effort as a missed opportunity to set straight the Distaff result. But they didn’t do that, at least not outwardly.

They hung around after Princess went into the tunnel, and I was wondering what they were waiting for. Then I saw – Close Hatches was coming to claim her trophy. The group gave her a round of applause. As the surge of laughing owners and connections followed the Princess’ rival to the winner’s circle, one King of Prussia member called out to Bill Mott as he stood to the right of his victorious trainee. “Hey, Bill! Bill!” Mott turned his head to look at the sea of purple. “Great job!”

If you have to lose a race, that is how you do it.

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  • Colleen

    Nice article.

    Smarty Jones’ trainer and owners (John Servis & the Chapmans) were another shining example of grace in defeat. Immediately after Smarty’s Belmont loss, and before the media could even get to him to stick a mike in his face, trainer Servis went over to Nick Zito to shake his hand and congratulate him on Birdstone’s victory. And Smarty’s owners, the Chapman’s, applauded Birdstone.

  • Jay Stone

    Ever since his sporting gesture in the Breeder’s Cup went unrewarded you have to admire the class of Mr. Stanco. It is the exact opposite of the reaction by Mr. Coburn. It’s strange but I almost sensed the reaction coming from Mr. Coburn having read his quotes leading up to the Belmont.

    • Count_FleetofFoot

      Of course all the cretins were cheering him on when he was bashing Churchill Downs…

      Maybe there was more to that story than met the eye.

      • Jay Stone

        When you read the quotes from Coburn’s partner you realized he probably went over the top on national TV but CDI is sadly lacking in many facets of horse racing. Mr. Coburn is trying to make the whole show about him rather than the horses.

      • Barbara Bowen

        That was classless at the time, too, and he is an ungracious winner and terrible loser, but CDI is so evil he got a pass on that tall tale. Plus so many others chime in regularly now with how democratic the process is at the Twin Spires. They shat upon all.

  • Curly Sue

    “Grace.” Great word, Colleen. Coburn will never have it.

    • Bandit’s Mom

      If he stays around horses long enough he will learn about humble, grace, respect.Cut the guy some slack.
      The horse is one animal to teach all of us life lessons.
      Nice article, time to move ahead and let’s stop beating the man while he is down.
      If anything the horse world should remain classy and be thankful for small operations who invest in the sport.
      Coburn has learned an important lesson. Forgive and set examples.
      I have seen a certain wife of a seasoned horse trainer behave badly and she being in this sport longer should know better. Guess not.
      The media is partly to blame for this fiasco, right NBC?

      • Colleen

        LOL – enjoyed your comment about a “certain” wife of a seasoned trainer. And I’ve seen that certain wife do it repeatedly, without apology.

        • Barbara Bowen

          She usually apologizes and bringing her up here is as classless as you think she has acted in the past. I am 100% positive she would never lose a race with such calamity. And if I recall it was losing a favorite horse out of their barn in an underhanded way that set her off in the most infamous dust up.

          • Colleen

            She was never accused of losing a race with calamity. The comment was she behaves badly. The fact that you know exactly to whom we’re referring speaks volumes about her behavior.

          • Barbara Bowen

            So she is not a poor sport? She just behaves badly according to you? An anonymous poster on a comment section of PR? There are multiple sides to most people. Me knowing what the coy reference was doesn’t speak to anything except my lack of common sense to have engaged with you about it;-)

          • RayPaulick

            Take it outside.

          • Bandit’s Mom

            LOL

          • Barbara Bowen

            Feels like a schoolyard in here…

          • Bandit’s Mom

            Oh, poo, poo!
            Have been around for a long time.
            It happens to the best with so called class, get over yourself! That was my point, it happens to all.
            Bet you are a hard to forgive type, too.

          • Barbara Bowen

            No, I forgive you, too.

      • Leo M.

        Bandit’s Mom, what a great response. Folks,we have all gone over the top one time or another. You learn your lesson and move on. He was just so dissapointed for everyone and did not know how to cope.

      • Barbara Bowen

        Don’t agree media is to blame for Coburn. He confirmed that the next mooring with time to sleep on it. Interviewing Coburn right after race was TV production 101 for NBC, it was a live sporting event and news. But Costas being instructed to bring it up to Evans in winner’s circle was height of poor judgement and taste.

      • Susan Crane-Sundell

        Give Coburn a break now. The man got caught up in the moment, he had bonded with the other owners who who had run in all three legs and he got truly emotional. He has a vision of how things should be.Perhaps his vision clashes with the reality of the race structures, but he will learn, change or find a way to make his vision a reality.

        He couldn’t have apologized to anymore people-he would have had to start naming people in another galaxy! At least he loves his horse! Perhaps too much was at stake for him to be able to cope right then.

        I thought his word choice was abominable- but his heart was broken and he needed to process-it’s a shame it happened on national television when it was still raw.

        Let him find his way with his talented horse and give the whole experience another shot later in the year. Chrome will heal and be back and we will be able to enjoy his talent and the enthusiasm of the owners for their talented home-bred star!

      • reality check

        While you are correct, horses will teach us many things, including how to be humble, it does require actually being more than an owner and a show of affection on occasion to receive this knowledge. Hands on is what teaches that. No, NBC is not to blame. Per a friend’s daughter who has worked for them at the BC and other large sporting events, the owner/participants are given the OPTION to be interviewed before and/or after. They can decline. It is not an ambush. He said what he did and said it again the next day.

    • Bellwether

      Why do you want to be so HARSH on the man???…You are showing your true colors and they aren’t so pretty either…

  • Stake Horse

    After this dust settles about Mr Coburn I felt that if California Chrome would have won and I was hopping he did that the fact NYRA changed rules to let the hors run with a Breathrite strip was wrong.
    The California Chrome team said. They would not run with out it. No horse has ever won a triple crown with one. So at the end of the day they did there very best in New York to help this hors win.

  • Tammy

    Ed Stanco also tweeted after the race how great it was that Beholder’s connections flew her out for the race giving the fans what they wanted.

  • Leo M.

    Natalie,
    Great article, but let’s give Mr. Coburn a break. He has never been in this position with all eyes on his team. He so wanted to win this race for all the fans, but came up short. He’s a real cowboy, and these folks wear their emotions on their sleeve. Do I agree with what he said? Not at all. But he’s a straight forward, person with no filter. That’s just the way they are. Being put in the same position next time, he’ll respond with the respect that his opponents deserve. IMHO

    • Barbara Bowen

      Where does this real cowboy crap come from anyway? He makes credit cards in Nevada and wear a sweat soaked Stetson and that makes him a cowboy?

      • Elliott ness

        What is dishonorable about making credit cards?

        • reality check

          The point is wearing a western hat does not a cowboy make.

          • Elliott ness

            Where have the forgiving people of this great country gone. This thread reminds me of people reviewing a toaster from amazon. This is a man with a hat. He had a few cocktails and spouted off, so what. Leave him alone.

          • Reality Check

            Perhaps to the same place as respect for others instead of calling them cowards and cheaters when things don’t go your way. Your theory of drink induced blasting would work except that it continued the next day.

    • nu-fan

      This piece should have been strictly about Princess of Sylmar. It wasn’t. This is an example of tabloid journalism and too many readers got caught up hashing out and having another change to vent very crass comments about Mr. Coburn. When they do that, they are no better than the person that they keeping taking cheap shots at him.

  • Barbara Bowen

    Stanco is an antidote to Coburn. Well done Natalie. You really captured the moment.

  • Elliott ness

    Leave mr. Coburn alone . He said he was sorry with tears. Why keep pounding on this old cowboy? The story has been played out. How about a nice story about the man. I will just bet he is a good man. Move on.

    • RayPaulick

      How about a nice story about the Princess of Sylmar camp, who lost with dignity. This isn’t about Steve Coburn. It’s about sportsmanship.

      • nu-fan

        Then, why was Coburn’s name mentioned in the piece, in the first place? It appeared very manipulative to me as well as to goad readers to keep hashing and rehashing the same stuff I have been reading for the past two days.

      • Beach

        And the passive-aggressive butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth…

    • val

      And what exactly makes this guy cowboy ? he has probably never been on a horse. He had a chance to apologize the next morning and he didn’t. His apology sounds fake and he was probably forced to do it by his partner . As a fan of California chrome I felt embarrassed when he made the statement but I was willing to forgive him because of the heat of the moment as I was sure he was going to apologize the next morning, not such luck. Nice story about him? I’d say let’s forget about him

      • Elliott ness

        He’ll pay with emotions every day of his life about that two minutes he spoke up. He will struggle his remainder about his thirty words. No punishment need be, time is his enemy, he will never be the same man. Val you are a great writer, please carry on with your prose.

    • DANCERS1FAN

      He deserves every bit of grief he has gotten! That was the worst display of sportsmanship I have ever seen. And this article was highlighting how it SHOULD be done. I hope he read it.

    • reality check

      If he had just had a post-race emotional outburst, he would have apologized the next day instead of doubling down. Even then, you don’t go off like that accusing others of being cowards and cheaters. Say it wasn’t our day, congrats to the winner and go check on your HORSE. Vent and throw a fit amongst your friends and allies. The Princess folks deserve their spotlight much more. They obviously love the mare. Good sportsmanship should be the standard, especially in a non-stick and ball sport where the “stick/ball” is a thinking feeling being who may not necessarily be on the same page as everyone else race day.

  • Susan Crane-Sundell

    This IS horse racing-it’s called graciousness, respect and love!

    Mr. Stanco is one of the good guys -he always sends congratulatory notes to anyone who beats the Princess and is always humble when he wins. He sent a not to Beholder’s connections after he found out she was injured. He is a true horsemen. There are so many of us who would follow The Princess anywhere because we are proud of her and her connections.

    • Susan Crane-Sundell

      I meant note to Beholder’s connections – sorry!

  • Richard C

    You find out the true class of an individual in the throes of defeat.

  • Bryan Langlois (ShelterDoc)

    I think the thing that gets me most angry, and perhaps many here as well, is not that he carried on about the whole system of the TC and how horses should not be allowed to compete if they didn’t get in the Derby or whatever. It is that he felt it best to call the winners of a classic race “cowards” and not congratulate them at all. Now, in the heat of the moment after striking lightening in a bottle with his first ever horse…ok…maybe give the benefit of the doubt as he was reacting to his horse losing right at that instant, but after having time to sleep on it and then still not congratulating the winners and even stooping to lower levels of comments with the wheelchair basketball thing…well…can’t really give him a pass at all on that one. It is nice that he did apologize…eventually…and I hope we see more matchups between Chrome and the other top horses out there…so this whole thing can be decided where it should be…on the racetrack!!
    And I do agree it is a great story about very passionate owners who have been in this game and know what the highs and lows are, and how to react to them accordingly.

    • http://www.toosmarttofail.com/pap.html Hoops and Horses

      Mr. Coburn’s comments have merit, however, what is needed is to revive the points system that was in effect from 1987-’93 and have a bonus pool for horses who run in all three races where most of the money would go (all three TC races worth $1 Million each and a $4 Million bonus pool is how I would do it).

  • http://www.toosmarttofail.com/pap.html Hoops and Horses

    One thing with Princess of Sylmar is the connections really had no choice:

    If they had not gone west for the BC, they would have lost the Eclipse for Champion three year old filly to Beholder, who romped. It’s why if I had POS, I would have put her in the BC Turf in an attempt to force Beholder into that race. A BC Turf win would have in my view given POS BOTH the three year old filly and female turf Eclipse Awards, which is why I would have had her in the BC Turf rather than the Distaff.

    • Susan Crane-Sundell

      She has another chance this year if all goes well and Mr. Stanco chooses to run her in the BC.

  • Ida Lee

    The Princess, Beholder and Close Hatches are talented beauties and it was just a major thrill to watch them race together. Yes, it would be nice if everyone handled adversity graciously but I can’t talk cause I’ve had my moments and it wasn’t pretty. Let’s accept the apology and move on.

  • Dust Prince

    I do this for all our horses. I’m right there waiting for them to tell them good job and I love them — not because they would know, but because I would know.

  • Beckron

    I couldn’t get past the first two mentions of Steve Coburn. I’m fatigued of the disciplining by everyone and their brother or sister or dog or cat of Mr. Coburn.

    • nu-fan

      You and me, both!

  • roseann cherasaro

    I was so proud of our Princess she ran a great game race and she ran against the best we have.Kudos to her connections this is how we should all roll!!

  • Albany

    Great story….

  • Naprovnik Naprovnik

    Secretariat had time off from November to March. Seattle Slew did not run from October until March. Same for Affirmed. With the current point system, it might be doubtful that Street Sense, with a win in the Tampa Bay Derby (does that race even count anymore?) and a second in the Blue Grass, may have even been in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Carl Nafzger would have been dictated by the racing schedule set forth by a posse of suits who stay in the air conditioned offices at Churchill Downs.

    The problem is not fresh horses in the Belmont. The problem is the haughty attitude in Louisville that prevents REAL horsemen from being able to train three year olds in the way that is best for the horse. They made the meat grinder of getting to their race, WORSE! Mr. Coburn was unfortunately too emotional, should not have spoken out a t that moment, and did not identify the correct villain, but there IS a problem – he was correct about that.

  • Linda Parker-Fedak

    It’s called “sportsmanship”, something a lot of people have forgotten existed. What awesome owners and crew this horse has!!! Makes me feel good to read stories like this! Mr. Coburn’s reaction to his horse’s loss left a bad taste in my mouth. Especially after such a feel good story from the start. Princess is well loved and that should be the norm, not the exception!

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