California Chrome and his connections came into the 2014 Belmont with visions of making history in their heads.
Unfortunately, the colt's hopes of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 were dashed by a fresh colt named Tonalist in Elmont, New York, on Saturday:
No Triple Crown here! Tonalist wins the 2014 Belmont Stakes. California Chrome finished fifth. pic.twitter.com/fknTYi59JC— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 7, 2014
California Chrome's bid to capture the Triple Crown started well enough. Starting from the No. 2 post, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner came strong out of the gate and appeared to keep pace with the front of the pack.
However, as the 1 1/2-mile race dragged on, the colt was forced to move to the outside while trying to gain ground on pace-setter Commissioner. It was a move that the horse simply didn't have the gas tank to complete.
That's the kind of thing that happens after running three major races in five weeks.
In the end, it was Tonalist who was able to edge out Commissioner down the homestretch in an unforgettable race. California Chrome finished a disappointing fourth place as he and Wicked Strong were nearly indiscernible crossing the finish line.
Per Evan Ren of Abilene Reporter-News, the winner posted a time of two minutes and 28.52 seconds, which is by no means an incredible time historically.
Tonalist's winning Belmont time of 2:28.52 is more than four seconds slower than the legendary Secretariat's 1973 record of 2:24.— Evan Ren (@BigCountrySport) June 7, 2014
Here's a look at the complete standings from California Chrome's failed bid:
|1||11||Tonalist||Joel Rosario||Christophe Clement||-|
|2||8||Commissioner||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||Head|
|3||1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||1|
|4||2||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||1 3/4|
|4||9||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkins||1 3/4|
|6||7||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette||4|
|7||10||General a Rod||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||5 1/4|
|8||3||Matterhorn||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||10|
|9||4||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||12 3/4|
|10||6||Matuszak||Mike Smith||Bill Mott||55|
|11||5||Ride On Curlin||John Velazquez||Billy Gowan||87|
The Triple Crown hopeful's story wasn't over when the race finished, though. Co-owner Steve Coburn was incensed after Tonalist's win, calling owners who put their horses in races like the Belmont after sitting out the other Triple Crown races cowards, per the New York Daily News:
"If you've got a horse, run him in all three...This is the coward's way out." -California Chrome owner Steve Coburn— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) June 7, 2014
"If you can't make enough points to get in the [Derby], you can't run in the [Preakness and Belmont]." -California Chrome owner Steve Coburn— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) June 7, 2014
While Coburn may have a point—ESPN Stats & Info points out that Tonalist is the 15th horse since the last Triple Crown winner to win the Belmont without competing in the Derby and Preakness—his timing and delivery caused quite the stir among the horse racing community.
Tonalist owner Robert Evans elected to not engage in the talk directly after the race, preferring to bask in the moment:
"I don't think I have a comment on that." -Tonalist owner Robert Evans to Bob Costas on Steve Coburn's "coward's way out" quotation.— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) June 7, 2014
However, pundits such as CNBC's Jane Wells and the Associated Press' Tom Withers were quick to question the timing of Coburn's rant:
California Chrome's owner makes a valid point, but this is not news. It may be his first rodeo, but he knew the deal. Will regret remarks.— janewells (@janewells) June 7, 2014
California Chrome's trainer made some valid points. Maybe not time to express them. #sourgrapes— Tom Withers (@twithersAP) June 7, 2014
Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form was disappointed in Coburn's lack of grace in defeat:
Steve Coburn needs to learn that if you win with grace, you need to learn how to lose with grace. That display on NBC just now was pathetic— Jay Privman (@DRFPrivman) June 7, 2014
Although the sting of an opportunity lost surely got to Coburn, when he has time to step back and look at what his horse accomplished this year, he will be a proud owner.
In a sport that is often dominated by the most elite of the elite, he took a horse that many doubted and turned him into a horse that became the center of attention over the last five weeks. Although he came up a bit short, there's no shame in winning two of the three biggest races on the sport's calender.
With the Triple Crown now out of reach, it is likely that the highly popular colt will retire. As ESPN's Darren Rovell points out, the horse's value as a race horse won't exceed his value as a stud after his historic run.
Can’t imagine California Chrome will run next year. Worth too much. Odds are he goes to breed in Japan, where famous horses get premiums.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) June 7, 2014
As for Coburn's rant, the added attention of coming so close only to be beaten by the more fresh horse might just be what causes officials to re-evaluate how the field of contenders is chosen at the Belmont.
Then again, controversy generally generates interest. The debate very well could rage on as the long wait for the special horse that will come along to end the drought remains.