There will be no end to the 36-year wait for a Triple Crown, as Tonalist won the 2014 Belmont Stakes and California Chrome sputtered to a tie for fourth after winning both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
California Chrome started off just where he wanted. Out of the No. 2 position, he got to the rail for the early parts of the race and looked able to hold on to that position heading into the stretch just like he did in the previous two Triple Crown stops.
Only this time, he was overtaken by Commissioner, Medal Count and a crop of horses before the midway point. That forced jockey Victor Espinoza to navigate California Chrome to the outside—an ultimately rare position for the race favorite.
When the stretch came, he had his opportunity and pushed for the lead. But coming on even hotter was Tonalist, Medal Count and Commissioner, who finished in the top three spots while California Chrome's Triple Crown chances were washed away.
Here's the race video, the final results and more from Belmont Park.
|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|
via NBC Broadcast
|7||General a Rod||$35,000|
It's been the summer of California Chrome in horse racing, but that ended in a big way on Saturday.
Entering with the chance to claim the sport's first Triple Crown since Affirmed won it in 1978, there's no doubt that the Derby and Preakness winner had a target on his back at Belmont. That became apparent right off the bat.
California Chrome quickly got to the rail early on, but Commissioner was quick to take the lead in front of him. That forced Espinoza to navigate California Chrome to an area where he's not familiar—in the middle of the pack.
As California Chrome's position slipped, he moved to the outside heading down the stretch. That allowed him some room to make a move.
As the horses came down the final turn, California Chrome had an opening. But the wear and tear of the Triple Crown circuit, for once, finally looked to be catching up to him.
Unlike in his seven previous races in which he took a commanding lead down the stretch, California Chrome was left chasing the leaders and couldn't catch them.
After the race, California Chrome owner Steve Coburn wasn't too happy with the strategy of some of the horses that beat him out, per ESPN's Buster Olney:
Owner of California Chrome on horses dropping into the Belmont to beat his horse: "The coward's way out." Oh, boy.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) June 7, 2014
Tonalist owner Robert Evans was then left with the decision to take the bait or take the high road, and he did the latter per NBC's Frank Thorp:
Asked by Costas, Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist's owner Robert Evans says he won't comment on California Chrome's owner's "coward" comments— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorpNBC) June 7, 2014
Horse racing could have received the ultimate boost in popularity if California Chrome would have completed the trifecta and made history, but instead, a spirited debate will likely now be the biggest takeaway from Belmont Park.
Does Coburn have a point?
Are Triple Crown contenders at a disadvantage heading into the 1 1/2-mile marathon that is Belmont, considering other horses can sit out? Probably. Is it a bad time for this to come up? Likely.
But it's awfully hard to disagree with Coburn. His horse proved through his performances this summer that he's far and away the most talented horse in the Triple Crown circuit, and yet the system in place found California Chrome with the short end of the stick.
After coming so close to making history, the next Triple Crown will have to wait—whether it unfolded the right way or not.