To the disappointment of many horse racing fans, Tonalist thwarted California Chrome's Triple Crown bid on Saturday at the 2014 Belmont Stakes. An extremely close race saw California Chrome finish just 1 3/4 lengths off the winning pace, yet he was still in a dead heat with Wicked Strong for fourth place.
Tonalist edged out Commissioner and Medal Count, respectively, down to the wire at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, winning the 146th Test of the Champion in a photo finish.
|1||11||Tonalist||Joel Rosario||Christophe Clement||$800,000|
|2||8||Commissioner||Javier Castellano||Todd Pletcher||$280,000|
|3||1||Medal Count||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans||$150,000|
|4||2||California Chrome||Victor Espinoza||Art Sherman||$80,000|
|4||9||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkins||$80,000|
|6||7||Samraat||Jose Ortiz||Rick Violette||$45,000|
|7||10||General a Rod||Rosie Napravnik||Mike Maker||$35,000|
|8||3||Matterhorn||Joe Bravo||Todd Pletcher||$30,000|
|9||4||Commanding Curve||Shaun Bridgmohan||Dallas Stewart||—|
|10||6||Matuszak||Mike Smith||Bill Mott||—|
|11||5||Ride On Curlin||John Velazquez||Billy Gowan||—|
The pace of the race was rather slow and didn't allow jockey Victor Espinoza to extend California Chrome for all he was worth. Belmont Park's 1 1/2-mile dirt track proved too daunting for the swift Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, as he simply ran out of steam in the Triple Crown finale.
Although he had the advantage of having the fresher horse, Joel Rosario did a magnificent job in the saddle for the new Belmont Stakes champion. Rosario won the 2013 Kentucky Derby with Orb and added another jewel of the Triple Crown to his impressive resume.
Even the victorious jockey was quietly hoping for California Chrome to get it done, as he said afterward, per ESPN Insider's Lane Gold:
Jockey Joel Rosario on @CalChrome "I was rooting for him and it would have been good for racing."— Lane Gold (@lanegold) June 7, 2014
Actor Hugh Jackman chimed in to congratulate Tonalist, though he hinted at feeling a letdown at California Chrome's loss:
Too bad! But a great race. Congrats to #Tonalist #11— Hugh Jackman (@RealHughJackman) June 7, 2014
ESPN's Darren Rovell referred to another Triple Crown winner, Secretariat, to provide an idea of the legendary company California Chrome could have joined despite a far slower 2014 Belmont Stakes pace:
How good was Secretariat? He would have beaten today’s winner Tonalist by 22 LENGTHS based on his 1973 time.— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) June 8, 2014
Unfortunately, most of the post-race attention went in a negative way to the Triple Crown hopeful. California Chrome owner Steve Coburn went on a tirade after witnessing his horse fall short, per the New York Daily News:
"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
"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
TNT analyst Reggie Miller, CBS Sports Radio Network's Amy Lawrence and CBC.ca's Tim Wharnsby were among those who agreed with Coburn:
I agree with Steve Coburn, "cowards way".... Still LOVE me some California Chrome..— Reggie Miller (@ReggieMillerTNT) June 7, 2014
Owner Steve Coburn railing against the system, making strong case to level the playing field for Triple Crown races.— Amy Lawrence (@ALawRadio) June 7, 2014
Couldn't agree more with Steve Coburn: in triple crown a horse should run in all three races.— Tim Wharnsby (@WharnsbyCBC) June 7, 2014
Others, such as Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch, Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form and SI.com's Seth Davis were a little more critical, with Davis throwing in a creative, cross-sports analogy:
Understand Steve Coburn's frustration but that was a very bad look on national television.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) June 7, 2014
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
Richard Sherman thought Steve Coburn's interview was in bad taste.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) June 7, 2014
Coburn may have had a point, but choosing that public of a forum just moments after suffering such a devastating loss was a dangerous confluence of slippery-slope circumstances. It showed—and it made for great live TV—yet it also reflected poorly.
Source: NBC Broadcast
*$2 Exacta 11-8 paid $348; $1 Trifecta 11-8-1 paid $3,390.50; $1 Superfecta 11-8-1-2 paid $3,808; $1 Superfecta 11-8-1-9 paid $5,728.50.
The Triple Crown narrative was going to overshadow any other storyline that emerged from Saturday's race. Tonalist would be discussed as the winner, sure, but when California Chrome fell short, it was all about the 36-year Triple Crown drought being extended yet again.
There is no easy answer to the issues Coburn raised, but certain provisions could be put in place to make the Triple Crown more feasible in the future. However, DenverPost.com's Peter Burns brings up a valid point:
California Chrome doesn’t win. Best thing to happen for the sport of horse racing. Triple Crown continues to be almost impossible feat.— Peter Burns (@PeterBurnsRadio) June 7, 2014
Do you agree with Steve Coburn?
With the three marquee horse races now in the books, it seems that this crop of three-year-old colts was indeed not too formidable. Had California Chrome come through with a dominant win at Belmont Park, he would have gone down in history among the all-time greats. It just wasn't to be.
If horses like Tonalist continue to prepare only for the last race or two of the Triple Crown season, it will still be difficult for any horse to win all three. What makes it trickier is saving the longest race in the Belmont Stakes for last. The distance is unprecedented for all horses in the field, yet those who have competed in the two prior showcases almost always run out of steam.
California Chrome was a wonderful horse, but he proved that it will take a truly exceptional specimen in this era of superior competition and larger fields to seize all three jewels in the Triple Crown.
Hope is hard to come by for an individual Triple Crown champion in the future. California Chrome and jockey Espinoza entered the Belmont Stakes with a six-race winning streak. That wasn't enough to pull through—and it's tough to envision what it will take for others moving forward.