Tonalist won the 2014 Belmont Stakes on Saturday with a time of two minutes and 28.52 seconds, edging out long shot Commissioner by a head. The top five finishers were separated by just 1 3/4 lengths, which included prohibitive favorite California Chrome, who was in a dead heat with Wicked Strong in fourth.
Due to the close call at the finish, the payout situation became interesting, as superfectas were rewarded in both scenarios in which California Chrome and Wicked Strong placed just outside the money:
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.
|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||—|
But that was hardly the main storyline in Elmont, New York, as a bid for history was denied.
A win would have gotten California Chrome the ever-elusive Triple Crown for the first time since 1978, when Affirmed was champion in all three marquee horse races. Instead, jockey Victor Espinoza had a horse that ran out of steam and never recovered after lurking three lengths off the pace for the majority of the race.
After witnessing the action at Belmont Park, Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times couldn't hide her disappointment:
That was certainly the sentiment for California Chrome's connections, as they sought to become the 12th Triple Crown champions in history. Adding to the frustration was an apparent self-inflicted wound for California Chrome right out of the starting gates, per WDRB Louisville's Eric Crawford:
California Chrome behind closed doors in his barn. They're looking at his right front hoof, where he apparently kicked himself at the start.— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) June 7, 2014
Owner Steve Coburn was hot afterward, 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
Coburn may have been a little bit insensitive in the way he handled himself, but he was obviously upset at the fact that Tonalist didn't run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes.
However, it wasn't as though Tonalist was totally rested coming in. He had just run at Belmont Park on May 10 in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes, a race he dominated. Jockey Joel Rosario was in the irons for it, as was the case on Saturday for a victorious jaunt over 1 1/2 miles.
Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden brought up a valid point to counter Coburn's "coward" criticism:
Remember: Tonalist got sick and couldn't make the Wood Memorial, hence didn't qualify for the KY Derby. Sick. Not cowardly.— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) June 8, 2014
How long will it be until another Triple Crown winner emerges?
Rosario had won the 2013 Kentucky Derby, so there was evidence to suggest he'd ride well. The recent success in Elmont, along with his demonstrated ability to get it done in a Triple Crown race definitely helped Tonalist's cause.
However, starting from the 11th post meant that Tonalist would have to make up some ground and get into more of an ideal position toward the rail. Even a great start by California Chrome wasn't enough. That was stymied by traffic issues as the race progressed, and the slower pace didn't allow him to break at the proper time.
Commissioner almost pulled off an improbable upset by going wire to wire, falling just short at the finish, while Medal Count put together his own impressive trip after drawing the rail.
As many things that had to break California Chrome's way to get to Saturday's position of having a shot at the Triple Crown, the untimely ailment to his right hoof ultimately dashed his Triple Crown dreams. Superior, deeper fields with more entries continue to make the Triple Crown all the more difficult to capture. It takes a special horse just to have a chance, and California Chrome definitely had the chops to get it done.
It will be interesting to see if Coburn's concerns cause any paradigm shift in the industry. While the luster of the Triple Crown is arguably as high as ever after California Chrome's close call, the drought has dragged on for quite some time. If there are no adjustments to the schedule, it will take a truly special horse to break the slump.
The question is whether there will be enough interest when the wait is finally over for a new Triple Crown champion to rise.