The 2014 Belmont Stakes didn't deliver the result that fans were hoping for. California Chrome didn't trot away as the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.
But to say that it wasn't a crowd-pleasing race would be inaccurate. Triple Crown newcomer Tonalist claimed victory in the 146th running of Belmont in dramatic fashion, barely edging out early pace-setter Commissioner by a head in a wild finish:
No Triple Crown here! Tonalist wins the 2014 Belmont Stakes. California Chrome finished fifth. pic.twitter.com/fknTYi59JC— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 7, 2014
The big winner came in with a time of 2 minutes and 28.52 seconds, as noted by Evan Ren of the Abilene Reporter-News:
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
While most casual fans were tuning into the race for the possibility of watching history in the making, bettors may have had a vested interest in other contenders. Here's a look at the payouts for those who backed horses that wound up in the money:
Disappointments about history aside, this was an entertaining race to watch.
With all eyes on California Chrome, it was Commissioner that emerged as the leader early on. The second place finisher in the Peter Pan stakes set the pace and impressed by continuing to be in the thick of things throughout the 1 1/2-mile race.
|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|
Unfortunately for Commissioner and his connections, history was bound to repeat itself. Much like May's Peter Pan stakes at Belmont, it was Tonalist who was able to get the win down the stretch.
Here's a look at how the whole race played out in Elmont, New York:
After the race, Tonalist's win was overshadowed by California Chrome's failure to capture the Triple Crown. Even winning jockey Joel Rosario admitted he was disappointed that the horse missed out on an accomplishment that could have been great for the sport:
Jockey Joel Rosario on @CalChrome "I was rooting for him and it would have been good for racing."— Lane Gold (@lanegold) June 7, 2014
However, California Chrome's co-owner, Steve Coburn had the most noteworthy reaction to his horse's Belmont loss. He believes that wholesale changes to the Triple Crown format are in order, per 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
Although many will take exception to Coburn's timing, it's looking increasingly unlikely we will see a Triple Crown winner with the current format.
As ESPN Stats & Info notes, the pattern of Belmont winners not participating in the first two legs of the three-race series is nothing new. No Triple Crown winners have had to deal with the large field of contenders that current horses have to deal with in modern Belmont races:
No Triple Crown winner has beaten more than seven horses in the Belmont to win the Triple Crown.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 7, 2014
But not everyone is buying what Coburn is selling. Dan Wolken of USA Today had a strong take on Coburn's rant:
The races should be more spaced out, yes. But the idea that a horse should have to run in the Derby and Preakness to be in the Belmont? No.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) June 7, 2014
The history of the sport is full of great horses who weren’t ready for the Derby but were by the Belmont. Have to beat all comers to get TC.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) June 7, 2014
With the 36-year drought still intact, it's easy to see both sides of the debate. Without alterations, at least to the schedule, it's likely that we'll never see a Triple Crown winner again. Between larger field sizes and the ability for contenders to rest, there's just too much adversity for a horse to overcome.
On the other hand, that's what makes the feat so special—the near impossibility of it captures the imagination of the average sports fan.
While California Chrome may have fallen short of making history with his Belmont performance, he may have opened up a discourse that will change the way the Triple Crown is pursued moving forward.