California Chrome's quest for the Triple Crown fell short after Tonalist captured the 146th Belmont Stakes on Saturday.
Despite a crowded field of 11 horses, all eyes were on California Chrome as he looked to sweep the year's major races with a victory in Elmont, New York. The 36-year Triple Crown drought, however, will last another year.
It was a thrilling finish at Belmont Park, just not the one that those hoping for history wanted to see. Tonalist sprung past Commissioner in the closing seconds to steal a closely contested victory at Belmont Park.
No Triple Crown here! Tonalist wins the 2014 Belmont Stakes. California Chrome finished fifth. pic.twitter.com/fknTYi59JC— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 7, 2014
If it's any consolation for California Chrome's crushed Triple Crown hopes, he at least was officially ruled in a fourth-place tie with Wicked Strong, who also finished fourth at the Kentucky Derby.
|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
So Close, Yet So Far
At the Preakness, jockey Victor Espinoza kept California Chrome at bay before kicking into high gear on the closing stretch. With several colts locked in a stalemate during the final moments, it seemed like the perfect time for him to pounce toward another sizzling finish.
Except it never happened this time around. A fatigued California Chrome could not find his second gear on the extensive 1 1/2-mile track. Espinoza realized, per CNN's Ray Sanchez, that his horse didn't have the energy to deliver the exclamation point on another victory.
"Turning for home I was just waiting to have the same kick like he always had before, and today he was a little bit flat down the lane," Espinoza said. "I think it was tough for him. He ran back-to-back races in different tracks—and all those fresh horses."
Those fresh horses included Commissioner, who jumped out to a strong start and stayed high on the leaderboard throughout the race. Led by experienced jockey Javier Castellano, Commissioner stayed steady in second behind General a Rod before the leader slumped down the stretch.
That created an opening, but neither Commissioner nor anyone else could create any separation in the waning moments. The longest course of the Triple Crown left its mark on a weary field, until Tonalist caught fire at the last moment.
With Joel Rosario at the helm, Tonalist lit up with the finish line in sight, emerging from the fray to set up a photo finish with Commissioner. It became apparent that a Triple Crown was not in the cards, but a thrilling conclusion was on tap.
In the end, Tonalist finished a head past Commissioner to seal the deal at Belmont.
Nobody Likes a Sore Loser
Steve Coburn is not used to seeing his prized investment fail to cross the finish line first. So when California Chrome could not deliver another victory, the brazen owner yelled at anyone who would listen.
His gripe came with Tonalist sitting out the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes before dethroning California Chrome at Belmont. He derided that course of action after the race, with the New York Daily News capturing his remarks:
"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
To be fair, he makes a valid point despite coming across as a bad sport. While California Chrome has raced three times in less than five weeks, a well-rested Tonalist enjoyed nearly a month of rest since winning the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 10.
He didn't have enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but the Peter Pan victory gave him a spot at Belmont, where the fresher legs stormed to a rousing finish to upend Commissioner.
ESPN Stats and Info's observation suggests it makes sense for an owner to sit a horse out at Churchill Downs and Pimlico to increase his chances of winning at Belmont:
Tonalist wins Belmont, 15th to win the Belmont without running in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes since last Triple Crown won— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 7, 2014
Owner Robert Evans did not violate any rules, so there's no reason to hate the player for what may be a flawed game. Besides, winning the Triple Crown is not a reasonable goal for almost any horse, so why not specialize on one race to keep the horse healthy?
Coburn's sharp criticism will cause those around horse racing to rethink the rules, but there's nothing he can do about California Chrome falling shy of history at Belmont.