Tonalist blocked California Chrome's path to the first Triple Crown in 36 years with a victory at the Belmont Stakes.
After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome's Triple Crown pursuit was all anyone cared about in the 146th running at Belmont Park. Spectators hoping to see him duplicate the feat last secured by Affirmed in 1978 went home angry—a feeling exacerbated by a traffic jam in the parking lot.
As far as the race goes, they were still treated to one heck of a finish. Galloping from behind, Tonalist inched past Commissioner at the last moment to sneak away with a first-place finish by a head.
No Triple Crown here! Tonalist wins the 2014 Belmont Stakes. California Chrome finished fifth. pic.twitter.com/fknTYi59JC— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 7, 2014
California Chrome had to settle for a fourth-place tie with Wicked Strong, one of the top contenders to unseat the favorite heading into the weekend. Those five horses were separated by less than two lengths at the end of the 1 1/2-mile event.
|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 Jerkens||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
Those hungry for a Triple Crown left disappointed, but many gamblers uninterested in riding the odds-on favorite left with some extra dough. The payouts were strong across the board.
via 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.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome during both of his previous Triple Crown victories, knew from the start that the horse didn't have it at Belmont.
“I noticed something as soon as he came out of the gate,“ Espinoza said, per The Washington Post's Dave Sheinin. "He was not the same. ... Turning for home, I was just waiting [for] the same kick he always had before, and today he was a little bit flat.”
Owner Steve Coburn, on the other hand, was not willing to take the defeat in stride. He lashed out at what he deemed an unfair system that allows owners to rest their horses and still qualify for the final Triple Crown event.
Here's the thesis of what he said after the race, courtesy of 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
The top three finishers were all riding on fresh legs. Tonalist had not competed since winning the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park nearly a month earlier, which helped him gain an extra burst California Chrome could not locate down the stretch
Although the rant comes off as sour grapes by someone upset about his horse losing, it could spark a call to action in a stagnant system that often abides by the status quo. Thirteen horses have now lost at Belmont after riding to victory at Churchill Downs and Pimlico since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, which speaks to the difficulty of running all three events.
At the very least, spacing out the three races a tad more would help a Triple Crown hopeful. While such a champion would bring attention to the sport, the elusive chase is often just as enticing.
Then again, Coburn isn't the one who suffered a gashed foot from excessive competition. Any sympathy should go to the horse forced to run three times in less than five weeks, not the man watching from the stands and profiting off the animal.
Forgoing one or two Triple Crown races can work as a tactical ploy, but it's also better for the horse's health. Sadly, that doesn't seem to matter much when the purse is raised to $1.5 million.