Following weeks of anticipation, the 36-year drought without a Triple Crown continued.
Try as he might, California Chrome simply couldn't find his way to the lead as Tonalist prevailed in the 2014 Belmont Stakes. The colt pulled away at the end to crush the dreams of California Chrome and horse racing fans all over the country.
California Chrome fell behind coming around the first turn, dropping to the outside of the pack. When the race came down to the final stretch, the colt appeared fatigued as jockey Victor Espinoza vigorously tried to rally the horse to a win.
Neither Tonalist nor runner-up Commissioner ran in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness Stakes, which also sparked a bit of controversy. As the horse racing world once again sets its sights on next season, let's take a look at the final chart, results and purse for the Belmont Stakes.
|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||$100,000|
|4||9||Wicked Strong||Rajiv Maragh||Jimmy Jerkens||$60,000|
|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||—|
via NBC broadcast
Belmont Stakes Review
While the Triple Crown might not have been accomplished, the Belmont Stakes was still memorable for several different reasons.
California Chrome actually jumped out to a good start as he was near the front of the pack down the first stretch. After that initial burst, the colt was pushed to the outside as he wasn't quite able to trot around the field.
Going four wide out of the last turn, Chrome came up slightly slower than normal and fell behind the two fresh horses down the final furlong. Owner Steve Coburn might have offered an explanation, per Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated:
Trainer Art Sherman just said California Chrome may have injured himself leaving the gate. Kicked rt front leg with rt rear.— Tim Layden (@SITimLayden) June 7, 2014
That wasn't all Coburn decided to discuss at the conclusion of the race.
After seeing his prize horse come up short against both Tonalist and Commissioner, two fresh horses, the owner was up in arms about the rules. Coburn provides his thoughts on why it's been so long since the world has seen the feat accomplished, per Marc Weinreich of Sports Illustrated:
This is not fair to these horses that have been in this thing running their guts out for these people and for the people that believe in them, to have some somebody come out like this—this is the cowards way out, in my opinion, this is the cowards way out.
I’m 61 years old and I’ll never in my lifetime...see another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this. It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one. I look at it this way: if you can’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t win in the other two races.
Should horses be allowed to enter Belmont without entering the Kentucky Derby?
With both Tonalist and Commissioner pulling ahead, California Chrome might have run a closer race if the other colts weren't as fresh. But at the same time, many of the Triple Crown winners of the past had to do so against horses who didn't race in the previous jewels.
Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978 by beating Alydar in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, making them the only two horses to run in all three races. Seattle Slew did the same in the 1977 Triple Crown—just two other horses ran all three races.
The 77-year-old trainer might be upset, but it's not unheard of for a horse to overtake a fresh colt to take the Triple Crown. In fact, Darren Rovell of ESPN provides a look at another horse who accomplished the feat:
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
Regardless of what Coburn thinks, both Tonalist and Commissioner came away with a hefty prize. While Christopher Clemente and Todd Pletcher might not have earned a Triple Crown, grabbing purses of $800,000 and $280,000 certainly won't hurt after taking down California Chrome.
While he might be outraged, don't expect much to change even after Coburn's rant on national TV. California Chrome's loss might leave horse racing fans upset, but the Derby and Preakness winner will have to settle for winning both of the other famous races.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter.