Tonalist won a dramatic 2014 Belmont Stakes on Saturday in Elmont, New York, but all anyone was talking about was California Chrome's lackluster performance in the Triple Crown's third jewel.
The Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner finished fourth behind Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count, failing to generate the late burst that propelled him to impressive victories at Churchill Downs and Pimlico Race Course.
Here's a look at the complete results:
|1||11||Tonalist (2:28.52)||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|
Tonalist, who didn't race at either of the Triple Crown's first two legs, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info, finished in a time of two minutes and 28.52 seconds, nearly two horse lengths ahead of favorite California Chrome.
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
Afterward, some were critical of California Chrome's jockey, Victor Espinoza. But while some experts complained that the veteran rider should have taken the colt to the inside, there's no question the horse was in a favorable position rounding the final turn.
The difference between Saturday's race and the previous two was that California Chrome lacked the closing speed to beat the field to the finish line. It didn't help that the horse suffered a gash in his right front foot during the race.
Coming into the race, the question on everyone's mind was whether California Chrome would have enough gas in the tank to hold onto the lead over the final furlongs. However, it became clear after the final turn that the favorite was unable to find another gear, as pointed out by Espinoza, per NBC Sports:
"I noticed something, as soon as [California Chrome] come out of the gate. He was empty today. ... After a half-mile, he was pretty much done. 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."
Although California Chrome's missed opportunity is a big loss for horse racing, this type of result is hardly unique. After all, California Chrome is the 13th horse since 1979 and the fourth over the past decade to win the Triple Crown's first two legs only to lose or not run at Belmont.
Tired legs, a well-rested and sometimes deep field and the 1.5-mile distance are all factors working against horses in California Chrome's position. Therefore, the Belmont Stakes will remain the biggest and most challenging obstacle on the road to the Triple Crown, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:
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
The Triple Crown drought will now extend to 37 years as the focus shifts to 2015. But if California Chrome's disappointment teaches us anything, it's that the bull's-eye and pressure that come as a result of winning each of the first two legs can often be too big to overcome in the end.
Whether it's because of one or a combination of the aforementioned factors, Belmont Park has become the place where Triple Crown hopes come to die.
As Steve Coburn, California Chrome's owner, pointed out in a post-race rant, so long as horses are allowed to enter the Belmont Stakes without having raced in both or either of the previous two legs, the horse taking aim at the Triple Crown will always be at a disadvantage. However, on the flip side, any horse worthy of the sport's highest honor should be talented enough to overcome that adversity.
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