A bid for horse racing's Triple Crown was dashed at the Belmont Stakes for the 23rd time in history.
Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome entered the post as a 3-5 favorite to win at Belmont Park and end a 36-year Triple Crown drought. However, the grueling campaign finally caught up to the decorated colt, who lacked the late burst needed to win at the 1 1/2-mile distance and settled outside the money in fourth.
Instead, it was the lesser-known Tonalist winning the third jewel, passing Commissioner in a photo finish.
Medal Count placed third ahead of California Chrome, who barely edged Wicked Strong. According to ESPN Stats & Information, California Chrome's fourth-place finish is tied for the fourth-worst among horses attempting the Triple Crown at Belmont Park.
Here's a look at the final race 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 would finish the 12 furlongs in a time of two minutes and 28.52 seconds, but the top storyline centered on California Chrome, whose loss took the air out of Belmont Park and led to a post-race rant by owner Steve Coburn.
Coburn was critical of Tonalist and the other horses who hadn't run in the previous two legs of the Triple Crown, claiming that they had an unfair advantage.
"I need to apologize to the winners. They run a beautiful race. They deserve that. I didn't mean to take anything away from them...Congratulations, you got a fantastic horse. He deserved to win. He won the race, fair and square."
As Sports Illustrated's Peter King points out, the timing of Coburn's rant discredited his argument:
Complain about the rules pre-race if you're so outraged. All Tonalist did was enter a race he qualified for. Nothing cowardly about it.— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) June 8, 2014
Debate over the current system is likely to continue in the future. However, it was clear after the final turn that California Chrome lacked the final gear a Triple Crown horse must have.
While many were critical of California Chrome's jockey, Victor Espinoza for keeping the horse on the outside with traffic in front, Espinoza and California Chrome were right where they wanted to be rounding the final bend. As Espinoza explained after the race, the favorite simply didn't have the extra gear to go to down the stretch, per NBC Sports:
What has to change for a Triple Crown winner to emerge?
"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."
With the Triple Crown finishing in disappointing fashion yet again, horse racing fans and casual viewers will continue to wonder if the now 37-year drought will ever be snapped.
After running away from the field at Churchill Downs and Pimlico Race Course last month, the surging California Chrome, who had won six consecutive races coming into the Belmont Stakes, appeared poised to accomplish the sport's biggest feat.
The letdown continues.
Whether it's the system or simply the absence of a true Triple Crown champion, something will have to change in order for a 12th Triple Crown winner to emerge.
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