CBS New York NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Thirty-six years and counting.
California Chrome became the latest Triple Crown contender to fall victim to the Belmont Stakes, as the 1 1/2-mile “Test of Champions” proved to be too much for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner on Saturday.
Tonalist won the race at the wire with a strong run down the stretch to finish in 2:28:52. Commissioner was a close second, with Medal Count third.
California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza finished in a dead-heat for fourth on a hot day at Belmont Park,where tens of thousands of fans were packed in hoping to see history. It was not to be, leaving Affirmed as the most recent Triple Crown winner in 1978.
Co-owner Steve Coburn was irate during a televised interview after the race, criticizing those who skipped — or couldn’t qualify for — the Derby or Preakness.
“It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since Day 1,” said Coburn, adding he doesn’t believe he’ll see another Triple Crown winner in the current format. “This is a coward’s way out, in my opinion. This is a coward’s way out.”
Neither Tonalist nor Commissioner ran in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Medal Count didn’t participate in the Preakness three weeks ago.
“Our horse had a target on its back,” Coburn said.
Coburn said Triple Crown contenders should have to run in all three races, starting with the Derby.
“It’s all or nothing,” he said. “This is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people.”
Tonalist’s owner declined to comment on Coburn’s rant during a post-race interview. The horse last ran and won the Peter Pan Stakes on the same Belmont dirt on May 10.
California Chrome broke quickly but was pressed immediately by Commissioner and General a Rod. Espinoza eased California Chrome back into third along the rail.
“As soon as he came out of the gate, he wasn’t the same,” Espinoza said.
Approaching the final turn, California Chrome was maneuvered to the outside. He angled four-wide turning for home, just to the outside of Tonalist, who was close to the pace the entire race. Espinoza started whipping left handed in the lane but California Chrome had no response.
“I thought he was gaining ground, but he didn’t have it in him, apparently,” Coburn said.
Tonalist paid $20.40, $9.60 and $7. Commissioner returned $23.20 and $13.20 while Medal Count paid $13.20.
California Chrome tied for fourth with Wicked Strong. Samraat was sixth, followed by General a Rod, Matterhorn, Commanding Curve, Matuszak and Ride On Curlin.
California Chrome became the 12th horse since Affirmed to lose his Triple try in the Belmont, the longest race in the series.
The defeat snapped the chestnut colt’s six-race winning streak. His rise from a humble pedigree and his working-stiff owners resonated with sports fans who rarely take an interest in horse racing.
Conditions seemed aligned for the Triple Crown drought to end. California Chrome seemed to thrive during his three-week stay at Belmont Park. His chestnut coat gleamed and he gained weight after the Preakness on May 17. His owners, trainer and jockey oozed confidence. And so did the bettors, who made him the overwhelming favorite in the Belmont.
But this fairy tale didn’t have a happy ending.
Espinoza lost his second chance at a Triple Crown. He was aboard War Emblem in 2002, when that colt stumbled at the start of the Belmont and lost all chance.
Art Sherman, the 77-year-old trainer of California Chrome, had said beforehand that his colt didn’t need to win another race because he was already such a pleasure to be around.
Coburn, who with Perry Martin formed Dumb Ass Partners to race their one-horse stable, had vowed that California Chrome “would go down in history.”
It just wasn’t the kind they wanted to make.