NEW YORK – Tonalist sprinted across the finish line first Saturday at the Belmont Stakes, spoiling California Chrome's bid to win the first Triple Crown in 36 years.
California Chrome finished far back in a tie for fourth. The result means the longest drought without a Triple Crown champion in history is extended.
California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza lost the 1 1/2-mile race 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.
"I thought he was gaining ground, but he didn't have it in him, apparently," owner Steve Coburn said immediately after the race. He complained that some of the horses sat out some races, and were entered just to knock out California Chrome. "It's all or nothing. This is not fair to these horses and to the people that believe in them. This is the coward's way out."
California Chrome broke quickly but was pressed immediately by Commissioner and General a Rod. Espinoza eased California Chrome back into third along the rail.
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.
Tonalist kicked strongly in the final strides, edging Commissioner by a head. Medal Count got third with California Chrome finishing in a tie for fourth with Wicked Strong.
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.
Co-owner Steve 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.