The 36 year Triple Crown drought continues. On Saturday afternoon Tonalist won the Belmont Stakes as California Chrome struggled with a foot injury, a bad start and a ton of traffic to eventually finish in a dead heat for fourth place. California Chrome was trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 but fell short in the Belmont like the 13 other horses to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in the past 36 years.
On a beautiful day at Belmont Park with a huge crowd on hand California Chrome went off as a 4-5 post time favorite with a six race winning streak. Things went poorly for him from the outset of the race as it became apparent that his right foot was bleeding (known in horse racing lingo as a ‘drawn quarter’). Video replays would show that Matterhorn would step on California Chrome’s foot coming out of the gate.
California Chrome never got the racing room that he enjoyed in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. He was bumped several times by Samraat right out of the gate. Jockey Victory Espinoza could never find a clear path to the front though he admitted that his horse ‘just wasn’t the same’ and ‘was empty today’. The alert jockey noticed this during the race and made a change in tactics, holding California Chrome back and not going for the early lead. California Chrome was in striking distance of Tonalist in the upper stretch but Espinoza knew then that he didn’t have the energy to close strong for the win.
An 8-1 morning line choice, Tonalist paid $20.50, $9.60 and $7.00. Commissioner finished second at 28-1 to pay $23.20 and $13.20. Medal Count at 24-1 paid $13.20 to show. The 11-8 Exacta paid $348 while the 11-8-1 Trifecta paid $3,390.50.
Tonalist was a late developing three year old who passed on both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, a fact that raised the ire of California Chrome owner Steve Coburn. Coburn went on a protracted rant about horses that skip one or more of the Triple Crown races calling it ‘the coward’s way out’ and denigrating trainers that do it as ‘cheaters’. He suggested that horses who don’t have enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby be ineligible for the Preakness and Belmont. He concluded that his horse ‘had a target on its back’.
California Chrome has already returned to his home at Southern California’s Los Alamitos racetrack and his connections indicate that he’ll be given a long rest before returning to competition, most likely at the Breeders’ Cup. This will take him out of consideration for several big stakes races later in the summer including the Pacific Classic and Travers Stakes. Tonalist came out of the Belmont in good shape and while his connections haven’t drawn up a specific plan yet they’ll be looking to race in upcoming stakes events such as the Jim Dandy and the Travers.