California Chrome denied Triple Crown, finishes tied for fourth

Owner is irked after losing final leg

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NEW YORK — California Chrome failed in his bid to win the first Triple Crown in 36 years Saturday, losing the Belmont Stakes to Tonalist and leaving his owner to complain others took “the coward’s way out” by skipping the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

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Tonalist (left), ridden by Joel Rosario, edges Commissioner, with Javier Castellano up, to win the Belmont. California Chrome (center) tied for fourth.  MATT SLOCUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MATT SLOCUM/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tonalist (left), ridden by Joel Rosario, edges Commissioner, with Javier Castellano up, to win the Belmont. California Chrome (center) tied for fourth.

Before a crowd of tens of thousands hoping to see history, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner finished in a dead-heat for fourth with Wicked Strong. California Chrome’s loss extended the longest drought without a Triple Crown champion.

California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was bitter about horses skipping the first two legs and then stealing the Belmont. Six of the past eight Belmont winners did just that.

“That’s the coward’s way out,” he said. “It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since Day 1. If you don’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races. It’s all or nothing.”

Coburn thought the other 10 horses ganged up on California Chrome, who was second early, dropped to fourth and then fifth before dead-heating for fourth.

“Our horse had a target on his back,” he said. “If you’ve got a horse, run him in all three. I’ll never see, and I’m 61 years old, another Triple Crown winner in my lifetime because of the way they do this.”

Coburn had voiced a similar complaint after the Preakness, saying only the 20 horses that run in the Kentucky Derby should be eligible to compete in the other two legs. He also believed that horses skipping the Preakness should not be allowed to return in the Belmont.

Coburn had been in a festive mood earlier in the day, waving his cream-colored cowboy hat to fans and signing items they tossed to him in his box seat.

But the mood turned ugly after the race.

Three tough races in five weeks proved too demanding for California Chrome, who was sent off as the heavy 4-5 favorite. Affirmed remains the most recent Triple Crown winner in 1978.

The horse sustained a bloody gash to his right front foot during the race, an injury that might have hurt his chances.

It isn’t clear when the injury happened, but the colt’s camp says it’s not serious.

The raucous crowd was silenced when it became obvious that California Chrome lacked his usual punch in the stretch.

Jockey Victor Espinoza realized long before then that his chestnut colt wasn’t up to the grueling 1½-mile trip around the track’s sweeping turns.

“As soon as he came out of the gate, he wasn’t the same,” Espinoza said.

Alan Sherman, the son and assistant to trainer Art Sherman, agreed.

“When Victor started to squeeze on him, he didn’t respond,” he said. “He was wore out, I think. Victor seemed to think he handled the surface fine, and he seemed to come back fine.”

Once the official result was posted, fans sat in stunned silence before heading to the exits.

Tonalist, the fifth wagering choice at 9-1 odds, was a fresh and rested horse making his debut on the Triple Crown trail. He last ran and won the Peter Pan Stakes over the same Belmont dirt May 10.

“I’m a little bit upset about California Chrome,” said Joel Rosario, who rode the winner.

Tonalist beat Commis­sioner, another newcomer to the Triple Crown, by a head. Those two horses finished in the same order in the Peter Pan. Tonalist ran the distance in 2:28.52 and paid $20.40, $9.60 and $7.

Commissioner returned $23.20 and $13.20, while Medal Count was another length back in third and paid $13.20 to show.

Samraat was sixth, followed by General a Rod, Matterhorn, Commanding Curve, Matuszak and Ride On Curlin.

California Chrome broke quickly but was pressed 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 joined the growing list of Triple Crown spoilers, making California Chrome the 12th horse since Affirmed to lose his Triple try in the Belmont, the longest race in the series. In 2012, I’ll Have Another won the first two legs, but was scratched the day before the Belmont with a career-ending tendon injury. The winner earned $800,000.

Trained by Frenchman Christophe Clement, Tonalist was making just his fifth career start.

“We actually thought he finished second, but we got lucky, he won,” Clement said. “It was great.”

The defeat snapped California Chrome’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.

California Chrome’s owners spent $8,000 on a mare they bred to a stallion for $2,500, and were called “dumb asses” by a trainer for buying a mare who gave no indication that she could produce a standout offspring who could run fast.

Conditions seemed aligned for the Triple Crown drought to end. California Chrome thrived 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.

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.

“The horse tried, that’s all I can ask for. He took me on the ride of my life, I’ll always have that in my heart for that horse,” trainer Art Sherman said.

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.

DROUGHT CONTINUES

Horses that have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with their Belmont result:

YEARHORSERESULT
2014California Chrome4th
2012I’ll Have AnotherScratched
2008Big Brown9th
2004Smarty Jones2nd
2003Funny Cide3rd
2002War Emblem8th
1999Charismatic3rd
1998Real Quiet2nd
1997Silver Charm2nd
1989Sunday Silence2nd
1987Alysheba4th
1981Pleasant Colony3rd
1979Spectacular Bid3rd
1978AffirmedWON
1977Seattle SlewWON
1973SecretariatWON
1971Canonero II4th
1969Majestic Prince2nd
1968x-Forward Pass2nd
1966Kauai King4th
1964Northern Dancer3rd
1961Carry Back7th
1958Tim Tam2nd
1948CitationWON
1946AssaultWON
1944Pensive2nd
1943Count FleetWON
1941WhirlawayWON
1937War AdmiralWON
1936Bold VentureDid not run
1935OmahaWON
1932Burgoo KingDid not run
1930Gallant FoxWON
1919Sir BartonWON

x-Won Derby on disqualification of Dancer’s Image for testing positive for illegal medication

RACE RESULTS
NAMEWINPLACESHOW
Tonalist20.409.607.00
Commissioner 23.2013.20
Medal Count  13.20
Comments (3) Add comment
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deestafford
27840
Points
deestafford 06/07/14 - 11:23 pm
2
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There maybe something to the freshness..

There maybe something to the freshness business. Makes senses to me. Don't know if they want to make the races mandatory or not. Could cause some injuries to horses who are just not strong enough to run all three.

Can't blame the owner making those comments. Sort of like somebody fighting a 10 round bout and then for rounds 8, 9, and 10 a new, fresh fighter comes on to finish against you.

stuaby
4044
Points
stuaby 06/08/14 - 06:12 am
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Seems like this wouldn't be a

Seems like this wouldn't be a factor, though, dee, with weeks between the races. Especially for strong animals like these.

deestafford
27840
Points
deestafford 06/08/14 - 08:21 am
0
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stuaby, You're probably right...

stuaby, You're probably right. There just may not be that many who can take the gruel of three races in five weeks. Maybe those who didn't enter in the first one or two knew their horse had a chance to win only if it were fresh. It's a point that beats the tar out of me.

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