The drought of Triple Crown winners continues as California Chrome finished 4th at the Belmont Stakes while Tonalist, who didn’t compete in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, won the race as the result was followed by a rant that makes some sense from Steve Coburn, co-owner of California Chrome.
Everyone, the 102,000 in the stands, were waiting for history to be made, and for the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 to be found. However, the horse that came out of nowhere this season after some success in California without any impressive lineage or flashy owners to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, didn’t have the same sort of spark he had coming out of the gate, as jokey Victor Espinoza realized it just wasn’t his day.
Commissioner and General a Rod pressured California Chrome coming out of the gate, which forced him to hang third. Approaching the final turn of the 1.5 mile trip, California Chrome was maneuvered to the outside, angling four-wide turning for home. Espinoza started whipping left-handed in the lane but got no response from the horse, eventually finishing fourth, tied with Wicked Strong. Commissioner, who finished behind Tonalist in the Peter Pan stakes came in second this time as well, followed by Medal Count who came in third.
California Chrome is the 12th horse since Affirmed won the Triple Crown to fall on the third race. I’ll Have Another came close in 2012, but was scratched from Belmont with a tendon injury that also ended his racing career. Tonalist, trained by Frenchman Christophe Clement was making just his fifth career start. He became the 12th horse to spoil the chance a triple crown in the last 36 years.
California Chrome finished with a bloody gash which probably hurt his chances of providing a big finish. Coburn, who already expressed his anger after the Preakness about horses that don’t compete in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness yet go on to race at Belmont, was livid, and made more points against the structure of the biggest five weeks in horse racing, which doesn’t really help out those trying to win the Triple Crown.
Nor should it, but according to Coburn and others, horses that don’t earn enough points to be among the 20 in the Kentucky Derby shouldn’t have a chance to race at Belmont alone. It gives them an advantage of not having to go through the previous grueling races against tougher competition, making them more likely to spoil a chance at history at Belmont. California Chrome beat the best, and he shouldn’t be handicapped going into the third race.
Triple Crown winners become legends, but sometimes even those who lose remain long in the memories of others, especially when there’s no one to take the crown. Penny Chenery, the 92-year-old owner of 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat, probably the greatest racing horse in history, wanted to see a Triple Crown winner. Almost everyone did. But a bad day and maybe an unfair field, something that might need to be addressed, took that chance of becoming legend away from California Chrome, his owners, jockey and trainer.