Belmont StakesElmont, N.Y. Belmont Park
by Tom Pedulla, America's Best Racing
ELMONT, N.Y. – Greatness denied.
To the great disappointment of a massive crowd at Belmont Park on Saturday, Tonalistrallied to take the 146th Belmont Stakes by a head from Commissioner. California Chrome, the beloved California-bred, never unleashed the overpowering move that had enabled him to sweep six consecutive stakes races by a combined margin of 27 ½ lengths and finished in a dead heat with Wicked Strong for fourth.
“We reached almost to the top, one step away,” said downcast jockey Victor Espinoza.“It’s tough for California Chrome to come back in three weeks and run a mile and a half. This race is just tough.”
Espinoza said he could sense a worrisome difference in his mount in the early going. “As soon as he came out of the gate, he was not the same,” he said.
Still, Espinoza managed to have Chrome within striking distance for the stretch run. But the colt that had spurted away from the field at the top of the stretch in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness did not pack any punch as Espinoza desperately asked for more.
“He was just a little bit empty today,” Espinoza said.
The extension of the longest drought since Sir Barton became the first to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes in 1919 is certain to fuel debate about whether the format should be changed.
“This is not fair to these horses,” Steve Coburn, co-owner of California Chrome, shouted during a post-race television interview.
Coburn also said: “I’m 61 years old and I will never see another Triple Crown because of the way they do this.”
Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, is urging that the spring classics be spread over three months. Under Chuckas’ plan, the Derby would remain on the first Saturday in May, the Preakness would occur on the first Saturday in June and the Belmont on the first Saturday in July.
Robert S. Evans, owner of Tonalist, is another voice in favor of abandoning the current three-races-in-five-weeks structure. “I actually think it would be better for the sport, it would be better for the horses and better for promoting it,” he said.
Asked if giving horses more time between the demanding races would make it easier for the Triple Crown to be achieved, Evans replied, “I don’t know. Things change in the world.”
Tonalist, meanwhile, appears to be a star in the making after battling his way to a Belmont victory in only his fifth career start and in his first Grade 1 effort. He made only one start as a 2-year-old, finishing fourth at Aqueduct last Nov. 16. An illness kept him from the Wood Memorial and an attempt to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
“He has one long stride and he just grinds it and keeps on going and going, keeps on coming,” said winning jockey Joel Rosario. “And he got the job done today.”
Evans acknowledged that the triumph was bittersweet. “We loved California Chrome. We hoped he’d win the Triple Crown,” he said. “But we love our horse, too.”
- Race Number: 11
- Date of Race: June 07, 2014
- Current Purse: $1,000,000
- Location: Elmont, N.Y.
- Track: Belmont Park
- Distance: 1 1/2 miles
- Surface: Dirt
- Horse Age: 3-year-olds
|Track ▼||Location ▼||Today's Races ▼|
- Fastest Time (since 1976): 2:26; All-Time 2:24 (Secretariat, 1973)
- Greatest Winning Margin (since 1976): 14 3/4 lengths; All-Time 31 lengths (Secretariat, 1973)
- Past Winners: