The dream of seeing a Triple Crown winner was crushed Saturday when Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) winner California Chrome failed to garner the last jewel in the elusive crown and finished fourth in the $1.5 Million Belmont Stakes (G1).Trainer Christophe Clement’s Tonalist, who won the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) May 10, pulled the upset in the 1 ½ mile race at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY on Saturday.
It was a bittersweet win for Tonalist, who settled in behind the leaders Commissioner and General A Rod before making his bid from the outside as the field cornered the final turn. California Chrome, who suffered a cut to his front right foot when Matterhorn stepped on it out of the gate, was forced to go wide around the final turn, but had a clear opening and drew even with Tonalist into the stretch. As Todd Pletcher’s Commissioner tried to hang onto the lead from the rail, Tonalist kicked clear past California Chrome and nailed Commissioner on the wire, taking victory by a head in the final strides. Dale Romans’ Medal Count, who’d drudged along in mid-pack, got up for third, a length behind the winner. California Chrome finished three-quarters of a length behind in fourth in a dead-heat with Wicked Strong.
"This is very important to me, like always," said winning rider Joel Rosario. "This is the Belmont, so this is great. This horse, he did very good today. I'm a little bit upset about California Chrome. If I was going to get beat, I wanted to just get beat by him. Yes [it's bittersweet]. [Tonalist is] just kind of a big horse, and he has one long stride, and he just grinds it, and keeps on going and going, keeps on coming, and he got the job done today."
Tonalist returned $20.40, $9.60, and $7.00 as the 9-1 fifth choice. Commissioner paid $23.20 and $13.20 and completed the $2 exacta for $348. Medal Count paid $13.20 and completed the $2 trifecta for $6,781. California Chrome and Wicked Strong dead-heated for fourth. The $1 superfecta with California Chrome paid $7,616 and with Wicked Strong it returned $11,467. The final time for the 1 ½ mile race over the fast dirt was 2:28.52.
Tonalist, a son of Tapit out of a Pleasant Colony mare, is owned by Robert Evans, whose family raced Pleasant Colony, the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who lost the Triple Crown when he finished third in the Belmont.
"It's very satisfying," said Evans. "Yesterday, I went to my father's grave and thanked him for putting me in the position for doing this. I came in 1981 to the Belmont, we had high hopes for Pleasant Colony, I've been where [California Chrome's owner] Steve Coburn's been and it's not fun when you don't win."
It definitely wasn’t a fun ending for California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn. While his trainer Art Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza took the defeat with class, wishing the winning connections congratulations, Coburn used the spotlight in front of the national NBC audience to sour the feel-good story of the little-guys-that-could that the world had been following for five weeks.