The coronation of a Triple Crown victor will have to wait another year.
After an improbable rise to fame following wins at the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, California Chrome failed to become the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years after finishing fourth Saturday at the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York.
Tonalist finished first, Commissioner was second and Medal Count was third. Tonalist will take home the biggest share of the $1.5 million purse at Belmont Park.
California Chrome is the sixth thoroughbred in the last 12 years, and 13th since 1978, to nearly complete one of the most difficult feats in all of sports. Affirmed remains the last horse to have won the Triple Crown in the last 36 years.
Due to its 1 1/2-mile track, by far the longest of the Triple Crown races, the Belmont proved once again to be the ultimate equalizer in the highly contested stakes competition.
Riding out of the No. 2 post position before an estimated 100,000 spectators, California Chrome started out of the gate well but faded in the final stretch when Tonalist took over. Commissioner led the field most of the way.
The day ended in a familiar and unfortunate way for jockey Victor Espinoza. In 2002 he rode near-Triple Crown winner War Emblem to an eighth place finish, the worst result for a near-winner to start the Belmont in history.
Co-owner Steve Coburn was incensed after the race and ripped into his fellow owners and horse racing’s rule that allows an entry into the Belmont even if the horse did not participate at the Kentucky Derby or Preakness Stakes.
“You know what he’s been in three, this is his third really big race,” Coburn said to NBC. “These other horses they always send’em out. They send’em out and try to upset the up card.
“I’m 61 years old and I’ll never see a Triple Crown-winner because of the way they do this. It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since Day One. I look at it this way. If you can’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races.
“It’s all or nothing. It’s all or nothing. Because this is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people and for the people that believe in them.
“This is the coward’s way out. Those 20 horses that start in Kentucky are the only ones eligible to run in all three races. This is the coward’s way out.”
The estimated crowd of 100,000 spectators was also angered by California Chrome’s loss. Fistfights broke out in the middle of the general admission section as fans tried to angle for a view of California Chrome’s run for greatness.
With such a massive crowd, attendees found it difficult to move around and find concession stands or even to use the bathroom.
Still the onlookers were stunned at California Chrome’s letdown, and stood around with mouths agape until the official results were announced. The crowd was disgusted and tossed their programs furiously to the pavement.
Later they could be heard chanting “Let’s Go Rangers” as they shuttled back to trains towards Manhattan, evidently moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals after their hero California Chrome left them disappointed.
Mark Bonner contributed to this report