No crown for California Chrome

Tonalist wins Belmont Stakes


Another year, another upset in the Belmont.

With 102,199 euphoric fans hoping to see California Chrome end a 36-year Triple Crown drought, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner was in striking distance of the leaders turning for home in last Saturday’s 146th running of the Belmont Stakes.

But unlike his exhilarating stretch runs at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, California Chrome leveled off in the last eighth of a mile and finished in a dead-heat for fourth as Tonalist surged past Commissioner in the final stride to become the ninth straight upset winner in the Belmont.

“He was going easy,” jockey Joel Rosario said of Tonalist, who broke from the far-outside post — No. 11 — and paid $20.40 to win. “I didn’t want to be too far behind,” he added. “When I got to the three-eighths pole I was a little confident. I was worried a little bit turning for home, but he started picking them up.”

Commissioner, who nearly went wire-to-wire under Javier Castellano, completed an exacta that returned $348 for a $2 investment. Medal Count, with Robby Albarado aboard, completed a trifecta that paid $6,781.

“I’m a little bit upset about California Chrome,” Rosario said. “If I was going to get beat, I wanted to get beat just by him.”

The no-frills California-bred owned by Steve Coburn and Perry Martin was bidding to become the 12th Triple Crown champion. Instead, “Chromie” joined Spectacular Bid, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, and I’ll Have Another as horses unable to capture the grueling final leg since Affirmed bested Alydar in 1978.

“As soon as he came out of the gate, he was not the same,” jockey Victor Espinoza said of California Chrome, who broke from the No. 2 post and went off as the 4-5 favorite. “By the five-eighths pole he was just empty.”

Going 1 ½ miles in his third race in five weeks took its toll on California Chrome, who encountered no traffic problems and sat third in the 11-horse field for much of the race. He was in ideal tracking position, similar to the Derby and Preakness, but failed to react the same way when Espinoza asked him for another gear. “Turning for home I was just waiting to have the same kick like he always had before, and today he was a little flat down the lane,” he said.

Art Sherman, California Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer, was unavailable for comment after the race. His son, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, said: “That horse tried, that’s all you can ask for. I saw Victor starting to squeeze on him a little, and he didn’t respond the way he has in the past.”

It was only the fifth lifetime start for Tonalist, who was coming off a victory in the Peter Pan Stakes on May 10 over a sloppy Belmont surface. Trained by Christophe Clement, he’s the ninth consecutive horse to win the Belmont Stakes after skipping the Preakness, finishing in 2:28.52.

“We were a little bit nervous about having the outside post and how he would react to the crowd,” Tonalist owner Robert Evans said. “It didn’t bother him a bit. He broke well, got in a good position and Joel rode him beautifully.

“We loved California Chrome,” Evans added. “We hoped he would win the Triple Crown. But we love our horse, too.”