Triple Crown? Not Quite

by L. Turner

He was the horse everyone wanted to win, but he didn't quite make it. Millions were disappointed when California Chrome lost out on the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes to Tonalist on Saturday, not quite upsetting a 36-year (and counting) drought in the longest and most difficult race of the three. Chrome, the odds-on favorite, was also a fan favorite, and not just because everyone was rooting for the first Triple Crown winner since 1978's Affirmed. But to many people's disappointment, Tonalist ruined everything by edging over the line first. California Chrome came in fourth, tying Wicked Strong for that title, with Commissioner in second and Medal Count in third.

Tonalist ran the race in 2:28.52 and was ridden by Joel Rosario. He didn't run in either the Derby or the Preakness.

Some commentators said Victor Espinoza, California Chrome's jockey, ran a good race, but the horse just didn't quite have it in him on Saturday. Others disagreed and said the jockey put Chrome in a bad position during the race. Espinoza said the horse was just out of gas on the mile-and-a-half-long track.

(He was) a little tired. When I turned him for home I was waiting....Today he was a little bit flat down the line.

Chrome's lack of a win might cause some controversy in the sport, which is torn over whether achieving a Triple Crown is even achievable in horse racing any more given the timing of the three races. Steve Coburn, the horse's co-owner, was quick to say as much after the race.

An unusually-upset Coburn said his horse was tired out and argued bluntly that "fresh" horses — or horses that haven't competed in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes — shouldn't be allowed to race in the Belmont. (They usually win.) Coburn said some owners intentionally hold their horses out of one or more races in order to let them rest up for the Belmont.

I thought he was gaining ground but he didn't have it in him, apparently. ...It's not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one. ... It's all or nothing. It's all or nothing. It's not fair to these horses. This is the coward's way out in my opinion. Our horse had a target on his back.

Tonalist was an unexpected winner, and Chrome's biggest competitor in the race was thought to be Wicked Strong. Fans were psyched about Chrome, with "Go Chrome Go" reverberating through the stands at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York and fans hoisting signs reading "Triple Chrome."

The fandom over Chrome was partly about his story. California Chrome has four white feet, or socks, a sign considered unlucky in horse racing. He was bred for just $10,000, an unheard-of bill for a champion thoroughbred horse. And he hails from California, not exactly the home state most people expect from a sport with deep roots in the eastern part of the country.

"Maybe the stars are aligned for this horse, 'cause this is exactly what you want to see," NBC sportscasters said as Chrome chilled out in the paddock prior to the race with Espinoza. But it apparently wasn't meant to be.

Chrome still made history on Saturday, becoming the heaviest-bet horse ever upon entering the race. And some announcers said the crowd gathered at the Belmont was the largest ever.

Before the race, a jollier Coburn told The Washington Post that he and his business partner had just gotten lucky with Chrome.

To watch this little guy grow up and watch him develop — he’s an amazing animal. I wish every horse owner out there could have a horse like this because he's like one in a bazillion. This horse could have been born to anybody. He was born to us, and we're very blessed with that.