Tonalist won the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, spoiling California Chrome's bid to become the 12th winner of horse racing's Triple Crown.
Affirmed remains the last Triple Crown winner, having turned the feat in 1978. California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth. Tonalist left with 11-1 odds; Joel Rosario was the winning jockey, Christophe Clement was the trainer and Robert S. Evans was the winning owner.
"When we were turing for home, I was waiting for him to have the same kick that he’s always had before," Chrome jockey Victor Espinoza said. "Today, he was a little bit flat down the way. He just didn’t have it today. It was tough for him, but he feels great."
Chrome, who went off as a 4-5 favorite, becomes the 13th horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and fall short in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont. A 3-year-old chestnut colt, California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby by 1 3/4 lengths before taking the Preakness by 1 1/2.
After the race, owner Steve Coburn blamed the system that allowed horses who did not qualify for the Kentucky Derby to enter future Triple Crown races. Several horses were also entered in the Derby and Belmont, but skipped the Preakness.
"I look at it this way, if you can’t make enough points to make it into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races," Coburn said. "It’s all or nothing. This is not fair to these horses that have been running their guts out for these people after the people believe in them. This is the coward’s way out, in my opinion."
But just as Smarty Jones in 2004 and Funny Cide the year before -- the last two horses to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and finish the Belmont -- horse racing's ultimate prize eluded California Chrome. Big Brown won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2008 but broke down as Da'Tara won the Belmont. I'll Have Another took the Derby and Preakness in 2012 but did not run in the Belmont due to injury.
The loss also hearkens back to Espinoza's near-miss in 2002, when he rode War Emblem to wins in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, only to lose to 70-1 long-shot Sarava in the Belmont.
California Chrome rose from obscurity to gain a cult following and the moniker "America's Horse." Owners Coburn and Perry Martin famously paid $8,000 for a mare named Love That Chase -- a horse so hapless on the racetrack they were called "dumbasses" for the purchase, a name they later coopted for their stable, Dumb Ass Partners -- and a bargain-basement $2,500 stud fee for a sire named Lucky Pulpit.
That investment paid off with a prized thoroughbred, but one ultimately unable to complete the trifecta. Even in defeat, California Chrome made history as the first horse bred in the Golden State to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.