The Triple Crown went unclaimed for a 36th year as Tonalist captured the 146th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park by a head over Commissioner, with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome finishing in a dead-heat for fourth in the "Test of the Champion."
California Chrome became the 20th horse to fall short in a Triple try in the oldest and longest leg of the Triple Crown. The last horse to win all three races was Affirmed in 1978. Since 1919, only 11 horses have succeeded in sweeping the series.
"It's a tough grind on these young horses," said Alan Sherman, son of and assistant to California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman. "He tried hard and ran hard and took us all on the ride of our lives."
Tonalist, trained by Christophe Clement for Robert Evans, entered the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes a fresh horse, having won the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 10 at Belmont last time out. Making his fifth career start, the lightly raced son of Tapit had won only one other race in his career, taking a maiden race on January 18 at Belmont Park.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, who won three other races on Belmont's 13-race card, Tonalist raced in third, not far behind the pace-setting Commissioner, who towed the field of 11 through a half-mile in 48.52 seconds, with three quarters going in 1:12.84 and the mile in 1:37.13. Sweeping four-wide into the stretch, Tonalist gradually cut into Commissioner's lead and prevailed in the final jump, with Medal Count coming on to gain third.
Tonalist's winning time for the 1 ½ miles was 2:28.52. Triple Crown winner Secretariat holds the track and stakes record for the Belmont, having won the race in in 2:24 in 1973.
"This is very important to me, like always," said 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."
California Chrome was made the 4-5 favorite and many of the fans at Belmont Park were sporting the purple and green colors of owners, Perry Martin and Steve Coburn. Running evenly in fourth throughout, California Chrome made a move on the far turn but failed to sustain it, and wound up in a dead-heat with Wicked Strong, a little more than four lengths behind the winner.
"Turning for home I was just waiting to have the same kick like he always had before, and today he was a little bit flat down the lane," said Chrome's jockey, Victor Espinoza. "[Taking dirt didn't bother him] at all. I was nice and comfortable in there, and I had a chance to move out, and when I moved out he just don't have that today. I think it was tough for him. He ran back-to-back races in different tracks - and all those fresh horses. But he feels good."
Tonalist, sent off at 9-1, returned $20.40 for a $2 win bet. Now 3-1-0 from five career starts, he boosted his bankroll to $957,000 with the winner's purse of $800,000.
"It's very satisfying," said Evans, whose family campaigned 1981 Triple Crown hopeful Pleasant Colony. "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."
Samraat checked in sixth, with General a Rod, Matterhorn, Commanding Curve, Matuszak and Ride On Curlin completing the order of finish.