All bets were on Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, but the horse could not run towards history. California Chrome, the crowd favorite horse, came short on Saturday’s 146th Belmont Stakes, tying for fourth after trying to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since the horse Affirmed in 1978.
NBC’s Bob Costas spoke with Steve Cauthen, jockey of the horse Affirmed who was the last Triple Crown winner on June 10, 1978, asking his thoughts of California Chrome prior to the race. “I think he has a great chance [of winning]…he has natural speed,” Cauthen said. “He just may be special.”
The weather was warm and the New Jersey racetrack was packed with 102,199 (the third largest crowd in Belmont history) spectators whose hearts were set on seeing history being made. The track was 1 mile and a half, 228 feet longer than other races so that the horses “could get fooled very easily,” NBC commentators said when talking about how the distance and bends on this track are more difficult—not to mention the horses are tired if they participated in the previous races.
His chestnut coat was shinny, and he trotted majestically in his purple headgear as he made his way out to the track and into starting position No. 2. The crowd chanted “Go Chrome, go.” He had a 4-5 odds.
As regal as he looked, California Chrome, rode by jockey Victor Espinoza would not reign over the competition. The colt ran out of strength to make a move that would put him in the lead of the pack. The winning horse would be Tonalist, Commissioner coming in second, and Medal Count for third place.
Many thought that if it did not go to California Chrome, Wicket Strong (who was named after the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing) would be the winner. Wicket Strong was used to the track.
Some were shocked that Tonalist took home first place. He did not run the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness, causing California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn to vent in the post-race interview how it is not fair that some horses are burnt out after competing in all three, while other horses rest for this big race. “I thought he was gaining ground, but he didn’t have it in him apparently,” he told NBC. “I’m 61 years old and I’ll never see in my lifetime, I’ll never see another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this. It’s not fair to the horses that have been in the game since Day One.”
His rant continued, “I look at it this way, if you can’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t race in the other two races. 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 to have somebody to come up…this is the coward’s way out in my opinion, this is the coward’s way out.
Tonalist (odds9-1) jockey Joel Roasrio telling NBC his win was bittersweet. “If I was going to be beat, I wanted it to be by California Chrome.”
California Chrome would have been the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years.
What are your thoughts about horse racing? Is it fair to that Belmont Stakes contestants do not have to run in the previous races? Was Steve Coburn showing poor sportsmanship, or was he right? Did you bet on the horse race?