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This weekend's race, Saturday June 7
The dream that was born in Kentucky and reached a fever pitch in Maryland two weeks later came to an end Saturday in New York in the ultimate test of a champion.
Instead of becoming the 12th Triple Crown champion, California Chrome will go down in history as the 13th horse since 1978 to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown but not the third. He finished in a dead-heat for fourth in a 146th edition of the Belmont that in time may be remembered more for the post-race rant by California Chrome's co-owner, Steve Coburn, than the race itself.
Tonalist was the star of the day, taking the mile and a half final leg of the Triple Crown by a head with a final surge that carried him past the front-running Commissioner. It marked his second straight stakes win, both of them at Belmont Park, but more importantly it also stamped him as a new force in the 3-year-old division.
The Belmont was only the fifth career start for Tonalist and he's clearly making up for lost time earlier in the year that kept him out of the Kentucky Derby. In the Belmont, he tracked the early leaders in third after the opening half mile and was one-paced until the final furlong when he finally kicked into gear and collared Commissioner in the final yards.
While it wasn't an overly impressive race -- the first three finishers were sent off at odds of 9-1, 28-1 and 24-1 and the final time of 2:28.52 was slower than the 2:27.13 posted by older horses in the Grade 2 mile and a half Brooklyn earlier in the card -- Tonalist has the look of a horse that has yet to peak and will continue to improve in the coming months. Overall concerns about the quality of this class of 3-year-olds tempers some of our enthusiasm about Tonalist turning in another winning effort in his next start, yet at this point he appears to be moving in the right direction as summer approaches so we'll play it safe and assign him a B on the Hot List scale.
Tonalist's odds dropped from 11-1 to 9-1 in the final three minutes, but that dip did not earn him a letter since he was higher than 10-1 which requires a 4-point drop to receive a C or D on the Hot List.
Commissioner showed an unusual dimension in setting the pace, which was no doubt linked to the mile and a half distance and softer fractions. As well as he raced in the Belmont, he figures to have a more difficult time in a shorter Grade 1 or 2 stakes with a quicker pace and is too risky to include on the Hot List.
Medal Count, who was third, also did not receive a letter as the distance appeared to play a key factor in his improved performance and he'll be hard pressed to find another 12-furlong stakes in the near future.
Wicked Strong dead-heated for fourth in a disappointing effort that failed to build off a troubled fourth in the Derby and an eye-catching win in the Wood Memorial prior to that.
For California Chrome, the outcome was bitterly disappointing, but his effort was quite respectable. He was no doubt hurt by a cut he suffered coming out of the starting gate as well as running in his third race in five weeks and sixth start of the year, explaining why fatigue came into play and he lacked the burst of speed that propelled him to victory in the Derby and Preakness.
Nevertheless he lost by only two lengths and should rebound with some well-deserved rest. Plans call for him to resume his campaign in California and considering his affinity for Santa Anita, chances are he'll turn in a solid effort in his comeback race so we'll give him a B.
No one else turned in a noteworthy performance in a race that closed out the 2014 Triple Crown and paved the way for next year's series to be a coupled entry with something California Chrome failed to prevent, a 37-year Triple Crown drought.
1. Tonalist (B)
2. California Chrome (B)
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A List: A preferred horse to watch
B List: Secondary horse to watch
*C List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 1st through 3rd
*D List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 4th or worse
* minus-4 or more betting notches if 11-1 or more.
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