Confession: From where I was standing I couldn't actually see the finish of the Belmont Stakes. The crowd, and the pandemonium, simultaneously denied my eyes but related what was happening to my ears. The roar was there in the stretch, but then it got too quiet.
The vast majority of people at Belmont Park truly wanted California Chrome to win. Before figuring out for sure who crossed the wire first, I knew it wasn't the Derby and Preakness winner simply because the vibe that had been there all day long was suddenly gone.
As the horses were going into the starting gate, the entire racetrack was a powder keg ready to blow. It just needed the spark of a Triple Crown to make it happen. Instead, the same old disappointment set in, and the crowd turned away to make its way back home.
First, though, a hat tip to the winner. Tonalist is a nice horse and ran a fantastic race. He was a fresh horse, he ran like it, and that is all there is to it.
"This horse, he did very good today," winning jockey Joel Rosario said. "This is very important to me. This is the Belmont, so this is great. I'm a little bit upset about California Chrome. If I was going to get beat, I wanted to just get beat by him. It would have been good for racing. It is too bad it didn't happen for him today."
The racing world will have to wait at least one more year to see if the Triple Crown drought will ever come to an end. There are talks of changing the amount of time between the races, and California Chrome's co-owner Steve Coburn has made it clear he thinks only horses who qualify for the Kentucky Derby should be allowed to run in the other Triple Crown races.
The problem with all of this is the Triple Crown is hard because it is supposed to be. It is supposed to take a special horse. I still think California Chrome is the best of his generation. He didn't run a bad race, he just didn't run a good enough one. The 1½-mile distance of the race was always going to be a test, and today, he couldn't quite pass it as he dead-heated for fourth.
"We were just one step away from the top," jockey Victor Espinoza said. "This race is just tough. Regardless, we will move on. It is an honor to be on him, and I have had such a nice ride with all the victories we have had together."
I am a bit disappointed Coburn used his post-race interview time to pitch his idea about making it a closed off series of races. He has already discussed his concept, immediately after the Preakness, when the platform was rightly his.
Today was the day to be a good sportsman and congratulate the winner. What, if anything, should change about the Triple Crown is not a new debate, and it has its time and place. In the immediate aftermath of the race wasn't it.
When asked about Coburn's thoughts, winning owner Robert S. Evans chose to go the classy route and make no comment. He was, however, willing to speak on how he felt when his horse won the race.
"I was slightly surprised, and it's great," he said. "I have been in this game a long time. I have been in it 50 years, and I told someone this morning that I can't wait another 50 years to win a race like this. We loved California Chrome, and we hoped he would win the Triple Crown, but we love our horse, too."
The role of the spoiler is always a tough one to play. Hopefully Tonalist and California Chrome will meet again, and this will be remembered as the beginning of a new great rivalry.
The Triple Crown would have been amazing, there is no denying that, but it is only five weeks a year. Racing can't survive on that alone. A rivalry is something sustained and drives interest.
One only has to look a few races back on the Belmont undercard to the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes, where Close Hatches bested the likes of Princess of Sylmar and Beholder. These three fillies have been a ton of fun to watch for more than a year now, and there was plenty of interest in how their race today played out.
In the end, racing can't depend on a Triple Crown winner to help it regain some of its popularity. That isn't because I believe it will never happen again. It will, when it is supposed to. However, there is plenty racing could do to help itself that doesn't depend on one race series. Marketing, uniformity and good old fashion sportsmanship would all be a good place to start.
While we wait for the excitement of the Triple Crown to come back around, hopefully everyone involved in the sport can work on promoting the good that exists beyond these three races.