California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth place at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, according to broadcasters, losing an historic bid to take the Triple Crown of horse racing for the first time since 1978.
The Belmont winner was Tonalist, besting California Chrome, the winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
Capturing the Triple Crown in horse racing is no easy task.
Of course, if you remember the 1970s, it may not have seemed that way. Three horses took the Triple Crown in that decade: Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977, and then one year later, Affirmed did it.
And then, silence. No other horse since Affirmed has won all three races.
Not that a good number haven’t come close to the grand prize. In fact, since Affirmed’s legendary runs, a whopping 11 horses won the first two races and lost their final attempts. And of those 11 almost-legends, four came one competitor short of the Triple Crown at the Belmont: Sunday Silence (in 1989), Silver Charm (in 1997), Real Quiet (in 1998), and Smarty Jones (in 2004) all came in second there after winning the Derby and Preakness.
“It’s like the Triple Crown in baseball,” Steve Cauthen, who rode Affirmed as an 18-year-old, told the Baltimore Sun. “That’s another thing that’s not that easy to do. It takes a terrific, talented horse. You have to be better than everybody you’re competing against. You have to overcome the things that naturally happen in any circumstances to pull it off.”
Smarty Jones’ trainer John Servis said the Belmont was a difficult race because of the expectations after winning the Derby and Preakness.
“Once you win the first two legs, you go into the Belmont with a bull’s-eye on your back,” Servis told the Sun. “I felt a lot of pressure going into the Belmont that I didn’t feel going into the Derby and the Preakness.”
Part of the issue seems to be the Belmont’s longer track length. Where the Derby run is 1 1/4 of a mile and the Preakness is 1 3/16 of a mile, the Belmont is a tad longer — a 1 ½-mile stretch.
“You have to change your training going into the Belmont anyway, just for the distance,” Servis told the Sun. “To make sure he gets the mile and a half.”
And while Smarty Jones got very close — about one horse length from the lead – he wouldn’t win the Belmont or the Triple Crown.
“It was very disappointing,” Elliott told the Sun. “It was heartbreaking not to win it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and you didn’t get it.”
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