ELMONT, N.Y. — Let the debate go on. California Chrome just didn't have enough left on a beautiful Saturday afternoon here on Long Island, finishing in a dead heat for fourth place in the Belmont Stakes and disappointing a nation full of horse racing enthusiasts and casual sports fans who have waited nearly four decades for a horse to win the Triple Crown.
The skeptics were right. The race was won by Tonalist, a horse who didn't run in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness. He had not raced since May 10, when he won the Peter Pan Stakes here at Belmont Park. Chrome seemed positioned well heading out of the back stretch, but the 1 1/2-mile marathon distance was just too much mountain to climb.
Commissioner, a 20-1 morning-line long shot, finished second, Medal Count third and Chrome finished exactly alongside Wicked Strong, one of the horses expected to provide his stiffest challenge.
The obvious refrain should be "Wait until next year." But Chrome's co-owner repeated the assertion he made after the the Preakness that he will never see another Triple Crown in his lifetime if the format is not changed to keep fresh horses from ambushing Triple Crown candidates in the Belmont.
"I'll never see another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this,'' Coburn said in a postrace interview on NBC.
Calling the strategy of jumping the Preakness, or coming out of nowhere to challenge a horse who was running for the third time in five weeks, "a coward's way out," Coburn repeated his opinion that the Triple Crown series should allow only horses who have run in the first two legs to challenge the potential Triple Crown winner in the Belmont.
It seems unlikely that the format will be changed that drastically, but it seems likely that this latest Triple Crown near miss will intensify the effort to lengthen the intervals between the three races.