Haskin's Belmont Recap: Tone It Up

Once again, racing fans, longing for that happy ending to their fairy tale, followed Alice down the rabbit hole in search of Wonderland, only to find nothing more than the harsh reality that is Thoroughbred racing.
This year, we hoped to emerge from the rabbit hole seeing everyone’s hero, California Chrome, wearing that elusive Triple Crown, but just as it’s been the past 36 years, all we saw was Alice once again saying, “It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change.”

But, you know what? The next time we see Alice chasing that White Rabbit down the hole, we’re going to follow her anyway, just for that slight chance that this time the fairy tale ending awaits. It is human nature and the nature of the Sport of Kings, which was built on dreams hundreds of years ago and will continue to be built on dreams for as long as the sport exists.
So, again, we are jolted back to reality and must chronicle the defeat of California Chrome, the victory of Tonalist, and tell of another fairy tale unfinished, just as we have 11 times since 1978; 12 if you count I'll Have Another.

It is rare that mainstream America embraces a horse the way it has California Chrome. By the time the colt arrived at Belmont Park following his victories in the grade I Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes, it seemed as if everyone wanted a piece of him. He became one of the hottest marketing commodities in the country and was grabbed by Skechers shoes. He even had the entire country talking about nasal strips, which the colt wears in his races. When a possum ran in front of him during one of his gallops, it had the public looking up the critter on Google and graphic artists coming up with creative images of the two animals. There were groups formed, such as “The Chromies,” who wrapped themselves in aluminum foil, wore purple Band-Aids on their noses and donkey logos on their hats, signifying owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin’s Dumb Ass Stable.

California Chrome was put in trainer Jimmy Toner’s barn, alongside his new buddy Ride On Curlin. Preparation for his arrival was as thorough and intense as it would be in Washington D.C. for visiting royalty.

“I had Ride On Curlin here for the Champagne (gr. I) last year and (his trainer) Billy Gowan called after the Preakness and said they want to put both horses in here,” Toner said.

Exercise rider Robby Anderson, who used to freelance for California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman and now works for Toner, was watching TV several hours before the colt’s arrival and couldn’t believe there were helicopters following the van. It was also learned that the van would be receiving a police escort from the Throgs Neck Bridge to the track.

New York Racing Association’s head security officer Juan Dominguez would be California Chrome’s shadow as soon as the colt arrived.

“I hope this horse wins by 10,” he said. “We need a punch in the arm. We need something.”

Each morning at Belmont, California Chrome was out on the track by 6 o’clock, usually followed by hordes of photographers. But there was one horse who beat him to the track every day, and that was the lightly raced Tonalist, who was among trainer Christophe Clement’s first set that came out at 5:45. The son of Tapit – Settling Mist, by Pleasant Colony would stand quietly for several minutes eyeing the activity and then go about his business, which meant strong, smooth gallops over a track he obviously loved, as indicated by his impressive four-length victory in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) May 10, in which he defeated the promising, but inconsistent Commissioner.

Clement would bring his horses through the paddock and would give his exercise riders their final instructions as they lined up along the rail. He then would go to the back of apron and watch each horse’s every move through his binoculars. Although Clement trained all his horses with the same care and attentiveness, there was no doubt the powerful bay colt with the distinctive and easily recognizable blaze was something special, which he has been since he was a baby.

Tonalist’s story actually begins when Patrick Lawley-Wakelin, racing manager and advisor for Evans, fell in love with Settling Mist, who he had seen at the farm. Being linked to Pleasant Colony, who won the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness for Evans’s father, Thomas Mellon Evans, he naturally took an interest in any mare by Pleasant Colony.

“When I went to see the mare, I loved her,” he said. “She was in foal to Seeking the Gold and carrying a Seeking the Gold filly. Because everyone was looking for fillies at the time, she brought a fair amount of money ($800,000). I had been introduced to Rene and Loren Woolcott, who had built this gorgeous farm called Woodslane Farm in Virginia, and I  bought the mare for them.”

Settling Mist eventually was bred to Tapit and got Tonalist.

“When we bought Settling Mist, I had done a lot of business with Wayne and Cathy Sweezey, who owned Timber Town, and asked them if they would board the mare for the Woolcotts, who didn’t have the facility to foal their mares down in Virginia,” said Lawley-Wakelin.  

The Sweezeys brought the Tapit colt to the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, and also were selling yearlings for Shel Evans. But the sale was a big disappointment.

“The first night, we bought two of Shel’s horses back,” Wayne Sweezey recalled. “We had a terrible sale. And then we bought Tonalist back. That May, we thought Tonalist could have been one of the best horses we’ve ever raised. He was just a beautiful, lovely colt; big and scopey. After he had returned to Woodslane Farm, they found a small flake in either his hock or ankle and Dr. (Larry) Bramlage cleaned it up. As the spring progressed, he got prettier and prettier and was so elegant and striking looking. He was the perfect horse for Saratoga. There was nothing about him you could knock. He had the size, the conformation, and the pedigree. I was so excited for the Woolcotts, because we really wanted to do well for them. I was pumped.”

The colt had the perfect disposition. He’d go out for his walk and then come back and take a nap. He’d get up, eat his breakfast or lunch and take another nap. Cathy would come home at night and tell Wayne, “This horse is just remarkable. He is so laid back in the barn and so with it.”

But between May and August, the colt went through a dramatic growth spurt. His hips shot up and he became a bit roach-backed. But he still was the coolest colt on the farm. The question now was whether or not buyers would be attracted to him.

“So he went up to Saratoga, but had turned into this glumph,” Sweezey said. “The Woolcotts were beside themselves. We were beside ourselves, because here we had this beautiful horse in May and now he’s a big ‘ol hunk of a horse and we had to buy him back for $195,000. Shel was hanging out at the barn and he was having a bad sale and we’re all lamenting. Cathy and I were mortified he didn’t sell, because we loved the colt and recognized that he had turned into this big gangly horse. Shel looks at him and asks, ‘Who’s that?’ We tell him, it’s a Tapit colt, out of a Pleasant Colony mare. Of course, he had an association with Pleasant Colony through his father. When he looked at him, the colt was lying in his stall, with his head halfway out the stall door, and he’s sound asleep. Shel starts telling us about how he went with his father to the barn the morning of the Kentucky Derby and there’s press everywhere and it’s noisy, and there is Pleasant Colony sound asleep in his stall. And here it’s noisy outside and this colt is doing the exact same thing.”

Cathy began telling him how much she loved the colt and how special he was, and Evans asked how much the Woolcotts wanted for him. He was not concerned at all about the growth spurt, saying, “Well, that’s the way a Pleasant Colony is supposed to look right now.”

Evans added, “Cathy Sweezey urged me, ten times probably, to look at the horse and dragged me back and I said I didn't get any money for the other horses, I don't have any money to spend on him.  She said you've got to buy this horse. He didn't sell so they discounted him substantially and I said finally, ‘All right, I'll buy him.’  She made me do it.”

Tonalist was sent to Bill Harrigan at Miacomet Farm, who gave him his early training at Payson Park.

“He was a big horse, so we took our time with him,” Harrigan said. “He was very kind and laid back and did everything pretty easily when we started breezing him. He gobbled up ground with that huge stride. We were very high on him, and when Mr. Evans said Chris was going to train him, I told Chris, ‘He’s always been sound for a big horse and never had a hitch. He’s very laid back and sleeps a lot.’”

Before he began training, he was broken at Miacomet by Mark McEntee, who, at age 18, came to America with the 23-year-old Clement after they worked together for Luca Cumani in England. McEntee became Clement’s assistant when they started out with only four horses in 1991.

“Tonalist looked exceptional coming off the van,” McEntee said. “It was very obvious right away he had talent; just the length of his stride and his beautiful action. Mr. Evans picked the perfect trainer for this horse.”

But when he arrived at Clement’s barn it took him a while to get his act together.

“He trained OK, like a nice horse,” Clement said, while sitting on his favorite bench on the apron one morning about two weeks before the Belmont. “First time out, he finished fourth, but it was a good fourth on a track that was speed favoring. It took him a bit longer to get going at Payson Park, so I waited until he started to trainer better. He broke his maiden impressively and trained well, but was spotted extremely poorly by his trainer, who ran him in the worst allowance race of the year, in that it was a very speed-favoring track, and he did well to finish second to Constitution (who would go on to win the grade I Besilu Florida Derby).

“We were aiming for the (Twinspires.com)) Wood Memorial (gr. I) and he worked OK in his two works, but came back from his second work with mucus in his lungs; a three on a scale of one to five, and was a little sore on both feet. We backed off and gave him some time and he started training OK. Then he won the Peter Pan, but there was a little question mark with his feet after the race. We gave him an easy week and then after an easy work I started to go full steam ahead with him in order to get to the Belmont Stakes in top condition.”

Clement made it a point to compliment Evans.

“He is a great guy,” he said. “Every time he talks to you the horse always comes first, which is so refreshing. When I called him and told him it was a mistake to go for the Wood, he said, ‘Well, I guess we won’t make the Derby this year.’ I said, ‘I guess not,” and he answered, ‘Well, just do whatever is best for the horse.’”

With Tonalist winning the Peter Pan on May 10 and Ride On Curlin finishing a powerful second to California Chrome in the Preakness Stakes, it left jockey Joel Rosario, who rode both colts, and his agent Ron Anderson with a difficult decision on who to ride in the Belmont.

Immediately after the Preakness, Clement sent a text to Anderson, asking “Am I in trouble?” And Anderson replied, “No.”

“He either likes him or he just rides far more horses for our stable than for Billy Gowan,” Clement said.

 Evans obviously wanted to win the Belmont, but as a sportsman and lover of the game, he hated the thought of being a spoiler.

“He told everyone, ‘Let’s all stay below the radar on this until we see what the horse does,” Sweezey said several weeks before the Belmont. “Of course, he wants to win, but he doesn’t want to deal with possibly being a spoiler until after the fact. He just wanted to keep a low profile.”

As the Belmont grew closer, Clement briefly thought about taking the blinkers off Tonalist, but decided not to make any changes.

“He still thinks life is a big game,” he said. “When we left New York last fall I was expecting the race to move him up mentally and it didn’t. I was very disappointed, so I put the blinkers on him. I probably should take them off, but it’s so difficult when the horse is running well. It’s very difficult to change something that’s working. I’ve watched the last 10 Belmonts and it’s amazing that going a mile and a half, you still have to be on or near the pace.”

Confidence was growing in the Clement barn. Two weeks before the race, exercise rider Jerry Fogarty, who used to gallop Gio Ponti, stated with total conviction in this thick Irish accent, “He won’t get beat in the Belmont.”

Meanwhile, California Chrome was going about his business and posing for photographers every morning. He would come out just as the sun was appearing over the horizon and would illuminate his golden coat, giving it a radiant splendor. His one and only work between the Preakness and Belmont impressed everyone who saw it, as the colt galloped out strongly and just kept going until he was pulled up after a mile.

Art Sherman, who has a string of horses at Los Alamitos Racetrack, didn’t show up until several days before the Belmont, leaving his son and assistant Alan to handle the barrage of media questions each day. When Art arrived, he loved what he saw.

“Actually, I think he looks better now than he did after the Preakness,” he said. “I can’t believe how much weight he’s put on. He’s an amazing horse. I know there are a lot of fresh horses taking a shot at him and he’ll have a target on his back, but this horse in the real McCoy. This whole experience has been wild and woolly. I don’t think he has to win the Triple Crown to be a hero. He’ll always be a hero to me. If he can get the Belmont, that’ll be the hat trick.”

The draw did not go particularly well for Tonalist, who drew post 11 on the far outside, putting him in danger of getting hung wide on that sweeping first turn.

Clement is a veteran who has seen it all and he wasn’t going to let post position bother him.

“I’ll let Rosario worry about it,” he said. “I have 70 horses to train and I’m not going to lose sleep over post positions.”

Belmont day, with its extraordinary card of major stakes worth some $8 million, dawned without a cloud in the sky. With the track open for training from 5 to 8 a.m., Tonalist, as usual, was the first one out at 5 o’clock. Cian McEntee, son of Mike McEntee and a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, who has been interning with Clement for only 2 1/2 weeks after working with the yearlings at Miacomet Farm, was handed the shank on Tonalist and allowed to lead him to the track. He was not aware, however, that the colt doesn’t like anyone pulling on his mouth, and when he gave a yank on the chain approaching the track, Tonalist reared straight up in the air and nearly clipped him on the head.

“I’m alive, and more important, he’s in one piece,” McEntee said. “He’s ready to go. That would have been a helluva thing for my first Belmont to get kicked in the head.”

Shortly after Tonalist left the track, California Chrome came out for a jog, as Art Sherman looked on with his morning cup of coffee.

“I got a good night’s sleep and went to bed early,” he said. “Today’s the big day. It’s been like a whirlwind and it finally caught up with me. It’s been pretty wild. What a responsibility. I’m so glad Alan’s got my back, which allowed me to get back home for a while.”

With a crowd of 102,199 in attendance, California Chrome was sent off as the 4-5 favorite, with Wicked Strong second choice at 5-1, followed by Ride On Curlin and Commanding Curve at 8-1 and Tonalist at 9-1.

Surprisingly, it was Commissioner, second in the Peter Pan, who was sent to the lead, followed by California Chrome and General a Rod from the outside. Tonalist, as feared, was caught about five-wide going into the first turn, as the entire field was tightly bunched, with about seven lengths separating first from last.

Around the first turn, General a Rod moved into second, as Victor Espinoza elected to sit back off the pace with California Chrome. Behind the first three were Medal Count, Wicked Strong, and Tonalist on the outside, as they went the opening quarter in :24.06.

Entering the backstretch, Tonalist eased his way into fourth, as the field remained bunched, with Samraat surprisingly last. After a half in :48.52, Commissioner still held a narrow lead over General a Rod, as the field remained pretty much the same. As Tonalist moved closer to the leaders, California Chrome, instead of staying on the inside, was taken four wide by Espinoza, with Medal Count and Wicked Strong still right there in the hunt.

Around the far turn, California Chrome moved up on the outside, but didn’t show that typical acceleration, pretty much hanging there with the top three. With three-quarters in 1:12.84, Commissioner still hung tough, but General a Rod looked to stick his head in front briefly. Turning into the stretch, California Chrome now had to play the role of closer, but despite a series of left-handed whips from Espinoza was unable to gain any ground. General a Rod began to back out of it, leaving Commissioner with a clear lead and Tonalist trying to chase him down. Medal Count was always right there, but unable to threaten the leaders. California Chrome drifted out slightly forcing Espinoza to switch to a right-handed whip.

It was now Commissioner, at 28-1, trying to hold off Tonalist, who was relentless. As they hit the wire, it was Tonalist by a head, with a game Commissioner second by a length over Medal Count. California Chrome and Wicked Strong hit the wire together, dead-heating for fourth, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths. The time was 2:28.52.

It was discovered while unsaddling that California Chrome had grabbed his right front quarter, taking a fairly big chunk of skin off. Photographs revealed it actually was 40-1 shot Matterhorn who stepped on him coming out of the gate, making California Chrome’s effort much better than it first appeared. Another casualty of the race was Ride On Curlin, who was eased after displacing his palate and bleeding a little as well.

Elliott Walden, president/CEO and racing manager of WinStar Farm, took Commisioner’s defeat in stride, having been on the other end of the photo in the 1998 Belmont.

“It was a tough beat, but I was really pleased with his effort,” he said. “I felt at a mile and a half he was in his rhythm and they’d have a tough time getting by him. I’ve been there with Victory Gallop (who defeated Real Quiet in the Belmont by nose) and I’m thinking about that now. You win some you lose some. I’m looking forward to the Jim Dandy (gr. II) and the Travers (gr. I).

For the Shermans, it was the end of a long, hard, but magical journey.

“It’s been great. I have no complaints at all,” Alan said as he headed back to the barn. “He tried his heart out. That’s all you can ask. We’ll send him to the farm and get that quarter healed up. We’ll live to fight another day.”

Art added, “We’ve had such a good run with him. He won six races in a row and doesn’t have anything to prove to anybody. I thought he had a good shot at the quarter pole, but maybe that foot got to stinging him.”

Over at Clement’s barn, it was all revelry, as the entire crew gathered to have their photo taken with the blanket of carnations.

“Well, we both survived this morning,” McEntee said. “You can bet I’ll never touch his mouth again,”

Lee Vickers, who exercises Tonalist, said, “It’s just an absolute pleasure riding him every day. It’s a privilege to get on him. He’s just a beautiful horse to ride; good as gold.  I thought the Belmont would be perfect for him, because he loves the track, he’s an exceptional galloper, and he stays forever. He lays down all the time and just chills. He’s just a classy, professional horse.”

Clement, who finally removed the stigma of being a grass trainer, refused to take credit for his superb training job, winning the Belmont with a colt with only four career starts.

“He did it all,” he said. “I didn’t do anything special. I trained him like any other horse. Unfortunately, the Virginia Derby (a former grass race) doesn’t exist anymore. That’s a joke. We’ll keep him on dirt for a while.”

So, perhaps, one day the new generation of racing fans will get that Triple Crown winner and have something to tell their grandchildren, just like Alice did when “she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago.”


Leave a Comment:


Thank you Steve for your as always, very insightful comments. Although I was rooting for California Chrome in the Belmont, I do think that Tonalist ran a great race and am a real fan of Tapit offsprings, so it was bittersweet to have him defeat Chrome. But I think that his connections should be very proud and feel that he has a great future.

Otherwise back to the debate - sorry, but I think it's important - I’m a long time horse racing fan and believe that the sport is selling itself short – big time - by not being creative and adapting to modern times.  The Triple Crown (TC) system is probably too set in tradition (i.e., a sacred cow) to realistically mess with too much – it just wouldn’t go over with all the traditionalists –but yet I could see that some tweaking could be beneficial. And there have been some great suggestions lately about purse incentives and point systems to get more owners into running in all 3 TC races and excluding more of the ‘newbies’ coming into it, that I think deserve a lot of serious consideration.  Overall though, my main point is that with all the great horses and the wonderful variety in racing  there is to work with - various distances, turf vs dirt, male vs female, older vs younger categories, etc – why is the sport not capitalizing on this and creating new and exciting challenges and competitions to create and honor more equine ‘heroes’, ways to get fans more involved and coming to racetracks to cheer them on, and more opportunities for bettors to spend/make money in this great sport, etc.?! I mean why are we SO focused on JUST the TC and the excellent, but only once a year, Breeder’s Cup races?! In my eyes, both the pure horse-lover fans and the bettors would love to have more opportunities to get involved!! Instead of watching our equine heroes getting dashed again and again in the elusive TC-killing Belmont Stakes, let’s give them (fans and bettors) - and the horses and their owners – new and better competitions! Which could also be created in a way that would be more compatible with modern equine maturation and racing timing, so that we are not hurting or putting the horses to disadvantage, but instead, complimenting their development and ability to excel - and perhaps even keeping them in racing for a longer period of time for us to enjoy?? For example, why not create new ‘TCs’  (or some type of equivalent) for sprint horses, fillies and mares, turf horses, distance horses, older horses, etc  - and have cross over categories too - like let’s be creative and make more opportunity for all and make it better too?! Instead of once again watching all the momentum and joy created by yet another TC bid be dashed by silence and awkwardness, and yet more people turning away from the sport because there that’s all there is – just one (virtually impossible) opportunity to have an equine hero?!  Surely, with all the wealth and variety of incredible horses and categories of excellence, we can do better than this to both honor the horses; owners, trainer and jockeys; and most importantly, the fans/bettors – as they are who drive the industry. And that if we don’t come up with some creative ideas and opportunities, unfortunately,  I think that horse racing will continue to decline as a national sport, sorry to say……. But - if the movers and shakers get together and come up with some new ideas, it just could be a whole new future world of excitement in our favorite sport- a ‘win-win’ situation all around, really! So let’s stop debating on just the TC dilemma, and start focusing on the real future of the sport! Let’s not have the TC be the ONLY thing that excites and drives ordinary people to tune in to horse racing! Otherwise, looking forward to Tonalist and Chrome and all the other good horses facing off in the future - there will be some real interesting match ups coming up!

09 Jun 2014 9:15 PM

You have to put some of he blame on CC's defeat with the rider.  When Commissioner, arguably the slowest plodder in the race, goes to the front, Espinosa has to put Chrome on the lead.  His hesitation will always make one wonder what would have happened if he attempted to go wire to wire?

09 Jun 2014 9:32 PM

Thanks for another amazing recap and for all your info and pictures throughout this time!  I love Tapit so am glad he got a Belmont winner - now maybe people will stop saying he can't get "mile and a quarter" offspring (which he already has several but I keep reading that from people)...LOL    I really thought Chrome would win it all but I still believe some special horse will do it someday and I think it will be soon (two horses won 2 of 3 in the past three years).  I will always be against ANY changes to the triple crown as making it easier to win invalidates the accomplishment.  Thanks again!   :-)

09 Jun 2014 9:52 PM
Alicia McQuilkin

Clement certainly did do an excellent job of keeping Tonalist under the radar, and I'm glad you brought to light what an affable horse he is. It's hard to hate a spoiler that is a classy character and his people reflect that as well.

I'm still amazed at what a gutsy performance 'Chrome turned in. I sincerely hope that he does come back this Fall and next year, along with so many of the others like Medal Count, Ride On Curlin and General A Rod (hopefully Honor Code as well). They've certainly shown great potential and grit and the summer and fall G1 should be stacked beautifully! Once they start competing against the older horses, it's going to be extra exciting!

09 Jun 2014 10:36 PM

I have to admit, I'm a little (okay a lot) heartbroken over this one.  I was not alive for any of the Triple Crown winners so I'm still waiting to see one.  I remember each failed attempt like it was yesterday.  I really thought that this was going to be the year, and I at very least expected to see a Birdstone or Victory Gallop like performance beat him.  Not taking anything away from Tonalist, but if Chrome had shown just a small kick for the wire . . . .

IMO racing needs to make some changes to the Triple Crown.  I don't think they need to restrict anyone from running in the Belmont or change the spacing of the races.  I remember the point system that others have mentioned on here and I think its a good idea, if you offer enough money to the horse that accumulates the most points over the course of the series, I think you would see more horses running in 2 out of the 3.  I think you could take it one step farther and weight the points so that the Derby was worth the most and the Preakness was worth more than the Belmont.  I also think that the strong undercard could also help limit the Belmont field, we already saw 3 horses who could have ran in the Belmont running on the undercard, which is a step in the right direction as they were all well placed and likely better off to skip the big race. While the point system won't solve all the problems, its eaily doable and wouldn't change the prestige of the Triple Crown.  Heck the casual racing fan who only tunes in to the national TV telecast probably wouldn't even notice it!  Plus it would provide some entertainment on years where there is no Triple Crown on the line at the Belmont.

The last point I'll make is the real reason why I feel that we have not seen a Triple Crown winner in so long.  I don't think horses that run in all three races are getting any favors by receiving Lasix 3 times in a 5 week period.  I'm not against Lasix but I do think that 3 doses in 5 weeks is likely the reason for the fatigue we see in horses during the Belmont.  Chrome looked like a different horse on race day than he had appeared in the mornings leading up to the race.  Its hard on them plain and simple.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if a horse were to win the Derby on Lasix, not run on it in the Preakness and then add it back for the Belmont.  This is just my simple observation but it doesn't seem to me like it wipes a horse out as badly when its given 4-5 weeks apart vs. 3 times in 5 weeks.  Maybe this is an arguement for changing the spacing of the races, however I would like to dream that the approach to giving Lasix might change vs. changing the sport to confirm to the use of it.  

Thanks Steve for yet another amazing Triple Crown season.  I will still look forward to the day when you get to write a column about a Triple Crown winner.  I'm just not yet over the fact that it wasn't about Chrome.  

09 Jun 2014 10:39 PM
Katie L.


Victor already explained his decision. He felt, right out of the gates that he didn't have the same California Chrome under him, he felt different at the start (because of the injury that Victor couldn't know about). He didn't want to push him early, so he chose to take him back and try get him into his normal strides.

09 Jun 2014 11:07 PM
Paula Higgins

This was really a good one Steve. Loved the part of how Mr. Evans really didn't have the money to buy him but he was discounted because they really thought he should have him. That is pretty funny. I can just picture him laying there, not looking especially like the second coming of Secretariat, and Mr. Evans mulling over whether he should buy him or not. I am happy for them. You know, these horses, each and every one of them, do their best to run fast. I have no complaints about any one of them and just hope we do them justice, not the other way around.

09 Jun 2014 11:48 PM
Steel Dragon

The whole race made no sense. What in the world was Ortiz thinking with Samraat?

10 Jun 2014 12:22 AM

Any doubt that Chrome would have spurted away from them, if sound?

10 Jun 2014 12:29 AM

Tonalist is such a cutie!I LOVE his big blaze.Such a good big boy!

And CC ran a valiant race-and I LOVE his blaze!

And this article was great!

10 Jun 2014 12:50 AM

Thanks for providing everyone with the background on Tonalist. His story deserves to be told but with all the drama surrounding California Chrome and Mr. Coburn it would have been easy for some to overlook him and the other contenders.

10 Jun 2014 3:54 AM

I will not be one following the next time "down the rabbit hole" next time!

My interest in horse racing began suddenly with Smarty Jones bid for the Triple Crown. I live 15 mins from PARX and was quite caught up in the "Smarty Party"!  I was so very sure he was the next TC winner! But then, I knew NOTHING about horses or racing..... ahh blissfully unaware!  Since that initiation, I've become an avid fan but one who is increasingly more educated and thus, more of a realist. I've learned about things like bloodlines and training and stamina vs speed. With each TC hopeful that has come these past 10 years, Smarty, Big Brown, I'll Have Another and now Calif Chrome, I've found myself less and less part of the pre-Belmont excitement.  My attitude has become one of "I'll leave that sort of blind faith to those unaware drop-in fans".  I wish I could be more hopeful that we will see another TC winner. If today's breeding and training protocols were more closely inline with those practiced 35-40 yrs ago, I think I would allow myself to be.  Bill Nack summarized the reason for my deeply lurking doubt when he wrote: "That Golden Age of the '70s is no more. The American Thoroughbred, once the apotheosis of the whole breed, has been weakened and compromised....... That once-great American thoroughbred gene pool -- the blue lagoon that produced Swaps and Nashua, Damascus and Dr. Fager, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, Forego and Secretariat -- has been so badly depleted that American pedigrees are increasingly bereft of those classic lines that produced Triple Crown winners. The true distance horse, the true mile-and-a-half horse, is becoming a rare bird in the aviary of American racing. Is there any wonder there's not been a Triple Crown winner in 36 years?"

10 Jun 2014 8:01 AM
food fight

Hats off to Tonalist and his connections he was a head better than Commissioner. I believe there is one crucial factor in the outcome of the Belmont and that was Joel Rosario's incredible ride. As we know he is one of the strongest closing riders in the nation but as we witnessed in the Belmont he is one of the best jockeys to get a horse off his wrong lead and finish.If you look at Tonalist the last 1/8 of a mile he was on his left lead and in my opinion would have finished in a photo for second with Medal Count had Rosario not thrown countless crosses at him and left handed urging to get Tonalist back on his right lead and it was then and then only that he surged at the wire.When you look at the gallop out a stride after the wire Commissioner was back in front by a full length.This was an amazing ride on a very tired colt.As i had been saying all along Commissioner would run huge in the Belmont and i almost got the hole enchilada.    

10 Jun 2014 8:09 AM
Scott's Rail

I didn't have CC on top.  I did have the first 3 finishers on my Tri-tickets.  But not on the "same" ticket.  So I do understand the angst of "second-guessing."  The winner won fair and square.  But watching the race unfold going thru the far turn was very puzzling..I think CC's jock, after the race, said, "he wasn't the same after the first half."  If I heard that right, why did you not stay on the inside like Medal Count.  Victor chose to slow-drop, to the outside.  Medal Count took his place, while not altering his pace.  Almost immediately enhancing his position.  And there, after re-routing, CC was now playing serious catch-up...It was a great TC run this year, and you were the perfect "Pilot" on this great flight..Thanx Steve, now "You" go get some much deserved R & R....

10 Jun 2014 8:11 AM
sara futh

Great story, thank you!

10 Jun 2014 9:09 AM

I wonder how many people who comment on why or why not a horse runs well have ever been on a horse at the moment he grabs a quarter (a significant grab from looking at the photo and horse's walk back to the barn.  Every horse I've been on at that unfortunate moment has immediately gimped then either stopped or was unable to stride out in his former mode.  

10 Jun 2014 9:10 AM

I have been a racing fan for a long time.  I am afraid with CC's connections spouting for new reforms to the media will spark a debate for change in the TC.  Everyone is complaining about new contenders, length between the TC races and even the length of the Belmont.  No one have I heard one excuse may be in the breeding of the horses themselves.  The TC was never meant to be easy.  It would tarnish the tradition if drastic changes were meant.  We don't breed for stamina anymore.  I remember when horses didn't have the luxury of long waits between races.  A champion will live up to the challenges.  I have never saw a owner or trainer have a tirade like Colburn had on tv, his poor wife trying to pull him back.  There has always been new contenders in the TC races.  What did he want only Ride on Curlin and General A Rod to run in the Belmont.  As for the foot problem, maybe he ought to read on War Admiral's Belmont.  He won and even broke the record that his sire set.  Horses today are even running slower than yesteryear.  Don't change the TC.

10 Jun 2014 9:32 AM

I love the way you always bring us with you behind the scenes, to the farms and the backstretch.  Although I'm as disappointed as anyone to not have a TC winner this year, I'm thrilled for the very deserving connections of the winner.  Mr. Evans & Mr. Clemont are a class act. It just dawned on me while reading your blog, that Tonalist's dam is also a 1/2 sister to Easter Bunnette, the dam of Havre de Grace.  What a family Havre de Grace's little 2014 Tapit filly was born into this year!

10 Jun 2014 9:51 AM

Wonderful perspective, Steve, and I have a new horse to root for, along with Chrome and a few others who hopefully we will get to see this summer and fall.

I do get a little perturbed when people try to put blame on Victor Espinoza. Victor's description of what it was like coming out of the gate, then realizing that something was different about his horse, was all any of us should need to know.  He is "at one" with Chrome in a way few riders are, and we know that Chrome loves to please his human handlers, in particular, Victor, making him the dream "push button" horse. At that point in the race, Victor could not know that Chrome had been stepped on and had sustained an injury, only that "something was different". From that point on, Victor could only do what he "felt" underneath him. Given what we know after the race about the injury, while minor, it had to start to sting toward the end of the race, and yet, the horse nearly pulled it off anyway. We don't know what goes on in a horse's mind, but knowing how much we know that Chrome always tried hard to please, he knew the race didn't turn out like the others he and Victor had experienced together. Part of his post-race demeanor no doubt had to do with knowing he had disappointed his "human". I was as much downhearted and disappointed for the horse than for any of us fans, or even his handlers.  As Art put it so well, the horse really did have nothing to prove, he owed us nothing, he had given us one of the most exciting lead ups in the history of the Triple Crown.  As for Victor, I really feel bad for him....it must be extremely disappointing to be given a second chance and then to have events not his fault take it from his grasp once more.  And yet, Victor and Chrome are the only ones who should not have to apologize for anything. They didn't let us down.  If we blame them in any way, we are letting them down. Thank you Victor, and thank you, Chrome, for all the thrills and joy this spring. You both are heroes to me, and there's always the Breeders' Cup this fall! There's always one more race, and I'm hoping we get to see more next year, as well. Happy vacation, Junior!!  You've earned it!

10 Jun 2014 10:02 AM

Extract from a Derby Dozen post made on 04 Feb 2014

"The colt excluded from Mr. Haskin’s list that I truly love and will be placing a rare future wager on is Tonalist. He is one of the 16 Tapits on the Derby trail. I should not like him as he is the product of an overbred stallion. However, his dam was sired by Pleasant Colony who hails from the Ribot sire line. Secretariat was a disappointment as a sire. The only winner of a Triple Crown race sired by him was Risen Star. Which broodmare line facilitated this success? Ribot! Risen Star's dam sire was His Majesty a son of Ribot.

His Majesty just happens to be the sire of Pleasant Colony. Tapit has a litany of stakes winners but none have been recorded in Triple Crown races. If the Ribot broodmare line helped Secretariat, it can help Tapit.

Pleasant Colony is rarely seen in the pedigrees of Derby type horses, with Pleasant Tap being his best. He has done well as a broodmare sire as his mares have produced over 100 stakes winners here and abroad. He was the dam sire of Kentucky Oaks winner Farda Amiga who also finished 2nd in the distaff. Multiple G1 winner and multi-millionaire Marsh Side was produced from one of his mares.

Tonalist was always destine for glory. He was my firm choice in the Belmont.

10 Jun 2014 10:02 AM
Sonny Jacobs

It is a shame as racing sure could have used Chrome to win. No horse of the recent past was adopted by so many people, many that were not racing fans.

With all the racing industry has done to destroy racing through their greed, refusal to work together or step into the 21st Century in Marketing. Chrome all by himself turned racing into what it should be in America, more than just a back page half paragraph mention if that on most race days.

By only loosing the race by 1 3/4 lengths after having the back of his hoof ripped off coming out of the gate. Had to be a very painful run for the horse. I hear folks that say it was nothing, let me chop one of their toes off and see how well they run. My hope is to see them ship Tonalist out to Santa Anita for a run against Chrome in the Breeders Cup. That would be a great way to keep some of the non racing fans that jumped on Chrome involved and would be good for racing.

As for changing any part of the Triple Crown I say keep it just as it is. If you want your name next to Seattle Slew, Citation and Secretariat you earn it like they did.

As for California Chrome?, he is bigger now and is still the Rock Star. I hear they might race him as a 4 year old and he should be back for Breeders Cup. Wow race him as a 4 year old, maybe the horse and the owners can teach the win two races and retire to stud crowd a thing or two.  

10 Jun 2014 10:41 AM

I'm of the belief that if a horse hasn't run in either the Derby and/or the Preakness, they shouldn't be allowed to run in the Belmont OR they have to have won a graded stakes race sometime during the period between the Derby and the Belmont.  Tonalist definitely belonged in the Belmont according to my way of thinking which I know full well that not everyone will agree with.  A couple horses had no business in the Belmont.  Refer to Johnny V.'s remarks on the same subject if you think I'm talking through my hat.  The dynamics of the race would have changed with 2 less horses - post positions would have changed (for better, for worse), and Chrome wouldn't have gotten stepped on coming out of the gate.  It's my opinion that the injury cost him the race.  That's my final answer, and I'm sticking with it.  No offense to Clement and Tonalist.  Class act.

10 Jun 2014 10:49 AM

I REALLY appreciate this article!  I, for one, missed all of the 'back story' on Tonalist in my disappointment over CC.  We're all still debating the Rules of the Crown, and my daughter, who is a writer for Horse Nation and a life-long fan, researched the stats on Triple Crown starters, fascinating.  www.horsenation.com/.../why-i-hope-we-never-see-another-triple-crown-winner

10 Jun 2014 11:14 AM
Smoking Baby

Racingfan beat me to it.  Tapit has in fact already produced winners at 1 1/4 at the top level but for some reason we continue to read that he produces only horses incapable of winning beyond 1 1/8.  This Belmont win by Tonalist is a big feather in his cap and should go a long way toward erasing the myth.

On a side note, my buddy picked Tonalist out of the 2012 Saratoga sale in our fantasy game (a million to spend at Saratoga each year).  He got him for the RNA price and of course it was a bargain.  Smoking Baby so far has three maidens from the same sale.  Back to the drawing board this August. Hope springs eternal.

10 Jun 2014 11:55 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

Thank you for the encouraging words about dreams and the Triple Crown.  I am very sorry that California Chrome didn't win.  This morning on my daily walk I passed an elementary school.  Several little boys, age 5-6 ran up to the playground fence and one recognized my Chrome T-shirt. Living in far West Texas where racing flies miles under the radar, I was impressed by his awareness. So thank you, California Chrome, for the fun and excitement and the interest you brought to my favorite sport.  

10 Jun 2014 12:04 PM

Thank you for the background story of the Belmont winner Tonalist.  I am positive every horse in the race has a great backstory too.   It was a heartbreaker however and it was very quiet at Santa Anita where I was sitting.  He had lots of support and we look forward to seeing him again.

10 Jun 2014 12:48 PM

I can't believe after finding out about his injury, people still complain about Espinoza's ride. Art Sherman said he was glad VE held Chrome back and did't push him to the lead because, along with his grabbed quarter, he received a cut along the tendon that could have snapped. Chrome probably wasn't the same horse out of the gate because he was stepped on and Matterhorn slammed into him, knocking the wind out of him.

10 Jun 2014 12:52 PM
Jen W

One of my favorite things to do every year is go to the Breakfast at Belmont in the weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.  The very first day I went, I was up and at the track by 5:30 because I was told that's when California Chrome came out and I needed to see "the Big Horse" for myself.  I also wanted to see all of the other contenders on the track as they would be his competition - had to size them up!  The media was there that day, but not as many as would be a week later. CC came out with his entourage snapping away and walked onto the track to start his morning routine.

From here, it was fun! It was like a game trying to spot saddle cloths and blazes not just coming down the track, but also onto and off of the track. I saw the Clement horses down by the rail in front of the Clubhouse and saw a glimpse of Tonalist from afar.  When he galloped past us, I was mesmerized. I knew when Chrome was coming, I'd hear the click of a hundred cameras, so instead, I started looking for Tonalist to come past again. That was his second time around, though...he was coming off the track now.  I stood at the gap waiting for him to come out and noticed an older man standing next to me. When Tonalist emerged from behind the big green gate, the man next to me was staring at him and said, "Who is that big, beautiful boy?" Several of us said, “That's Tonalist.” He said, "He's going to be tough to beat in the Belmont."  The man was Billy Turner - Seattle Slew's Trainer.  I knew then I had my Belmont Stakes horse, but I still had to do my research.  As much as I watched all the other horses work, I couldn't stop coming back to Tonalist.  I watched his past races, I scrutinized his gallops I looked over all his number figures...he matched Chrome’s numbers and bypassed the other horses. He was my Belmont pick.

I was probably one of a small number of HAPPY people in the crowd after the Belmont.  As everyone tried to get pics of Chrome, I was snapping away at Tonalist as he tried to get into the Winners' Circle!  I know people at the Clement barn and they are WONDERFUL people!  I was SO VERY HAPPY for them.  

As much as I would LOVE to see a Triple Crown, I’m not willing to overlook the competition.  That would be completely disrespectful.  One of the very first rules you learn in this game is ANYTHING can happen in a horse race!  Thank you so much, Steve, for this wonderful article!  I LOVED reading the part where Tonalist had his head 1/2 out of his stall sleeping.  My mare used to do the same thing! :-)

10 Jun 2014 1:10 PM

I would appreciate your views on the Triple Crown and if you think changes should be implemented, Steve. I have an opinion, as most fans do. Fresh horses and new shooters make the Triple Crown a true test of superiority, and they should never be excluded from participation. Success by elimination is not truly a success. If a horse wishes to pursue the crown, he must prove himself worthy of being king, and should be willing to take on all challengers. However, unlike many who've commented on the subject, I don't think small changes, such as time between races and weight assignments, would diminish the accomplishment of winning the crown. Horses of yesteryear were tough as nails, people were tougher, more resilient. We are all a weaker species today. I'm sure some will argue this point, but I'm convinced I'm correct. Look at the soldiers in wars. In the Civil War, CHILDREN fought, froze, starved, endured unbearable pain, and continued to march on and fight. With no drugs, they were held down while their limbs were sawed off. They endured hell without so much as a whimper. With each war, soldiers tolerate less and the personal toll is greater. Yes, thoroughbreds of the golden era were iron horses, people were tougher a century ago. Everything evolves, whether for the better or worse. We are running a different animal today. If we are expecting horses like California Chrome to compare to horses like War Admiral, Citation, and Secretariat, we are expecting too much and disappointment will overshadow the joy of the sport. I see no harm in making moderate changes to the Triple Crown trail, for the purpose of leveling the playing field. I don't want it to be "easy", but I'd like it to be fair, while keeping the integrity of the crown in tact.

10 Jun 2014 1:26 PM

Deltalady...wow...spot on with your comments! 100% agree with you!

10 Jun 2014 1:52 PM
steve from st louis

As far as I'm concerned, racing was the biggest winner Saturday with Tonalist's victory. Breeders will be knocking down the Evans' colt's breeding shed door. He's inbred to both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospectator and has representation in all five chef-de-race categories with a 5-13-14-1-1 (34) pedigree. Only Medal Count was higher with a 7-7-21-0-1 (36). My 1-11 exacta tickets surely found their way to the dumpster by now.

Anyone in the game has to be happy for the Evans; they've supported the sport for so long, doing what's right for their horse. Enough has been said about Coburn, too. Thank goodness his horse showed more class than his owner. At least the colt wasn't embarrased in defeat.

10 Jun 2014 2:25 PM
Minnesota Jim

If you win the Triple Crown, then you deserve it. The best horse I have seen in my lifetime has to be Cigar. Too bad he was late developing.  

10 Jun 2014 3:10 PM
El Kabong

Great piece Steve. As usual, you  get so much behind the scenes detail it is amazing.

DeltaLady, well said.

Coldfacts, don't you ever get tired trying to document your genius on Steve's site? It's getting a bit shameless when Steve writes a story like this and all you can do is use the opportunity to grandstand. Down in front please.

10 Jun 2014 4:02 PM
JoAnn Wilt

I believe it is time to let the Belmont rest.  All the horses showed their strengths, including Chrome.  However, I do believe it is time to put the triple crown in it's grave as more horses are so much stronger now than 40 years ago.  You don't have 2 or 3 that are strong but they specialize now days in the lengths that they are good at which has been good for racing and the horses.  But that means there will always be spoilers that will succeed in keeping a triple crown winner from succeeding.  It's time to stop trying and let the horses and trainers decide what races are best for their horse.  There is no need to over run your horse and tire him out for something that will not happen.  Put the triple crown in it's grave and forget the money it brought in and let the horses run their races!  

Steve Coburn's frustration was nothing more than believing all the racing gods that such an event will occur.  It would make the business more responsible to the horses and less abusive to them.  I love horse racing.  To watch a horse's valiant effort to run is an example of how all of us should run our races in life.

JoAnn Wilt

10 Jun 2014 4:12 PM

I follow horse racing sporadically, mostly to get away from the awfulness of the world of bad news. I read your column because you are such a good writer and I enjoy your in-depth stories about horses and people.

  The comments about breeding for speed and precocity and thereby losing endurance led me to the one book I have on the Thoroughbred. (by Peter Willett, c 1970) I was surprised to find that the same things were being said in the 1850s. It was that long ago that the classic horse was defined as one that was able to run a mile and a half at age three. A fifth of the horses that were running were two-year-olds. That was more than a century and half ago.

   I was amused by some of the names I encountered in the old bloodlines: for example, Pot-8-os,an important sire in the Eclipse line who was bred to Huncamunca in the Herod line. That was in the late 1700s.  Some folks have a sense of humor.

   I was glad you wrote some perspective on Mr. Coburn. I was not so generous. I thought of him as god's gift to playwrights and humorists -- think of long-form writers such as Bill Bryson or Bailey White, neither of whom write of horses but have the amused eye that would do well with horse racing topics. In 50 years I've been to a race track probably fewer than ten times, all different tracks, with $20 to bet to show. People like me aren't much support for race tracks but if there were a whole lot us, it would make going to the race track on a nice day look like the fun outing it is. Shiny horses and varieties of homo sapiens to study. Fascinating. Maybe more big bettors would show up, too.

  I look forward to many more of your columns.

   Another takeaway from Thoroughbred history -- a lot of outstanding horses came from less than stellar breeding.

10 Jun 2014 6:10 PM

I would never have commented if comments were not moderated. I want my comments to be informative but taken lightly. A writer can never be sure how one's own comments will be perceived by others.

10 Jun 2014 6:52 PM

Really thought it was going to happen this year. All well lesson learned as far as an investor.  

Had second and third on my tri tix but not good when you toss the winner..

Steve thank you for a great Derby dozen triple crown season.

I'll check in now and then but until next year

I wish all good health and all the best..


10 Jun 2014 7:55 PM
Mister Frisky

Tapit might not have gotten his Derby winner yet,but that doesn't mean he won't before it's all over.Tonalist was as live as they come.Win over the track,top conditioner,top jock,classy owner.Would like to give a rare complement to Pletcher,great job and strategy with Commissioner.He may make a lot of mistakes due to the size of his operation and lack of being hands on with most his horses.There is no way he can mail it in for Walden and Winstar.Very dangerous horse moving forward.

10 Jun 2014 8:22 PM
Paula Higgins

Deltalady, well said!!!!

10 Jun 2014 8:52 PM

Interesting comment Spectator.  I have said the same thing, as I have books that go back to the early 1900's and they were all complaining about "breeding for speed" then too.  It makes me laugh when I hear people say "now days the horses..."  etc etc....  One old time owner/breeder though put it in perspective when he said "everyone breeds for speed as it is the fastest horse that gets there first".  LOL!  

Also, I do not subscribe to the nonsense that today's horses are more "fragile" than those of the past.  The research I have read does NOT support an inherent unsoundness of the breed.  There are 5-10 times as many horses racing today as in days of old so even at the same percentage, there would be many more injuries, thus the "perception" of fragility.  But anyone who thinks horses did not get injured in the past need only to read old Blood Horse magazines to see the names of the injured all over the place.  It has always happened and cannot be avoided - but in this day and age, everything is publicized and scrutinized whereas that was not the case back in the day.  The Triple Crown is for the LEGENDS of the sport, and one day another one will arrive for us all to fall in love with.  However, who cares how long it takes?  A person on another site compared it to baseball, in which there is a team that has not won a championship since 1908 - but nobody is trying to change the rules so they can win.  They just keep trying!  And lastly, I am of the belief that "winning the Triple Crown" is not a top priority among owners or trainers these days....the Kentucky Derby yes (and then the TC if you're the lucky winner).  But I don't believe they START their colts with the goal in mind of the Triple Crown (even Chrome's owners were only talking Derby until after they won it).  Now, when someone sets the TRIPLE CROWN as their entire goal and trains the horse for it from the very beginning, that is when we will see a winner.  It is not reasonable, and hardly even fair, to run a horse every 6-8 weeks and train him for that schedule, and then suddenly expect him to run and win 3 times in 5 weeks. The winners of the past all ran and worked more often and trained with progressively longer works - not the 4-5 furlongs you see most horses getting these days.  However, changing the Triple Crown spacing etc to make it easier is not the answer.  If that is done, then all future winners accomplishments would not be comparable to the past winners. Maybe a bonus for the TC win would put the focus back on it enough to make it a goal...?   So, those are my thoughts- right or wrong, who can say for sure.  But if anyone has a well bred two year old they would like to give to me, I would be happy to test my theory....LOL

10 Jun 2014 9:29 PM

I think the Triple Crown is just about unwinnable in its current format due to the vogue for longer rests between starts. And the TC isn't just the 3 races in 5 weeks; its also the qualifying period leading up to the Derby since you have to rack up those points.

One change that might be considered without neutering the challenge or disrupting the summer racing schedule completely would be to decrease the weights. I couldn't help but notice that Palice Malice, a 4 year old, came into the Metropolitan Mile as a heavy favorite at top weight of 124; top weight in the Brooklyn was 121 with the 4 year old winner carrying only 115; all the horses in the Belmont carried 126 despite being only 3. I think reducing the weight in the TC series to 122 lbs would make it just that tiny bit easier to compete effectively throughout.

10 Jun 2014 9:45 PM

Great story, Mr. Haskin. I didn't know anything about Tonalist and appreciated your insights and information. I never thought Chrome would win the Belmont. Please don't get me wrong; I adore this horse and hope he returns to graded stakes competition after a good long rest. I wonder if any owner/trainer has broken with 'tradition' and not run his Kentucky Derby and/or Preakness winner in the Belmont. That's what I would have chosen for Chrome.

10 Jun 2014 10:25 PM

I have my measured, adult comments on Evan's blog.  I now have to vent about the "the Triple Crown is too hard" whines.  

Here's the reality, guys: YES IT IS TOO HARD.  That is the point of the Triple Crown.  It was hard for every one of the winners.  It was hard for every one of the almosts.  You can win one of the races but it takes the right horse at the right time and some luck to win the Triple Crown.  And it takes greatness, which is ever more elusive in these times, when IMO it appears no one wants to take any chance with the nest possible big stud fee.

Do you all want a Triple Crown winner every year?  Go ahead and change it like Mr. Coburn said: you can only run in the Belmont if you ran in the previous two races.  What a farce that will be:  this year it would have been two horses crossing the finish line and one pulled up.  Great day for racing that Triple Crown would have been, eh?

Do you want a Triple Crown winner every couple of years:  why have the races so "close" together, or why have one of them as long as 1 1/2 miles, or why not bar any horse that hasn't reached an arbitrary set of points (forget fillies altogether, as well as late bloomers)?  Yeah, why not fix it so we can have a Triple Crown winner every four years, like the Olympics or the World Cup (soccer to you all, football to the rest to the world)?

Fergawdssakes, let's just give every starter a trophy and we can all go home.

10 Jun 2014 11:24 PM

Steve - This one, I must say was most enjoyable - a beautiful

"Wonderland" story filled with thought and imagination and unfailing compassion for racing and its most valuable assets.  I am so delighted that you presented the "story" of Tonalist here - as each one of these horses have one of their own ~ and so many of them unrecorded and/or lost in racing history ` gone "down the rabbit hole". It is imagination and creativity that sparks us to dream and passion that takes us places we have never been....thanks to California Chrome and Tonalists and the rest of the habitats of "Wonderland" we were able to be like children ourselves with wishes and dreams and hope at a time when it is surely most needed since the world we live in has become so animated and we are trying to make some "sense" out of it.  Perhaps there would be some "sense" in putting some space in between the Derby and the Preakness- as from the Preakness to the Belmont it is 3 weeks - that would not seem to hinder any other race and the 3 week period would be beneficial  so the "rabbit hole" doesn't get any bigger. The major factor here is the decline in horses that once were able to go the distance on almost any surface and that has changed because the horse has changed indicating that "tradition" holds true. To adapt the horse to the surface or vice-versa is not working - and responsible for the negative effect.  That can only change if we do not try to push a giant "Alice" through a small door..I sure do agree with the "dream of Wonderland of long ago". We had a great ride here without taking any magic "potions"  thanks to Steve Haskin. We need to remain "eager" and establish rules that will retain racing and be righteous of our horses.

10 Jun 2014 11:37 PM

I too was one of the thousands of “Alices” chasing that white rabbit down the hole.

I too so badly wanted this to be the year that we could shower a Triple Crown champion with all the accompanying accolades and glory thus ending the 36 year drought.

Whether it was fickle Lady Luck deciding to move on to another suitor, in this case the beautiful, impressive and commanding Tonalist or the Racing Gods, deciding that they would once again withhold that honor, we do not know,  we know only that once again it was just not to be.

I too will continue to be an “Alice”, chasing that white or chestnut, bay or black rabbit down the hole though I have very serious doubts that it will be in my lifetime that a Triple Crown winner will pop up out of that hole.

If the industry wants Triple Crown winners, then they need to start breeding colts and fillies that can withstand the 6 months of training and racing starting with the Derby prep races and getting points to start in the Derby and be able to spring back like a rubber band from each race and have that perfect combination of speed and endurance and stay sound through the entire process. In other words, if you want an iron horse, then they need to breed an iron horse.

Tonalist and the filly Untappable certainly shot holes in all the conjecture and expert commentary on pedigree analysis that Tapit cannot throw a horse that can run a mile and a half. That was refreshing to say the least.

Commissioner was on my list early in the prep races as a favorite to run in the Derby. Glad to see that he has started living up to his potential.

Dale Romans is a class act for sure and while he did not win, I am just delighted that Medal Count hit the board for him.

Mr Coburn, even though, crude in his presentation, simply was saying out loud what a lot of people have been saying for many years now and while they would probably never admit it, my guess is that there are trainers and owners that feel the same way.

From the outside looking in, it would seem that the racing industry has some opportunities to bring racing into the 21st century to address its problems and still retain the traditions going back 150 years. Is that doable, only time will tell. Maybe it is time for Alice to gaze into the looking glass.

Steve, I have certainly enjoyed being on this roller coaster ride with you and everyone who participates on your blogs. The words in every article leap off the computer screen, grab us and pull us into the stands,  the paddocks,the shedrows and onto the tracks and into the hearts and minds of the horses and the people both from today and the past.

10 Jun 2014 11:49 PM
Lise from Maine


I still have to wonder what would have happened if California Chrome was not injured.

Ride on Curlin was also unfortunate regarding his bleeding in the race.

Perhaps Mr. Coburn could take some lessons from Steve A. who was accused of things by PETA and how he handled himself very well when discussing those accusations to the media.

He was calm, cool and collected.

Thank you!

Lise from Maine

11 Jun 2014 9:32 AM
Sail On

Hi Steve. I am left with a ton of questions?

Samraat; seems he broke well and was right on the leaders tail, then he fell back quite suddenly, and finished last, in what I can only say was a slow paced race. Really? Does he also have a problem? Some transparency would be appreciated.

Tonalist; apparently, he was ill and could not run in the Derby, so ran the Peter Pan instead of the Preakness? Wish I knew more about this decision?

Under the radar? Indeed, every horse except Californ Chrome ran under the radar. In fact, it was difficult for the announcers to even mention the other horses in the race, and they only reluctantly did so in the post parade. After a month of celebratory treatment by the media, its no wonder how Chrome's owner responded.

Fairness is something we all expect in racing, and the media coverage was surely not fair.

I would love to read your response? Take care, Kathy

11 Jun 2014 9:58 AM

El Kabong,

The quote below was extracted from a submission made by Smoking Baby.

“On a side note, my buddy picked Tonalist out of the 2012 Saratoga sale in our fantasy game (a million to spend at Saratoga each year).  He got him for the RNA price and of course it was a bargain.”

The colt was identified early as a classy sort by others as well. Do you consider above quote a documentation of that contributor’s genius on Mr. Haskin’s site?

I am by no means a genius and I certainly do not used Mr. Haskin’s blogs to exhibit same. I just write about horses and their pedigrees if I think something significant is in play.

Tonalist was included in my first Derby Dozen. He was not missed by Mr. Haskin as he had him pooled with horses knocking at the door. When the above submission was initially made, it was made on Mr. Haskin’s DD blog. That blog is considered one of his sites. I assumed you had no problems with the submission then. It was just a reposted as I considered appropriate since Tonalist was the featured significantly in this blog.

I am very fearful for making submissions to Mr. Haskin’s blogs as they always seem to offend some of his contributors. I made a submission regarding Commissioner ahead of the Belmont and that drew a some negative comments. I was deemed to have polluted the blog and was accused of disrespecting California Chrome. Interestingly, Mr. Haskin was the one that highlighted Commission in a list of horses whose pedigrees were being evaluated for the grueling 12F distance of the Belmont.

In my submission I merely cited the record of the Commissioner’s trainer in the Belmont and particularly his success with horses with A P Indy as either sire or dam sire. What was so offensive about the submission remains a mystery to me. The Belmont result validated my post as Commissioner and Mr. Pletcher almost stole the race @28-1.

There was no genius involved in highlighting a trainer’s record in a TC race in which he has been most successful.

It appears it does not matter what I post I will offend others.

Can a brother not get a break?

11 Jun 2014 10:22 AM
lawrence vaccarelli

damn,...if your not the best horseracing writer there is or ever was...you sir are a treasure to the game   !

11 Jun 2014 10:39 AM

I would like someone to explain to me in depth why altering the time table between the Triple Crown races would upset the apple cart. I'm not an historian, but I'm sure throughout horse racing's rich history, there have been changes to the Triple Crown trail. Putting the races 4 weeks apart would benefit Pimlico because Derby horses would be less inclined to pass it over for Belmont. Late bloomers, or ponies on the mend, would have more time to jump in there and participate in one of the big races. Instead of having 5 weeks to enjoy the Triple Crown adventure, fans would get 8 weeks of fun and festivities. If the Derby horse should win the 2nd leg of the crown, people can lose their minds with anticipation for another month. The longer the trail, the better, it equates to dollars and cents for the industry. It allows extra time for the horses to rest and re-energize. They won't be forced to run tired and the risk of burn out will be diminished. The first Saturday in May, the first Saturday in June, and the first Saturday in July makes it sound traditional already. I don't like the heat factor for the Belmont date, that's the only downside I can find. I've seen 100 degree days in June, so there is never a guarantee with weather. I don't see "easy" in anything I've suggested. No horses are excluded, the open invitation to new challengers is in tact. Why didn't everyone kick and scream about the new Kentucky Derby point system that was implemented? It was a fresh new idea and it didn't destroy the Kentucky Derby. The NYRA tossed out the nasal strip ban this year and we all know how significant that rule was. Why would an extended time table ruin tradition and tarnish the Triple Crown? If this change were to prove beneficial for the horses who lay it all down for us, would it not be better for the sport?

11 Jun 2014 11:29 AM

Please excuse me in advance for appearing to lecture, I am only trying to help the game, and when people better understand it they will come to love it and the beauty of the horses that make it possible.

I'm aware many on the Bloodhorse blog community understand the triple crown and the nuances of it, however; many from the general sports world don't so I would suggest that the powers that be use the next instance to educate them. The NBC production spent many minutes rehashing the same pieces, they could surely have taken one two minute segment and explained the triple crown in detail. Maybe there is reason they don't want to, that reason escapes me. If someone can offer up reasons for NBC not wanting to explain the triple crown I would certainly be appreciative.

Perhaps we can use this years triple crown bid as a motivator to help eliminate some ignorance. This is not a difficult puzzle, there only four pieces.

Piece 1; the Kentucky Derby

Piece 2; the Preakness Stakes

Piece 3; the Belmont Stakes

These are three races for three year old horses (ONLY THREE YEAR OLD) horses.

They are held every year.

The races are held in different cities.

They are held at three different tracks that have nothing in common with one another other than they are racetracks.

Piece 4; the triple crown

What the triple crown is NOT, NOT a playoff series, NO such thing exists in thoroughbred racing, NOT A PLAYOFF.

The triple crown is a phrase coined in 1930 by a reporter that was his description of a horse that had won three races in a row, nothing more.

Once again this is NOT A PLAYOFF. This is a fact. It can be compared to a situation we might see when Tiger Woods returns from a surgery/layoff to playing tournament golf. IF, if because he didn't play in the Masters or the US Open he is NOT prohibited from playing in the PGA Championship, it is not the way golf is structured, same as horse racing. All Tiger has to do is, 1) be member of the PGA , and 2) meet the requirements for the tournament. All Tonalist had to do was, 1) be a Thoroughbred, and 2) be a three year old. Should Tiger Woods win the PGA Championship it will be noted that he came off an injury layoff and won the PGA Championship, perhaps he will win a tournament before that. Tonalist was injured/sick, came back after a layoff won a race, then won the Belmont.  

Once again, if, in 2015 Tiger Woods wins the Masters, US Open, British Open and PGA Championship we will say he won the grand slam, although the four are just golf tournaments.

If June 6th 2015 a horse wins the Belmont, and the same horse previously won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, we will say he won the triple crown, although the three are just horse races.

11 Jun 2014 1:30 PM
El Basilisco (Uruguay)

Good as always, Master!

Despite what happened in the Belmont, no doubts CC is the best colt in USA. Also, no doubts the Triple Crown calendar was not establish by reasonable people.

By the way, on Tonalist pedigree you will find COLONIA, an extraordinary Uruguayan broodmare.

11 Jun 2014 1:42 PM
El Kabong


to answer your question, NO. I would never see Smoking Baby's remark where he pats his buddy on the back(read them again slower) in the same category of your remarks which patted yourself on the back AND insulted our host with the opening remark..."the horse excluded from Mr. Haskins list that I truly love….."(you later retract that statement in your reply and give Steve credit for mentioning tonalist in his list of horses to watch… but you used the word "excluded" initially to give your gust more wind. When you did go back and check the facts, you had to retract that opening snub.  

I'm not surprised by the nature of your reply either. FIrst you try to drag someone else down to your level (Sorry Smoking Baby, you are the innocent victim of coldfacts  cheap attempt to snitch on someone else for chewing gum in class, so that he doesn't feel so all alone- but he totally missed your intent to compliment your friend and not yourself.)

And don't think for one minute I don't see the method of your "genius", Coldfacts.  You mention a multitude of horses along the trail and then revert back, when it's convenient, like you did in this case, as if Tonalist was the only horse you felt had the talent to be "destined for glory." And yet none of that is what troubled me as much as the snub you included towards Mr. Haskin and your failure to even acknowledge one ounce of what he had written. Nope, it was all about your Feb. 4th mention of Tonalist that we all needed to recognize. It's too bad you can't see the nature of what you write as you write it. Perhaps your buddy Ranagulizion could help you. I know I can't and I've tried. You just play the victim card every time every time I do.  

11 Jun 2014 2:19 PM
Arts and Letters

Thank you for focusing on the winner!  Because, according to NBC, it seems there weren't actually any other horses in the race.  Would it have been so hard to take a few minutes away from Chrome and focus on a few other horses and their connections?

11 Jun 2014 4:06 PM
Arts and Letters

It's funny.  So many people keep saying we need to breed for the triple crown, which basically means breeding more for distance.  I don't disagree with them, BTW.  But if there aren't many races at a distance, what's the point?  Who could afford to breed for races that don't exist (other than the triple crown).

So maybe the solution is to lengthen some of the big races again.  Put the Jockey Club Gold Cup back to at least a mile and a half.  Add a furlong or two to some other major Grade 1's.  Pour some more money into those races and make them worthwhile.  Figure out why long distance races in the rest of the world are so popular (look at the Melbourne Cup!)

I'm guessing the US races were shortened over time due to a perceived lack of interest.  Perhaps the public could get involved and convey their wishes to the race tracks?  Maybe petitions to increase the length of specific races? Use social media somehow to get the point across.  

Sadly, I'm not convinced change like this is possible (ie - the discontinuation of the Breeders Cup Marathon) but it would be nice to try.

11 Jun 2014 4:30 PM
Mister Frisky

@Sail On,Tonalist by Tapit,Commissioner by AP Indy,Medal Count by Dynaformer.Nothing under the radar about 3 horses with superior pedigrees to Califirnia Chrome.All three by world class stallions and all three are worth more than CC at stud.As for the NBC coverage they are the only network who even wanted to carry horse racing.Even ABC/ESPN had enough so that's why the coverage is worse than a public acces cable show.

11 Jun 2014 4:43 PM

I love your post, Deltalady.  So well said!  I have to admit to being hugely disappointed.  I really believed he could do it.  Under the circumstances,  chrome ran an amazing race.  It was a gallant effort and I am proud of his courage.  He will have a fan in me for the rest of his life.  

Steve, your story on Tonalist was beautifully written.  When I'm not so disappointed I'll read it again.

I was also thrilled with Commissioner - I fell for AP Indy on a visit to Lane's End and always support his foals.  Won some money on him too.

I wish I could figure out how to feel about the Triple Crown debate.  I can see merit in so many different ideas, including leaving it alone.  But, one poster hit the nail on the head by saying racing needs to create fans outside of the Triple Crown.  It's pretty clear that the secret is falling in love with a horse.

11 Jun 2014 8:15 PM

Uhm......Steve, unless I missed it, I have not heard you comment on Victor's horrible ride! Why is it that all of the experts from California have said "CC got a good ride". What? Are you kidding me? Is Victor from California? What id the deal with this subject? Only Randy Moss has questioned Victor's ride. I would like your HONEST opinion. Please!

11 Jun 2014 8:17 PM


Great post and very well said!  I agree, this takes nothing away from Victor and Chrome.  I have more respect for Chrome now than before, he gave it his all while injured.  I have respect for Victor too, he went with what he had and did not overdo it.

KSweatman / Prepster,

Agreed too.  They need to study changes in the breed since Affirmed won the TC in the 70's and those changes include medications like Lasix, lighter training schedule and campaigns, early retirements, etc.  How many thoroughbreds were running in the 1970's and how many breakdowns were there vs. today?  Did Secretariat and Affirmed receive Lasix in all those races?  They need to look at the evolvement of the breed since the 1970's, weight in all the factors, and tweak the TC schedule accordingly.  I don't see where a week more between the Preakness and Belmont and/or Derby and Preakness hurts.  The incentive idea to run in all 3 TC races is good too since it seems it's these "greener" horses causing all this trouble in the Belmont with heel clipping incidents.  Didn't one of them bump into MMM who then clipped Animal Kingdom too?  Maybe a more seasoned field would stop some of this heel clipping?????

Congratulations to Tonalist.  I'd like to see him ship west to face California Chrome in the BCC now. Tonalist may be a good horse but I think California Chrome borders on greatness, 6 wins in a row including two legs of the TC, and fighting a fresher horse while injured in the Belmont, that's great enough for me.

Get well soon Chrome, enjoy your homecoming at Los Alamitos.  You gave us quite a ride on this TC trail and we'll never forget it.

11 Jun 2014 9:29 PM


Very well-reasoned comments; you really summed up the essence of the Triple Crown with appropriate analogies.  I agree...the Triple Crown is supposed to be really, really difficult.  If not, it really wouldn't mean much, would it?

11 Jun 2014 9:33 PM
Needler in Virginia

As always, thoughtful and insightful, Steve. You always leave us with loads to consider. But isn't it interesting that no one ever remembers the Belmont spoilers as anything other than that? Me included. I'll always remember this as the year of California Chrome, NOT Tonalist, and will do my best to forget CC's caught quarter and the cut from Medal Count. I'll keep following CC and cheering him on 'cause I DEARLY LOVE WATCHING HIM RUN! Tonalist? Not so much.

I was born the year Assault won the Triple Crown and in my lifetime have seen the tone of the TC change from a true test of a small group of the best 3 year olds fighting one another to prove a huge point into just a series of rich races........full stop. Now we have "new shooters" showing up for one race. If the TC is so special, and the Derby has requirements to even get in the gate, why not the other two, as well?

Go down another rabbit hole? Nope, not me. I agree with what Bill Nack said, as quoted by Monica, and think the TC is a non-starter for 21st century Thoroughbreds. So they're not gonna get me again. I'm too old for this and will choose more wisely which horses I follow.

12 Jun 2014 12:38 AM

El Kabong

Let put into context my initial submission that was resubmitted. It was part of an exchange with Steve from St Louis. The term list was used by that contributor and in my response I referenced the term. The list actually was in reference to his Derby Dozen. Consequently, when I specified that the horse I liked that was excluded from his list it related to his DD and not horses cited in the blog in general. I think you have rushed to judgment.

Now to address the issue of insulting and snubbing the moderator! I might not shower Mr. Haskin with praise like many of his supporters. However, I have nothing but the highest regard for the moderator. Why would I choose to insult Mr. Haskin when all submissions are posted at his discretion or that of his nominee? What’s the logic in biting the hand the feeds you? Such an act would be ludicrous.

“First you try to drag someone else down to your level”

What exactly is my level? Is it lower than most? Am I a misfit for this blog? Am I not allowed to submit by views just like every other supporter of Mr. Haskin? I merely cited a quote that I viewed as comparable to mine. The reference quote represented an early interesting in Tonalist. If you deem it not comparable, you have my apology. Nothing sinister was intended.

“You mention a multitude of horses along the trail and then revert back,”

The Derby Trail is comprised of many horses. The moderator’s Derby Dozen Blog reflects 12 that make the cuts each week and a litany of other horses listed as knocking At The Door. Does the DD Blog reference a multitude of horses? If the answer to aforementioned question is, Yes. Then I am being accused of what process entails. Did Mr. Haskin reference his initial quotes about California Chrome when the colt started to destroy his opposition?

You like so many other contributors who find me so repugnant, have the option to bypass my submissions and spare yourself the agony of having to read them. You might not be aware but some of my submissions are never posted. I have never questioned the moderator’s decisions. He determines what is appropriate for display on his blog. If any of my submissions are displayed I am of the opinion that they met the display criteria.

Why don’t you do yourself a favor and request the moderator to block my submissions? Others have done so in the past?  


NB: The word genius should never be used in reference to one such I.

12 Jun 2014 6:36 AM
Barry Irwin

I bet Tonalist, but after the race was more impressed with the performance of California Chrome, based on how little he got beat after being chopped down at the start by a horse that had absolutely no business being in the race. When we do have another Triple Crown winner, he/she will be a Belmont-based runner, because it is very difficult for a horse trained elsewhere to win the Belmont in a Triple Crown bid.

12 Jun 2014 7:50 AM
Linda in Texas

For El Kabong and Barry Irwin. Agree with El Kabong, always and Mr. Irwin's comments as well as many others. I also admire California Chrome now even more. The seconds wasted recouping from his near drop to the dirt after the behemoth Matterhorn stepped on his right front hoof and the almost critical issue with the scrape near his tendon, I wonder had those two incidences not happened, where would CC have been at the wire? Zen's Auntie could answer that for me i know. Where is Zen's Auntie, you are truly missed here.

Thank you Steve i need to print out this article to keep as a reminder of life's little setbacks and how to handle them.

ABF Fed Exed a Program From The Belmont to me and i will be buried with it along with the ashes of my special pups like my brother did.  Just saying my admiration is rather deep for the 'people loving' horse who won The Kentucky Derby 2014 and The Preakness 2014. Not too shabby for a California Bred. He will be back.

And special congratulations to Tapit, sire of Tonalist! Chalk up a Belmont Win Tapit to your sire's record, and may you live a long peaceful life. Linda

12 Jun 2014 1:03 PM

California Chrome performed much better than I expected in the Belmont. I fully expected him to be beaten but by a margin > 1 3/4L. He is a far better colt than I previously assessed.

Several issues have been cited that could have contributed to his loss. The incident at after gates opened; the pocket in which he was placed by Tonanlist and his rider’s decision not to go for the lead in what turned out to be modest fractions. Did the aforementioned contribute to his defeat? I believe the aformentioned might have contributed, but marginally. However, I believe some of his opponents were better bred for the distance and were grossly underrated.

Of those I considered better bred for the distance, Tonalist was my selection to win. In my opinion he had the best credentials going in. I was not worried about his 4 starts as Summer Bird and Dunkirk entered the 2009 Belmont with 4 starts as well and finished 1-2. Why did I consider him to have the best credentials?  

The colt covered an average 8.625F in his first 4 starts including two 9F races, compared to CC's average of 5F in his first 4 starts with two 5.5F races. CC built on the modest start to his racing career and went to Derby and Preakness glory. Tonalist had a far more impressive start to his career and in my opinion had the greater capacity to be a special colt. CC might have entered the Belmont with 12 starts as compared to Tonalist 4, but from day one Tonalist was exposed to the tiring effect of lactic acid.

His dam sire Pleasant Colony was also major draw for me. When a broodmare sire with over 100 stakes winners is associated with a colt like Tonalist, the sky is the limit. Pleasant Colony sired Belmont winner Colonial Affair. A victory by Tonalist would have allowed Pleasant Colony to joint Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Deputy Minister and Gone West as stallions that have been both sire and broodmare sire of a Belmont winner.

Tonalist’s performance in the Pater Pan sealed the deal for me. Rarely does a horse with his pedigree and size set fractions of 23, 46, 1:10 and 1:35 and then draw off under a hand ride and is then geared down.  That was share class on display. Assuming everything went perfect for CC; are there any fractions he could recorded on the lead to dismiss the advancing of Tonalist? Unless he was capable of recording a final time of 2:227 he was never going to get rid of Tonalist.

Several top class 3YOs did not contest the TC series i.e., Shared Belief, Constitution, Top Billing, and Honor Code. Constitution defeated Tonalist handily when they met. Behind them was Wood winner Wicked Strong. In retrospect, would a time of 2:03.66 defeat Shared Belief, Constitution, Top Billing, and Honor Code handily in the Derby? Highly unlikely!

12 Jun 2014 1:09 PM

I work in nursing, and there is a saying that "nurses eat their young" meaning they are hard on new nurses and other employees in the field. Well, nurses aren't the only ones guilty of "eating their young". Horse racing fans can be brutal critics of horses, riders,connections, everything, and everyone. "CC's jockey was responsible for a bad trip", "Matterhorn clipped Chrome with intent to injure him", "Chrome's owner is a raving maniac who's rant damaged the sport so severely it will never recover", "The Derby and Preakness winner was all hype", just a few of the accusations thrown out there in the aftermath of the Belmont. Are we being a positive force for the sport we propose to love? I wonder.

12 Jun 2014 1:23 PM


Always willing to take on a challenge. To explain why it would be difficult to change the timing of the triple crown races we must look no further than NYRA. Kentucky Derby, first Saturday in May is set in stone. Pimlico is on record begging for a change so that is a given. The ball is in NYRA's court. If they agree and it flops Pimlico can be blamed and that seems the norm these days, need someone to blame.

Should it prove fruitful NYRA could put in a some tunnels for tractor drawn trolley transport to the infield and the biggest party since Woodstock could happen on 4th of July weekend. Bump up the Wifi network and have three fourths of the betting via a smart phone app. Could another $10 million in handle get NYRA's attention?

Casual fans are indifferent, although the ability to hold their interest for eight weeks has already been questioned by those with much better knowledge of such things than myself. Modern day horse people would welcome it, traditional horse people would say you need to put an asterisk (*) next to the "EIGHT WEEKS TO GLORY" winners. I'm old school but I like forward thinking. The ringa ding ding of the first Saturday in May, first Saturday June, and first Saturday in July is great and it sounds branded on conception. This squeezes the Haskell  and Jim Dandy slightly. The only other high dollar race affected is the Los Alamitos Derby which might draw a few west coast horses back home, no major damage done.

You mentioned the weather. It is more of a problem for the crowd than the horses. Perhaps getting a national brand bottled water or a hydration drink company-hello Gatorade to sponsor and give away water or hydration drinks would keep from having 10,000 people get heat stroke,  "Houston we have problem"! Perhaps triage tents (MASH) can be set up and offer to fly in and house (RV camp) EMT'S from around the country to participate, this is borrowed from NASCAR. Bright side: review of historical high temperature data from 2004 forward shows only one day near 100 (99) degree first Saturday in July day, most were in the 80's.

10 to 1 should get some play if NYRA is willing to run.

Mother Nature and the racing gods are watching us.

Will there be a Citation Affirmed by our Secretariat and might they doom us with a perfect Seattle Slew!

12 Jun 2014 1:37 PM
El Kabong


Most of your posts are fine and contain information noteworthy to some folks on this site. That post, however, was a pile and your bitter defense of it is more deplorable. I just asked to you to check your ego at the door and display an ounce more of humility. I have asked for an ounce too much.

Censorship is "the cowards way out" and I won't join that team. Carry on my friend and rest assured, I won't attempt to hold the looking glass up to your posts again.

12 Jun 2014 2:37 PM
El Kabong

Mr. Irwin,

I heard an interview with Mickey Taylor commenting on California Chrome's chances before the race and he voiced your same concern.  He mentioned the last 3 crown winners were all based out of Belmont and he felt that had much to do with their success in the third leg. He liked Chrome and said he was a special colt, but said he would have to be very special to get that last race as a visitor.

12 Jun 2014 3:23 PM
steve from st louis

Steve, one reason I believe you have such a following is that while all the other turf publicists concentrate on the horses you find a way to weave your tales featuring the people of the backstretch. Sometimes their stories are more fascinating than ones about some brillant copper colt or some old grey mare. Thanks for that.

12 Jun 2014 3:53 PM
food fight

Now that we know that Commissioner came out of the Belmont with a chip in his left front ankle all those who have been posting about CC incident leaving the gate where he was stepped on and received a cut to the back of his hoof. Should now recognize  the fact that Commissioner chipped an ankle in the race and just got beat a small head after racing on the lead and turning back challenge after challenge while running with a chip in his ankle is remarkable.In MY Opinion Commissioner run the best race of all the Belmont contenders now that i know he had chipped an ankle in that performance.  

13 Jun 2014 1:21 PM
Jen W


To me, the Derby would have been EXTREMELY different had Top Billing, Constitution and, especially Honor Code run.  Interesting that you bring them up.  I was discussing with one of my racing friends about what might have happened had Tonalist not come down with a lung infection before the Wood.  We might have seen a different horse vying for the Triple Crown.  

I think people get too wrapped up in the feel good stories and the emotions of it all.  Yes, this is a sport of intense emotions, but to discount your opposition is a bit ludicrous.  Some of the extreme power I saw from contenders who just didn't make the Derby, I believe really would have made quite the race for others!  Honor Code was one of my favorites!  It will be VERY interesting when some of these horses return as well. I'm looking forward to the second half of the racing year!

13 Jun 2014 5:01 PM

Does anyone here know when Honor Code and Top Billing are returning to racing again?  I have not been a big Tapit fan but I am impressed by Tonalist, maybe with the right breeding you can breed a good Tapit offspring.  I remember Pleasant Colony.

14 Jun 2014 1:14 PM

As for this year's Triple Crown races, In my opinion,  had California Chrome broke from post 20, or any OUTSIDE post, like Big Brown did,  he would have never won the derby.  It would have been all over.  That horse can only run his best on the rail just behind the pace....placed anywhere else on the track....he can't put forth his best effort.  I've seen those kinds before. But,  with all do respect,  California Chrome simply was not bred for the Belmont Stakes. Ask yourself this question, if you were buying a yearling at the sales that you specifically wanted with the intention of running in the Belmont Stakes when it's 3....what sire would you be looking at to produce that distance runner: Lucky Pulpit, AP Indy or Tapit?  Be honest...the horse bred for the mile and a half is the horse that won. This was a no-brainer.  I would rather NEVER see another Triple Crown winner ever again if it means I have to watch a manufactured one run against a modified field. I saw all three in the 1970s,  and I knew California Chrome was just not in the same class as an Affirmed or Seattle Slew.  He tried...like the other eleven.

16 Jun 2014 10:01 AM

Just popped back for a look at this article and the comments. Coldfacts is getting some "hate" here but I think his post on Tonalist is quite reasonable, and he'll have a lot to say in the 3YRO division.

It's hard to look in the rear view and asset  what would have happened in the Derby had Honor Code, Top Billing, Constitution or Shared Belief been there. At 1 1/4 miles I think California Chrome would be very competitive with all these horses.

The slow Derby time was a function of CC stalking a slow pace. He did what he had to do to win. Every one of his other races would indicate he could have run that distance much faster if he wanted. In fact the 1 1 1/4 mile fraction of the Belmont was faster than the Derby.

As for the Belmont, whatever the breeding issues perceived around California Chrome, this Belmont was faster than 14 of the last 20. While track conditions may vary, it shows that even with so many injuries to perceived top horses, this crop may turn out to be good. I think it also show that California Chrome "could get" the distance, certainly compared to 90% of his Grade I level contemporaries over the last 20 years.

The last half of the year will be quite interesting. Right now, it doesn't appear that there is a horse in North America that can touch Palace Malice. He can do it all.

16 Jun 2014 10:20 AM

Okay so I'll put in my two cents.  My bet was on Tonalist; obviously because he relished the track in the Peter Pan.  Moving on,

AP Indy, Storm Cat, Gone West, Dehere, and Chief's Crown all have Secretariat as their broodmare sire, and therefore enjoy his dam, Somethingroyal.  Hopefully in the future we will see this group of stallions combined in pedigrees that load up on the blood of Somethingroyal, particularly when the blood of her other fine son, Sir Gaylord is added to the equation.

Secretariat was a great broodmare sire, so if we want another triple crown winner, load the pedigree with this most magnificent race horse of all time.

Don't forget that Secretariat sprinted a mile and a half in the Belmont in 2:24.  That record will stand forever.  His daughters inherited his large heart.  

16 Jun 2014 9:04 PM

Right on, DeltaLady!!

21 Jun 2014 3:04 PM

I saw the last three triple crown winners. Trust me, the world was still the same after the event as it was prior to. The Triple Crown is hard to win, I'll agree with that, but it's supposed to be. I see nothing wrong with the current Triple Crown format. Leave it alone. Dont make it easier. As for the 2014 Belmont, well I find it hard not to fault Victor Espinoza for not going for the lead at the first turn. Instead he backed off and got a position along the rail following a slow pace. At that point there was nothing he could do, but wait it out! We all know the dismal outcome. California Chrome is a fast horse, a push button horse, he would've done better on the lead dictating the pace. There just wasn't any need to take him back, if he got into trouble he could've taken CC back if need be, makes sense to me; however,I wasn't riding him. Espinoza did what he thought best. I'm looking forward to the California Chrome's return to racing.....one more thing, Smarty Jones is still "America's horse"!

23 Jun 2014 12:27 PM


Did CC lead in either the Derby or Preakness? With CC's speed the slow fractions should have been to his benefit. The colts that defeated him are quality horses.

Californian Chrome was very dominant in CA. Only one horse from the group he defeated in CA made the Derby field and he finished unplaced.

CC won a slowly run Derby in which some quality horses got bad trips. He was not overly impressive in the Preakness with only a 1 3/4L victory.

Why was he such an overwhelming favorite to win the Belmont against quality opponents with a freshness advantage?

He was gallant in defeat. If he was sent to the lead, what fractions would he have recorded? Do you seriously believe the riders on Tonalist, Commissioner and Medal Count would have allowed him to dictate proceedings upfront?

He will have other opportunities to prove he is better than Tonalist and Commissioner.

They were going to take the race to him no matter what.

23 Jun 2014 2:15 PM

Coldfacts, first of all there's no way of telling what the fractions would've been had CC taken the lead...I do understand the other riders would've went after him, But you have to admit that being on the lead with CC changes the whole complexity of the race. He wouldn't have had all that dirt hitting him in the face for one thing, and it forces the other riders to possibly change their tactics. The race didn't materialize that way.I think with Espinoza not going on with his horse at the first turn hurt his chances.

24 Jun 2014 10:17 AM

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