01/06/2016 12:04PM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Tonalist

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Barbara D. Livingston

Of all the accomplished 3-year-olds of 2014 who continued to race at age 4, none of them bridged the seasons with as much class and consistency as Tonalist. He was usually the horse to beat, and when he came through, the results made perfect sense.

As the winner of the Belmont Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old, Tonalist found himself in heady company. The double had been accomplished only twice in the previous quarter-century. When it was decided that Tonalist would race at 4, the pressure was on, and he had to live up to his own growing reputation. To their credit, neither owner Robert Evans nor trainer Christophe Clement ever dodged an important chance to do just that.

In the end, Tonalist’s 2015 campaign turned out to be in many ways a mirror of his 3-year-old campaign. He started early, with an effortless warm-up score in the Westchester Stakes at Aqueduct, then finished second in the Met Mile while giving the victorious Honor Code five pounds in the handicap. The subsequent Suburban Handicap was practically conceded to the Evans colt, but he was narrowly upset by Effinex, who was carrying six fewer pounds.

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

Tonalist’s two most significant victories of 2015 came in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, again, and in the Cigar Mile, which Tonalist won with a deep-stretch charge that looks more impressive with each viewing. It was a race he refused to lose. Tonalist, who was bred in Kentucky by Woodslane Farm, probably will have to settle for being an Eclipse Award finalist because he could not handle Honor Code head-to-head in either the Met Mile or the Whitney Stakes, in which he finished third. However, it was Tonalist’s inability to bring his “A” game to the Breeders’ Cup Classic for the second straight year that tinged his season with regret. As in 2014 at Santa Anita, Tonalist finished a nonthreatening fifth at Keeneland, coming home more than a dozen lengths behind American Pharoah and 1 1/2 lengths behind third-place Honor Code.

Tonalist is a handsome bay specimen from all angles, with a distinctive white splash across the left half of his face that trickles over his brow. Clement went back and forth hiding that face behind blinkers and removing them, but in the end, it did not seem to matter to Tonalist. With or without the hood, he won seven of his 16 career starts and earned $3.4 million – all this after he did not meet his reserve on a final bid of $195,000 at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale prior to being purchased privately by Evans.

Evans toyed with racing Tonalist at 5 but instead retired him to Lane’s End, where he will be not only Tapit’s most successful son at stud but will try to live up to the reputations of such ancestors as Raja Baja, North America’s champion sire of 1980, and Pleasant Colony, the Evans family hero who was a champion and a sire of champions.