06/07/2014 7:32PM

Evans on other side of spoiled Triple Crown

Debra A. Roma
Owner Robert Evans (left) and trainer Christophe Clement with Tonalist after the colt's win in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday.

This wasn’t the first time the Evans family has been involved in a failed Triple Crown bid – but the view from the other side is a little bit different.

Tonalist, owned by Robert S. Evans, edged Commissioner by a head to win the Belmont Stakes on Saturday in New York, as dual classic winner California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth, extending the Triple Crown drought for another year.

Also among the failed Triple Crown bids since 1978 is that of Pleasant Colony, who finished third to Summing in the 1981 Belmont. Pleasant Colony – the broodmare sire of Tonalist – was campaigned by the Buckland Farm of Robert Evans’s father, the late Thomas Mellon Evans.

“I’ve been where [California Chrome’s co-owner] Steve Coburn’s been, and it’s not fun,” Evans said. “We loved California Chrome. We hoped he’d win the Triple Crown. But we love our horse, too.”

Despite the nature of the victory, Evans didn’t shy away from praising Tonalist.

“It’s very satisfying,” he said. “Actually, yesterday I went to my father’s grave and thanked him for putting me in a position to do this … I was slightly surprised [by the win], and it’s great. I’ve been in this game a long time.”

Tonalist was bred in Virginia by Rene and Lauren Woolcott’s Woodslane Farm, which had purchased his dam, Settling Mist, a few years prior to his birth. The Tapit colt is from a female family that includes the likes of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, champion sprinter Pluggled Nickle, and Grade 1 winners Riskaverse and Christiecat. One branch of the family is responsible for 1992 Belmont winner and breed-shaping sire A.P. Indy, as well as classic winners Summer Squall and Lemon Drop Kid.

::2014 BELMONT STAKES: Recap, video, chart, and more

But despite that loaded catalog page, Tonalist failed to meet his reserve when offered at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. Evans, at the urging of consignor Cathy Sweezy, later privately purchased the colt.

“Cathy Sweezey urged me 10 times probably to look at the horse and dragged me back,” Evans said. “She made me do it.”

Much like Tonalist, whose pedigree is littered with champions, Evans’s family roots in racing run deep. Thomas Evans was the cousin of prominent owner-breeder and philanthropist Paul Mellon, and other horses campaigned by Buckland included champions Pleasant Stage and Pleasant Tap.

Evans’s brother, the late Edward P. Evans, operated a prominent breeding and racing operation in Virginia; he bred and sold 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam and campaigned the brilliant homebred Quality Road, a multiple Grade 1 winner.

Robert Evans, who bought his first horse in 1965, owns a farm in Maryland and has found a good deal of success as a breeder. He campaigned Shared Interest, a homebred daughter of Pleasant Colony who won the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap in 1993. That mare went on to produce Forestry, whom Evans later sold; running for Aaron and Marie Jones, he won the Grade 1 King’s Bishop Stakes in 1999.

Evans also campaigned Grade 1-winning homebred Sewickley and bred and sold 1999 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Cash Run.