06/07/2014 6:10PM

Triple Crown destiny again denied


On June 10, 1978, Affirmed thrust his head past the wire an instant ahead of Alydar in the Belmont Stakes, and in so doing became the 11th winner of America’s Triple Crown. Back then, it did not seem like such a difficult thing to do. Secretariat had dazzled when he’d turned the trick in 1973, and Seattle Slew had powered his way to a similar feat only the year before Affirmed. But ever since, it’s been the fruitless labor of Sisyphus – triumphant journeys to the twin mountaintops of the Derby and Preakness … only to watch victory slip elusively away in the last quarter-mile of Belmont’s heartbreaking homestretch.

When California Chrome lost the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, he joined a group of 12 others who have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but failed in the last demanding leg since Affirmed in 1978. The 36-year Triple Crown drought is the longest in history. There was a 25-year gap between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat.

Here is what happened to the 12 who preceded California Chrome on their respective dates with destiny, in which each tried – and ultimately failed – to scale the heights and join the pantheon of Triple Crown heroes.

Spectacular Bid - 1979
At 3-10, Hawksworth Farm’s Spectacular Bid looked like one for the ages on Belmont Day 1979. But he harbored a painful secret that few knew: That morning the gray had stepped on an errant safety pin in his stall, jamming it an inch up into the soft portion of his hoof. Then, under an aggressive, ill-judged ride by young Ron Franklin, Spectacular Bid took off too soon after blazing pacesetter Gallant Best, only to be run down late by Coastal, a newcomer to the Triple Crown trail. Spectacular Bid returned to scattered boos on that hot, hazy afternoon, and a chastened Buddy Delp would later admit he had hurt the great colt by running him that afternoon.

Pleasant Colony - 1981
Brash, hyper-confident trainer Johnny Campo predicted all week a Triple Crown sweep for Buckland Farm’s Pleasant Colony, but his words fell flat. After spooking at the gate and delaying the start, the lop-eared 4-5 favorite broke tardily from his outside post and trailed early in the 11-horse field. When he finally did move, it wasn’t nearly enough and he eventually crossed the line third, 1 3/4 lengths behind victorious 7-1 Summing and 13-1 runner-up Highland Blade. Following his colt’s disappointing effort, Campo waxed philosophical: “You can’t be sorry – that’s the name of the game. You can’t win ’em all.”

Alysheba - 1987
Several factors may have been at play in Alysheba’s failure to don the crown. Trainer Jack Van Berg attributed his Belmont loss to a rare lapse in judgment on the part of Chris McCarron, who rated the colt through much of the race rather than gunning for an early lead as the trainer had requested. Others questioned whether medication was an issue; Lasix was banned in New York, and Alysheba was running without the anti-bleeding drug for the first time since spring. Whatever the reason, he finished fourth as Bet Twice scored a breathtaking, 14-length, $18 upset and stole away the $1-million Triple Crown bonus from Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer’s dual classic winner.

Sunday Silence - 1989
The 1989 Belmont Stakes showcased a marquee rivalry, between a colt nobody had wanted and one born with the proverbial silver spoon. The former, Sunday Silence, had captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness over the latter, Easy Goer, and for the Belmont was sent off a 9-10 favorite by the track’s largest crowd in a decade. After closely stalking the pace for a mile, the Charlie Whittingham trainee put his black head in front on the final turn – but only for an instant. At that point, Easy Goer slipped into gear and motored on by like a runaway freight to win by eight lengths. The rivalry continued through autumn, with Sunday Silence winning three of four matches on the year, culminated with a triumph in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Silver Charm - 1997
The steel gray from out of the West appeared all heart and courage as he dueled longtime nemesis Free House around the final turn of the 1997 Belmont. Into the stretch, Silver Charm put that one away and forged boldly to the front, looking every inch a Triple Crown winner in the making as 70,682 fans roared him home. But the would-be superstar failed to notice a brown shadow moving up fast on the outside – though jockey Gary Stevens did … too late. With 100 yards to go, Touch Gold blew past Bob and Beverly Lewis’s color bearer to win by three-quarters of a length and to deny American racing, yet again, a Triple Crown sweep.

Real Quiet - 1998
Trainer Bob Baffert must have thought the racing gods were against him when in 1998, for the second straight season, he lost the Triple Crown by a narrow margin. Heartbreak came that year with Mike Pegram’s crooked-legged Real Quiet, nicknamed “The Fish,” who had trounced Victory Gallop in the first two jewels of the crown. In the Belmont, the Quiet American colt had a four-length lead just a furlong from home when Victory Gallop made his move, turning the final strides into a head-bobbing battle – one that Baffert’s by-now-tired colt would lose by the slimmest of noses. “He flattened out at the end,” the trainer later acknowledged. “The fish floundered.”

Charismatic - 1999
Bob and Beverly Lewis missed the Triple sweep with Silver Charm in 1997 and two years later found themselves repeating history with a former claimer named Charismatic. The chestnut beauty by Summer Squall, favored by a then-record Belmont Day crowd of 85,818, stalked the pace set by champion filly Silverbulletday before assuming command in the stretch. In the final yards Charismatic slowed abruptly to finish third behind 29-1 Lemon Drop Kid and 54-1 Vision and Verse. The reason became clear when just past the wire jockey Chris Antley quickly pulled up, dismounted, and cradled the colt’s left fore in his arms until help arrived. The colt survived multiple fractures but never raced again.

War Emblem - 2002
It was a disaster for Prince Ahmed bin Salman’s black colt. When the gates flew open, instead of launching off like an equine rocket, War Emblem hit the dirt, knees and nose first. “It was lost at the start,” trainer Bob Baffert would say. “If I was on a walkie-talkie, I would have told Victor [Espinoza] to pull him up.” But he wasn’t and he didn’t. The favorite instead gathered himself and eventually fought bravely for the lead before a record crowd of 103,222, running hard until he simply could go no farther. Exhausted, War Emblem faded to eighth in the stretch, beaten 19 1/2 lengths by Sarava – who at 70-1 became the longest shot winner in race history.

Funny Cide - 2003
He was the “People’s Horse,” an inexpensive gelding who had transcended his station in life to win two of America’s biggest races, and now he stood on the precipice of immortality. But like so many others, Funny Cide failed. Why? It could have been the too-fast workout on Tuesday prior … or the slippery, sloppy, bowl-of-soup track on Belmont Day … or the unaccustomed jet-to-the-lead style deployed in the race itself. Or, perhaps he simply encountered a better horse at the top of his game when, with a half-mile to go, Empire Maker challenged him, then ran on by. Funny Cide gave it his all to finish third that day, beaten five lengths.

Smarty Jones - 2004
The 2004 Belmont Stakes was “Smarty’s Party,” his race to lose, and Smarty Jones managed to do just that. The blue-collar Pennsylvania-bred had captured the imagination of an America still reeling from the 9/11 attacks and subsequent wars, and going into the Belmont, he had yet to taste defeat in eight previous starts. Roy and Pat Chapman’s brilliant colt appeared unable to relax both before and during the running, fighting for an early lead with no breather at any point. He was rubber-legging the final desperate furlong when overtaken by Birdstone and outfinished by a length. It was the last career start for the champion, who retired two months later due to chronic bone bruising.

Big Brown - 2008
Like Smarty Jones, Big Brown was unbeaten going into the Belmont. And just as Johnny Campo had with Pleasant Colony 27 years earlier, trainer Rick Dutrow spent the weeks leading up to the race proclaiming his colt’s Triple Crown sweep a “foregone conclusion.” It wasn’t. On a freakishly hot 96-degree afternoon, a somewhat rank 1-4 Big Brown fought Kent Desormeaux early, held tight off the pace set by 38-to-1 shot and eventual winner Da’ Tara, then hit an invisible wall with three furlongs to go. Eased at the head of the stretch, he was officially listed as having failed to finish. It was discovered afterward that his right hind shoe had come loose during the race.

I’ll Have Another - 2012
I’ll Have Another romped unbeaten through four starts at three, including a 15-1 shocker in the Kentucky Derby and a game neck Preakness victory. He would have been odds-on for the Belmont … but it was not to be. The day before the final jewel in America’s Triple Crown, the chestnut colt’s retirement was unexpectedly announced in a backstretch press conference, with owner Paul Reddam kicking it off with the words: “I’m afraid history’s going to have to wait for another day.” Trainer Doug O’Neill cited the beginnings of tendinitis in his left fore as the cause, though a more serious tendon tear was later revealed as the reason for his early exit from racing’s wars.

Hail No More than 1 year ago
This was such a wonderful read, Mary :)
Dave Cottrell More than 1 year ago
Maybe they should look into changing the rules for the Triple Crown. The rules set for the Triple Crown of years past...really don't fit for today's race game. Those rules applied to sport with a not so spotless beginning.
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
When are the casual fans going to learn the truth about this sport? There was no "fairness" or "good sportsmanship" in this Belmont and the owner merely pointed this out. Chrome's chance at racing immortality ended when the #3 horse Matterhorn stepped on Chrome's best foot (his right foot or right lead) and cut it at the moment the race began. There was NO WAY the NYRA was going to permit a Cal Bred to win the Triple Crown. Get it through your heads people. You could tell by Thursday's news that the outcome of this event was "Staged" like a Broadway show. It's o.k. I just feel bad that the horse (Chrome) didn't get a fair shot to win it all. Look at the photo of the #3 stepping on Chrome at the race's start... that's all you need see to figure it out.
pemuehleck More than 1 year ago
Yes another NYRA conspiracy! You're killing me man! Did the grassy knoll gunman have a hand in it as well?
mikey More than 1 year ago
Wow that matterhorn must have been trained real well and that good to step on another horses foot. SUCH IDIOTIC COMMENT!!!
Dennis Ho More than 1 year ago
why can't we just accept chrome not good enough instead of all the excuses.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
sometimes reality checks hurt!
Malihe Yahyavi More than 1 year ago
LIke I said before I got caught up in all the hype, horses that break their maiden at 4 1/2 cant win the belmont
Malihe Yahyavi More than 1 year ago
I picked tonalist to win. Commisioner to run 2nd. But got caught up in the hype and put CC over them in exactas only epic fail on my part
Wagthetongue More than 1 year ago
"Triple Crown destiny," what destiny? It takes that rare super horse and a myriad of events to fall into place to become a triple crown winner. No one forces these owners to take on all three events, so if your horse is in doubtful physical condition, skip one. It's the money/greed that drives the owners, Mr. Coburn included. If you don't have a fit super horse, don't run him!
Jack Armstead More than 1 year ago
Wagthetongue... what "physical condition" are you talking about? Victor didn't know that Matterhorn had stepped on Chrome's right foot. Chrome didn't "grab a quarter" he was injured when Joe Bravo came over and injured Chrome. Some of you people come on here and judge Coburn for his comments and don't have the sense to understand the 2 most important facts about this Belmont: 1. A Cal bred was never going to be allowed to win the Triple Crown, and; 2. All most of you saw was the Broadway Show that was rehearsed in the Peter Pan.
Wagthetongue More than 1 year ago
You are apparently from CA. and letting your anger get the best of you. So you are saying here and in your later comments that it was staged. Okay, so the NYRA pre-planned to have the 3 horse step on the 2 horse to take him out,REALLY? In my previous comments my point was that Coburn made it sound like Chrome was at a disadvantage because of having already run two events, he was wearing down. Why else would he say his horse was at a disadvantage? Therefore it was my point that Mr. Coburn was making it sound as if Chrome was in questionable " physical condition". If that is true, then don't run him. Tonalist's connections didn't run him in the K. Derby or Preakness because he was unfit at the time. Yet you want me to believe he held out to take out Chrome as part of some nefarious plan by the NYRA to keep a Cal bred from winning. Please, don't let your disapointment blind your thinking. It's racing, the "triple crown" is illusive, it is extremely tough to achieve. Chrome is avery nice horse, just not a triple crown winner. I lost money also, but I certainly will not come up with some ridiculous conspiracy theory as an excuse.
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
Steve C. Comment did-not hurt anybody and quite frankly make a whole lot of sense, comment's were made in the heat of the battle and people have got to stop getting lynch mobs gathered to go out and hang someone. What's next The Sport Of Kings will force the sale of California Chrome because he can no longer be in the sport?????? He said what he said no harm no foul and last I checked this is still America. The focus needs to be placed on others that need to be put in check for a long time now but yet they still continue going around acting out of control and saying things that do require attn. especially when the influence our kids.
Joe Dekarski More than 1 year ago
He was wrong and he s a sore sport,we have enough problems in this sport his horse is good on dirt far from a super horse,his comments were another cheap shot at this spot,he should be fined..Also his jock gave them no chance not new shooters.
Cheryl Kleist More than 1 year ago
Don't condemn if you haven't been there yourself. People react different ways during extreme stress and disappointment. the media cameras and reporters should have focused on the winner not the Coburns. THEY WANTED THIS REACTION. News media is known to badger people during some of the worst moments in their lives and want their REACTIONS. Have a little understanding and compassion for them. I was also unhappy and disappointed after following California Chrome in his last 6 starts and only lost $100 on this race. I also think it is unfair that some type of prerequisite isn't used to qualify horses for the other 2 races in the triple crown--min. amount of race experience or $$ won. An first race maiden could enter either from and owner and trainer crazy enough to enter. So, if the Derby has qualifications to be in--to be part of the triple crown, I think the others should have some (not the same) prerequisites other than being a 3 yr. old. That is not to say that Tonalist would not have been allowed in to the Belmont. He certainly belonged and deserved his win, and his owners deserve congrats from all of us.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
The losing connection always gets interviewed and always congratulate the winner. Or dont make excuses
Robert Danna More than 1 year ago
California Chromes 'Granddad was A.P. Indy the Winners Sire was A,P, Indy known for his ability to run the classic distances. I wish people like you, would refrain from making such STUPID STATEMENTS. the horse you mention was only in the KD and Belmont, so how does that qualify him as a TRIPLE CROWN horse.. if I know how to Speak English and I do, the word TRIPLE means THREE not two or one BUT THREE. So, have a GOOD DAY! that means to enjoy yourself...
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
trainers don't give a s**t about a triple or three or whatever bs u want to believe. its a business and as long as they offer millions of dollars they have the right to pick and choose. get use to it crybaby, and face the FACT he just wasn't as good as u wanted him to be.
Joe Dekarski More than 1 year ago
then its not the triple crown also Tonalist pulled out of the derby cause of illness,Medal Count who also beat chrome raced in the derby,chrome is a great synthic surface horse, dirt tracks not so much..
ChalkBuster More than 1 year ago
Let's see, multiple Graded Stakes Wins on Dirt including the KY Derby and Preakness and he's not a dirt horse? With your extreme lack of intelligence being so apparent, I'm wondering how you even know how to turn on a computer to post your ignorant thoughts.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
Mr Coburns stupid rant does NOT HOLD WATER for the simple fact that Medal Count beat him fair and square in the Belmont. not to mention, his bloodline says he couldn't go that far anyway. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!
not impressed More than 1 year ago
They didn't finish that far in front, Chrome finished on heart alone which says a LOT. The other three were merely grinding it out and the winner barely got up in the last stride while Commissioner was gasping for the finish line. If they were that good they would have won by open lengths, they didn't. But the time beats any Belmont for the past 4-5 years, so that says a lot. Medal Count ground out his 3rd place finish and wasn't gaining on the top two. We'll see how they all stack up come BC time or even Travers time when everyone else will be coming back into play.
TEDK215 More than 1 year ago
last time I checked, you only have to win by the flare of a nostril so stop with the sour grapes! he aint that great! good at best!