ELMONT, N.Y. – The day demanded history.

They ran the 146th Belmont Stakes on a blue-sky Saturday with Manhattan shimmering like Oz on the horizon. The crowd was enormous, as was its desire to witness the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

But the history horse racing so badly wanted died, just as it always seems to, in the long Belmont Park stretch with a fresh horse crossing the finish line first.

California Chrome, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, finished in a dead heat for fourth place — 1¾ lengths behind winner Tonalist — as yet another effort to celebrate a 12th Triple Crown winner crashed on a New York evening.

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Commissioner, a 28-1 shot who led most of the way, finished second, a head behind Tonalist. Medal Count was third at 24-1.

California Chrome had blood coming from his right-front foot as he walked in a tunnel after the race.

Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome, didn’t battle for the early lead after his mount stumbled outward at the start.

“I feel like California Chrome was not the same as before and that’s why I make my decision,” Espinoza was quoted as saying by Daily Racing Form. “Before, he breaks running and he take me right into the race. Today I feel like he was empty and not the same as before.”

Tonalist, trained by Christophe Clement, ran 1½ miles in 2 minutes, 28.52 seconds . The colt paid $20.40 to win in the $1.5 million race before a crowd of 102,199.

Tonalist, who beat runner-up Commissioner by 4 lengths in the Peter Pan Stakes on a sloppy track May 10 at Belmont, was ridden well by Joel Rosario after starting from the outside post in a field of 11 3-year-olds.

California Chrome, bet down to 0.85-to-1 odds, seemingly was in striking position at the top of the stretch— though he lost ground on the far turn.

Espinoza urged him, but the favorite never fired, ending in a dead-heat for fourth with Wicked Strong, the second betting choice at 5-1.

“I waited for the same kind of kick he had been making,” said Espinoza, “but today he was a little flat.”

Tonalist pulled ahead of a surprisingly stubborn Commissioner close to the wire.

“I wasn’t even sure he won,” Clement said. “We actually thought he finished second. But we got lucky.”

California Chrome’s feel-good story, a colt with average-Joe owners who is trained by 77-year-old Art Sherman, captivated the public. After the race, the horse’s emotional co-owner, Steve Coburn, wasn’t feeling good after watching another Triple Crown dream squashed by a horse who skipped its previous two legs.

“I’m 61 years old, and in my lifetime I’ll never see another Triple Crown winner because of the way they do this,” Coburn said. “If you’ve got a horse, run him in all three. This is a coward’s way out. Our horse had a target on his back. They won’t run in the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. They’ll get him in the Belmont.”

Relayed Coburn’s remarks, Tonalist owner Robert Evans, who explained a lung infection had kept his horse out of the Wood Memorial in April, declined to comment.

Evans bought Tonalist, who was competing in his fifth career race, at a discount when no one else at Saratoga’s 2012 yearling sales wanted him.

“(The breeder) asked me 10 times if I wanted to buy the horse, and I told her: ‘No, I had two horses of my own who didn’t sell, and I don’t have the money to buy him,’ ” Evans recalled.

When the price eventually was lowered, Evans relented.

Notes

• Since Affirmed took the 1978 Triple Crown, 13 horses have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Twelve were defeated in the Belmont, and I’ll Have Another (2012) was scratched before the race because of a leg problem.

• In Grade I dirt races earlier on the Belmont card, 4-year-old colt Palace Malice — last year’s Belmont winner — took the Metropolitan Handicap and paid $4.70; 4-year-old filly Close Hatches ($7.80 to win) won the Ogden Phipps; and Sweet Reason ($20.80) won the Acorn for 3-year-old fillies.

In Grade I turf races, 4-year-old filly Coffee Clique ($11.60) won the Just a Game and 5-year-old Real Solution ($13) took the Manhattan.

Burning money
California Chrome was bet down to 0.85-to-1 odds Saturday and became the eighth consecutive horse to go off at odds of less than even money and lose in the Belmont Stakes. Each of them was going for the Triple Crown.
Horse (year Odds to $1 Finish
California Chrome (2014) .85 4th-dh
Big Brown (2008) .30 DNF
Smarty Jones (2004) .35 2nd
Real Quiet (1998) .80 2nd
Sunday Silence (1989) .90 2nd
Alysheba (1987) .80 4th
Pleasant Colony (1981) .80 3rd
Spectacular Bid (1979) .30 3rd
Notes: California Chrome dead-heated for fourth with Wicked Strong. Big Brown was pulled up by jockey Kent Desormeaux in ’08 and didn’t finish.