California Chrome fell short of winning the Belmont Stakes on Saturday, leaving horse racing without a Triple Crown winner for a 37th consecutive year.
California Chrome finished fourth as Tonalist won the "Test of the Champion" before more than 100,000 fans at Belmont Park Racetrack.
Chrome spent much of the race on the rail but moved outside on the final turn and backstretch to make his move.
"When I moved out, he just didn't have it today," California Chrome jockey Victor Espinoza said.
The chestnut colt with the white blaze and four white stockings was the ninth horse in the past 18 years to have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. Silver Charm (second, 1997), Real Quiet (second by a nose, 1998), Charismatic (third, 1999), War Emblem (eighth, 2002), Funny Cide (third, 2003), Smarty Jones (second, 2004) and Big Brown (last, 2008) all fell short of winning thoroughbred racing's most elusive trophy. I'll Have Another (2012) was scratched because of a career-ending tendon injury the day before the race. Among the Hall of Famers who failed in the past 35 years were Spectacular Bid (1979) Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989).
Only 11 horses had swept the Triple Crown - Sir Barton (1919), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), War Admiral (1937), Whirlaway (1941), Count Fleet (1943), Assault (1946), Citation (1948), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). Eddie Arcaro rode Whirlaway and Citation, and before his death in 1997, "The Master" said, "You'll never see another one."
Four days ago, 77-year-old trainer Art Sherman predicted what would happen if his horse of a lifetime won the Belmont. "You're going to see parties like you've never seen before in California," he said. "This horse is like the Messiah for California."
At Los Alamitos and Santa Anita, thousands wearing black and silver California Chrome T-shirts and purple and green hats cheered on their hero. "California-breds don't get much credence," co-owner Steve Coburn said recently. "But he doesn't know he was born there."
California Chrome's underdog story is too absurd for any script. The horse's beginnings couldn't have been more humble, the product of a mating of the mare Love the Chase, who cost Coburn and his partner, Perry Martin, $8,000, and the obscure Lucky Pulpit, whose stud fee was a measly $2,500. The first horse they ever bred entered the world on a cattle ranch in the small town of Coalinga, home of California's largest stash of cow manure. Coburn soon began making predictions that sounded like bull. He said "Chromie" would win the Derby, then added the Triple Crown to his visions.
Coalinga is in the San Joaquin Valley, setting of John Steinbeck's Depression-era novel "The Grapes of Wrath." It depicted the rough lives of the "Okies" from Oklahoma's Dust Bowl who picked fruits and vegetables not far from where "Chromie" was born. Coburn calls him "the people's horse," and undoubtedly many descendants of those migrant pickers picked him to win.
Throughout an exhausting, exhilarating journey from California to Kentucky to Maryland to Long Island, Sherman marveled about how the racing gods made him their chosen one. Because fame and glory came so late in his 60-year career, he had the perspective to take it in stride. On Tuesday, Sherman reflected on a run no one could have predicted.
"I don't have anything to prove, so I'm more laid-back this time," he said. "I don't think he has to win the Belmont to be a hero. He'll always be my hero."
Before the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, Sherman tried to ease the pressure by being philosophical. His mantra: "If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."
Unfortunately, it wasn't.