California Chrome turned into the testing Belmont Park stretch, and for a few seconds the long-denied dream was still alive. By an eighth of a mile from the finish, it was clear he was done, and for the 36th consecutive year, there will be no Triple Crown winner. Belmont Park, a cavernous place that's usually empty, was filled with bitter disappointment on a day when it was packed.
As the wheels came off the wildly popular colt's bandwagon Saturday before a crowd of 102,199 -- the third-largest in Belmont Stakes history -- 9-1 shot Tonalist and jockey Joel Rosario surged past 28-1 shot Commissioner in the final stride to win the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes by a head. California Chrome faded to dead-heat for fourth with Wicked Strong, three-quarters of a length behind 24-1 Medal Count, who was a length in back of Commissioner.
"Chromie" is the 13th straight Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner to not bring home the Crown. Two years ago, I'll Have Another was scratched with a tendon injury the day before the race.
Art Sherman, California Chrome's 77-year-old trainer, declined to comment immediately after the race. His son, assistant trainer Alan Sherman, said: "That horse tried, that's all you can ask for. He took me on the ride of my life."
Postrace photos showed that California Chrome was bleeding on his right front hoof.
Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated tweeted Saturday night: "Trainer Art Sherman just said California Chrome may have injured himself leaving the gate. Kicked rt [right] front leg with rt [right] rear."
Except for those who bet on Commissioner, who led by 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, and Tonalist, who passed him on the outside nearing the wire, most were watching California Chrome's bid for immortality evaporate. If you bet the exacta from Belmont's Peter Pan Stakes, a wet-track race considered to have had a weak field, you collected $348 for $2. Oh, it's an unpredictable sport.
The eighth straight odds-on favorite to lose the Belmont had no traffic problems. He was poised three-wide in third for much of the race, an ideal spot from which to pounce, as he did at Churchill Downs and Pimlico. It seemed as if his tank had emptied just when Victor Espinoza needed him to accelerate.
"Turning for home, I was just waiting for him to have the same kick he always had before, and today he was a little bit flat down the lane," Espinoza said. "He just didn't have it today. It was tough for him, he ran back-to-back races at different tracks."
Going a grueling 1 1/2 miles in his third race in five weeks took its toll. For the ninth straight year, a horse who skipped the Preakness won the Belmont, and California Chrome's co-owner, Steve Coburn, ranted bitterly.
"These other horses who sit out races then come to upset the applecart," said Coburn, who said that many times before the race. "This is the coward's way out. I'm 61 years old and I'll never see a Triple Crown in my lifetime. Our horse had a target on his back. If you have a horse, run him in all three races."
Like jockey Edgar Prado after he upset Smarty Jones with Birdstone 10 years ago, Rosario found his first Belmont win bittersweet. "This is the Belmont, so this is great," he said. "I'm a little bit upset about California Chrome. If I was going to get beat, I wanted to get beat just by him."
Christophe Clement, a 48-year-old transplanted Frenchman whose reputation is as a turf trainer, expressed no mixed emotions.
"I'm absolutely thrilled," he said of his first victory in a 3-year-old classic. "It's wonderful. There's nothing negative. I don't think I'm going to have any trouble sleeping tonight."
Tonalist, a son of the hot sire Tapit, was timed in 2:28.52 on a fast track and paid $20.40 for his third win in five career starts. He earned $800,000, raising his bankroll to $957,000 for Robert S. Evans.
Dale Romans, Medal Count's trainer, saluted the fallen favorite. "It's unbelievable how this New York crowd came out and supported our sport," Romans said. "It's a great day for racing in America. It's about being around greatness, and California Chrome is greatness. He couldn't get it done today like the last  that tried, but he's greatness."