To win the Triple Crown, there's no margin for error and no room for misfortune. California Chrome's long run of good luck ended Saturday when he suffered a hoof injury leaving the gate and dead-heated for fourth before a crowd of 102,199 in the Belmont Stakes. For the 36th consecutive year, racing's most coveted trophy went unclaimed.
After the race, the chestnut colt was bleeding from a torn right front hoof and a superficial cut on his right front tendon. A photograph on drf.com shows Matterhorn's left foreleg stepping on California Chrome's right front foot as they broke from posts 3 and 2, respectively. The 4-5 favorite finished only 1 3/4 lengths behind long-shot winner Tonalist, so it could be argued that the injury cost him his chance to become the 12th Triple Crown hero.
"It couldn't have helped him any," trainer Art Sherman said Sunday morning outside Belmont Park's Barn 26. "It might have been stinging him and he might not have been comfortable. I watched him the last 70 yards and he didn't have his usual kick.
"It was scary to come back to the barn and see his foot bleeding. Other than having about a quarter of his hoof being taken off, it's OK. It should heal in about three weeks, and then he'll get some needed time off. The Triple Crown is a rough trail. We'll fight another day."
Sherman was relieved that Matterhorn's hoof didn't slice into California Chrome's tendon, which could have ended his career.
After spending most of his 61-year career out of the spotlight, Sherman, 77, became a media magnet. A day after refusing to answer questions about the crushing defeat, he reflected on the best spring of his life.
"You can't be a hero all the time. I did win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and the horse has made more than $3 million," he said. "I think I'll get a pretty good reception when I go back to Los Alamitos."
The colt was walking near his barn Sunday with a white bandage on the damaged hoof, and Sherman said that later in the morning, he would fit him with a special bandage to reduce the risk of infection. California Chrome was scheduled to leave John F. Kennedy International Airport Sunday on a 1 p.m. flight to California. Sherman said he expected to keep him there and point for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.
Sherman was asked if he thought there would ever be another Triple Crown sweep. "Not unless there are changes made and the races are spaced farther apart," he said. "I don't think so, unless you get a really freaky horse."
Back to work for Clement. Christophe Clement, Tonalist's trainer, savored his first Triple Crown victory on a sunny morning when it was business as usual for the 48-year-old Frenchman. Just after sunrise, he checked his horses' legs, running his hands over them, and watched them train.
"I was pretty confident that Tonalist was going to run well," he said, "but you can never expect that you're going to win."
Clement completed a unique Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe-Belmont Stakes training double with his older brother, Nicolas, who won France's most important race in October 1990, a year before Christophe saddled his first winner in this country.
"This was wonderful," Clement said. "We're stabled at Belmont, and it's Belmont's most important race, so it means a lot to us. I'm very grateful to all of my staff, who have to put up with me every day, and to Mr. [Robert] Evans, because it's a luxury to train for owners who put the horse first."