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Belmont Stakes


2014/07/04



Compiled by Nancy Brannon

Much to the dismay of California Chrome fans, and all those hoping 2014 would crown a new Triple Crown winner, “there was no joy in Mudville” on June 7, 2014 when California Chrome tied for fourth in the Belmont Stakes. The top three winners of the Belmont were: Tonalist, first by a head; Commissioner, second; and third, Medal Count.

California Chrome sustained a bloody gash to his right front foot during the race, an injury that may have contributed to his failed bid to sweep the Triple Crown, according to USA Today. Trainer Art Sherman said his injury occurred during “the first jump” out of the starting gate. It was estimated to take two to three weeks for the injury to heal. Sherman suggested that, as with any athlete, rest is just as pivotal as racing and training. “I think you need a little more time between races,” he told CNN.

California Chrome finished behind three horses which sat out the Preakness—Tonalist, Commissioner, and Medal Count, and the top two finishers also sat out the Derby: Tonalist and Commissioner. California Chrome’s co-owner Steve Coburn was bitter about horses skipping the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then racing in the Belmont.

This was the 36th year without a Triple Crown winner. “California Chrome became the 20th horse to fall short in a Triple try in the oldest and longest leg of the Triple Crown. The last horse to win all three races was Affirmed in 1978. Since 1919, only 11 horses have succeeded in sweeping the series,” according to the official results posted at the Belmont Stakes website.

The Belmont was only the fifth career race for Tonalist, trained by Christophe Clement for Robert Evans. Prior to the Belmont he won the Grade 2 Peter Pan stakes on May 10, 2014 at Belmont. In fact, Tonalist and Commissioner also finished first and second in the Peter Pan.The lightly raced son of Tapit (see May 2014 Mid-South Horse Review) had won only one other race in his career, a maiden race on January 18, 2014 at Belmont Park.

The Triple Crown races are for three-year-olds only, so qualified horses have only once in a lifetime’s racing career chance at the Triple Crown. Why has there been such a long time without a Triple Crown winner? Is it the varying criteria for the three races and a system that allows “newcomers” into the Belmont? The Mid-South Horse Review wanted to know, so we investigated the criteria for running in each of the three races and how horses qualify for each.

In 2012, Churchill Downs, Inc. established a new point system, rather than graded earnings, to determine the Kentucky Derby Field. The graded stakes criteria had been in effect since 1986 and determined which 20 horses got their chance to run for the roses.

“The new point system -- officially branded as the ‘Road to the Kentucky Derby’ -- features 36 stakes races overall and includes 17 marquee events for three-year-old Thoroughbreds that comprise a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May to be known as the ‘Kentucky Derby Championship Series,’” according to Racing News at KentuckyDerby.com. The change took effect for the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013.

“The ‘Kentucky Derby Prep Season’ includes 19 races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that are typically run between late September and late February. The ‘Kentucky Derby Championship Series’ is a three-part series of 17 marquee races on dirt or synthetic surfaces over distances of at least one mile that are traditionally run over a compact, 10-week run up to the first Saturday in May. The top 20 point earners will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate…” (more details at: http://www.kentuckyderby.com/news/2012/06/14/derby-field-be-set-new-point-system-not-graded-earnings)

The Preakness field is determined by the horse’s lifetime earnings in Graded Stakes and non-restricted stakes. “The Preakness field will be limited to fourteen (14) starters and the number of horses that are also eligible to start, up to a maximum of two (2),” according to TheTripleCrown.com. “…the starters will be determined at the Closing with the first seven (7) horses given preference by accumulating the highest lifetime earnings in Graded Stakes. The next four (4) starters will be determined by accumulating the highest lifetime earnings in all ‘non-restricted’ stakes, which means those stakes whose conditions contain no restrictions other than that of age or sex. The remaining five (5) starters and also eligibles shall be determined by accumulating the highest lifetime earnings in all races.”

For the Belmont, criteria are: “The Belmont field will be limited to sixteen (16) starters. In the event more than 16 entries pass through the entry box at the closing, the starters will be determined at the closing with the first eight (8) starters given preference by accumulating the highest earnings in Graded Sweepstakes at a mile or over. …The next five (5) starters will be determined by accumulating the highest earnings in all non-restricted sweepstakes. The remaining three (3) starters shall be determined by accumulating the highest earnings in all races. The above conditions notwithstanding, any horse, which earns purse money in either The Kentucky Derby or The Preakness Stakes shall be included in the initial eight (8) starters of The Belmont Stakes,” according to TheTripleCrown.com.

Some conjecture that it may be the distance of the Belmont, compared to the other two races, or the time period between races that prevents a Triple Crown winner. “The daunting Triple Crown challenge squeezes three races into a five-week period, in an era when thoroughbreds normally run no more than once a month. Adding to the rigor is the course itself: Belmont is a quarter-mile longer than Churchill Downs (Derby) and five-sixteenths longer than Pimlico Race Course (Preakness),” according to information from CNN.com.

Currently, a plan to lengthen the amount of time between races so better-rested horses will have an easier shot at the Triple Crown is being bandied about, according to the Boston Globe.

Another factor could be that Thoroughbreds are being bred and raised differently than their 1970s counterparts. When Secretariat was foaled in 1970, racing was dominated by sportsmen who mated and raced generations of horses. The emphasis was on building stamina so horses could excel at longer distances as they matured. By 1985, breeding horses to sell them young at auctions had taken over as the more lucrative venture. Today’s races are generally shorter and speed is prized, according to the Boston Globe.

Resources
Road to KY Derby point system:
http://www.kentuckyderby.com/news/2012/06/14/derby-field-be-set-new-point-system-not-graded-earnings
The Triple Crown: Preakness Stakes
http://www.thetriplecrown.com/preakness-stakes
CNN report on Belmont:
http://www.cnn.com/2014/06/07/us/triple-crown-horse-racing/
Boston Globe article:
http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2014/06/06/triple-crown-quest-much-different-than-was/n3StSb8JomqLc7Jmkuem4K/story.html
Bleacher Report: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2086324-why-weve-waited-so-long-for-another-triple-crown-winner
Phelps Sports: http://www.phelpssports.com/viewarticle.php?id=10011873
 
Photo of injured foot: courtesy the Associated Press
Tonalist, ridden by jockey Joel Rosario, takes the 146th Belmont Stakes, with California Chrome following in fourth, Saturday, June 7, 2014, at Belmont Park in New York.  Longines was the Official Watch and Timekeeper of the 146th running of the Belmont Stakes. (Photo by Diane Bondareff/Invision for Longines/AP Images)
 

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