- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - California Chrome failed in his bid to win the first Triple Crown in 36 years on Saturday, losing the Belmont Stakes to long shot Tonalist and leaving his owner to complain others took “the coward’s way out” by skipping the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Before tens of thousands hoping to see history, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner finished in a dead-heat for fourth with Wicked Strong. California Chrome’s loss extended the longest drought without a Triple Crown champion.

California Chrome co-owner Steve Coburn was bitter about horses skipping the first two legs and then stealing the Belmont. Six of the last eight Belmont winners did just that.

“That’s the coward’s way out,” he said. “It’s not fair to these horses that have been in the game since day one. If you don’t make enough points to get into the Kentucky Derby, you can’t run in the other two races. It’s all or nothing.”

Coburn thought the other 10 horses ganged up on California Chrome, who was second early, dropped to fourth and then fifth before dead-heating for fourth. Photos after the race showed Chrome also had a bloody gash on his right front foot, a minor injury that may have hurt his chances.

Coburn voiced a similar complaint after the Preakness, saying only the 20 horses that run in the Kentucky Derby should be eligible to compete in the other two legs. He also believed that horses skipping the Preakness should not be allowed to return in the Belmont.

Coburn had been in a festive mood earlier in the day, waving his cream-colored cowboy hat to fans and signing items they tossed to him in his box seat.

But the mood turned ugly after the race.

Three tough races in five weeks proved too demanding for California Chrome, who was sent off as the heavy 4-5 favorite. Affirmed remains the most recent Triple Crown winner in 1978.

The raucous crowd of 102,199 - the third-largest in Belmont history - was silenced when it became obvious that California Chrome lacked his usual punch in the stretch.

Jockey Victor Espinoza realized long before then that his chestnut colt wasn’t up to the grueling 1 1/2-mile trip around the track’s sweeping turns.

“As soon as he came out of the gate, he wasn’t the same,” Espinoza said.

Alan Sherman, the son and assistant to trainer Art Sherman, agreed.

“When Victor started to squeeze on him, he didn’t respond,” he said. “He was wore out, I think.”

Once the official result was posted, fans sat in stunned silence before heading to the exits.

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