ELMONT, N.Y. -- As the voice of Belmont Park, announcer Tom Durkin wanted to find the right words to capture history.
Durkin, who will retire this summer after 24 years as the New York Racing Association’s track announcer, had never called a Triple Crown victory. Before Saturday, he was 0 for 7 with racing’s greatest prize on the line. California Chrome gave him another chance at creating a perfect description that could be repeated for decades to come.
“I’d like to do it mostly in a sense of being a fan,” Durkin told reporters before Saturday’s 146th Belmont Stakes. “And to say I was there and that I had the best seat in the house.”
Make that 0 for 8 for Durkin as California Chrome finished in a dead heat for fourth behind 9-1 shot Tonalist.
Durkin, 64, rehearsed various scenarios in his head and thought about how he could capture the moment.
“As a person who spends his working life describing things, I’d really like to be able to have the right words, the right tone, the right emotional value and hit the sense of history that would make it worthy,” he said.
So, what did Durkin say when California Chrome failed to fire? He played it straight with a note of exasperation: “At the wire, it’s Tonalist.”
No Triple Crown again.
Belmont bonanza – As if hosting a potential Triple Crown wasn’t enough, Belmont Park rolled out the hardware for Saturday’s lengthy program. Like a mini-Breeders’ Cup, the card featured 10 stakes, six of them Grade I, worth more than $8 million. Among the highlights:
• Palace Malice, the 2013 Belmont Stakes winner, returned a year later to show he has speed as well as stamina. The Todd Pletcher trainee won the $1.25 million Metropolitan Mile over Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents. Jockey John Velazquez dove down to the rail in deep stretch with late-running Palace Malice ($4.70) to prevail by a length in the field of 12. His final time for the Mile, usually a Memorial Day fixture, was 1 minute, 33.56 seconds. The victory gave Palace Malice an automatic berth in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Shakin It Up, who finished fourth, was injured and vanned off.
• In a matchup of the nation’s top older fillies and mares, Bill Mott’s Close Hatches ($7.80) prevailed by a head over Pletcher’s Princess of Sylmar in the $1 million Ogden Phipps, another “win and you’re in” Breeders’ Cup race. Antipathy, a 30-1 long shot, was a neck back in third. California-based Beholder, the even-money favorite and a two-time Eclipse champion for trainer Richard Mandella, finished fourth.
• On the turf, Real Solution ($13), an offspring of Kitten’s Joy, won the $1 million Manhattan for trainer Chad Brown, jockey Javier Castellano and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
• Bob Baffert’s Bayern ($20.40) bounced back from a ninth-place finish behind California Chrome in the Preakness to win the $500,000 Woody Stephens over Top Fortitude and Social Inclusion.
Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.