It’s that time of year where we start saying goodbye to the stars of the track who head off to second careers in the breeding shed. One such horse that was being pointed to a 5-year-old season, but suddenly reversed course was Classic winner Tonalist. The 2014 Belmont Stakes winner is headed to Lane’s End Farm to follow Honor Code and Liam’s Map there and will command a $40,000 stud fee.
He capped his career last month with a win in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile over a strong group including Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up Private Zone and stable mate Red Vine. His biggest victory, of course, was his Triple Crown shattering victory in last year’s Belmont, keeping California Chrome from becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.
Tonalist’s other big victories came in back-to-back Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cups on his favorite Belmont Park surface, winning the mile-and-a-quarter trek the past two years. He defeated solid groups in both Gold Cups only to struggle in the Breeders’ Cup Classics at Santa Anita and Keeneland.
The son of Tapit won $3,697,000 in his 16 career races, winning seven times and hitting the board in 13 of those efforts. “Tapit is the most important stallion in America and Tonalist is his best son,” said Will Farish of Lane’s End in a press release to the racing media. “Tonalist is his only G1 winning son at a mile-and-a-quarter, from a tremendous female family. He’s exactly the kind of stallion we want to stand,” he said.
I became rather fond of this horse and selected him on top of both of those competitive Gold Cups. My fondness was more because of his heart and his ability to make a late run in deep stretch to win a big race. Unfortunately in last year’s BC Classic he was taken too far back and while he was picking off horses in the stretch, he was too late to catch Bayern who took them gate-to-wire.
His Belmont Stakes will be best remembered for California Chrome’s loss, but it was the magnificent ride and patience of jockey Joel Rosario stalking the pace and pouncing late getting by Commissioner by a head. Trainer Christophe Clement always had him ready and but for some questionable rides at Saratoga he still finished with an outstanding record and career.
He was the kind of horse you could root for, regardless of the competition always giving his all and whenever he ran at Belmont, you had to consider him as a major win threat. Hall of Famer John Velazquez rode him in his final six races, taking over after last year’s Classic.
He’ll be missed as he starts up his second career, it will be interesting to see if he can be as successful in the shed as he was on the track.
Look for our annual Racing Festivus column here at the Sports, Ink next week.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.