Tonalist, Belmont Stakes, Belmont Park, June 7th 2014; Jockey Club Gold Cup, Belmont Park, September 27th 2014
Trained by Christophe Clement, Sire: Tapit, Dam: Settling Mist by Pleasant Colony
Thirty-three years after watching Pleasant Colony, who was bred and raced by his father Thomas Mellon Evans’ Buckland Farm, be denied the Triple Crown by losing to Summing in the 1981 Belmont Stakes, Robert “Shel” Evans’s lightly-raced Tonalist denied California Chrome the Triple Crown by beating him in the Belmont. Tonalist’s broodmare sire is Pleasant Colony.
In the press conference following Tonalist’s victory, Evans told reporters, “Yesterday I went to my father’s grave and thanked him for putting me in the position to be doing this. We had high hopes for Pleasant Colony [in the Belmont Stakes] and it was very quiet after he didn’t win.”
Family is an important fabric in Evans’s life. His dad was a cousin of Paul Mellon, the incredibly popular owner, breeder, and philanthropist. Evans, now 70, owned 1992 Champion Older Male Pleasant Tap with his brothers Edward (“Ned”), who bred Horse of the Year Saint Liam and bred and raced Grade 1 winner Quality Road, and Thomas Jr.
Shel Evans graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and received a master’s degree from the Columbia Business School in 1969. He is the chairman of Crane Co., an industrial company based in Stamford, Conn., and of Huttig Building Products in St. Louis.
Evans, who bought his first horse in 1965, has owned Courtland Farm in Easton, Maryland, for more than two decades. Among his top horses were Sewickley, who won the Grade 1 Vosburgh in 1989 and 1990 and the 1989 Grade 2 Tom Fool and Fall Highweight Handicap; and Shared Interest, who took the 1992 Grade 2 First Flight and the 1993 Grade 1 Ruffian. He bred Shared Interest and her daughter Cash Run, who won the 1999 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. He also bred Cash Run’s half-brother, multiple stakes winner Forestry. Evans sold Cash Run for $1.2 million. She was later sold as a broodmare for $7.1 million.
Always willing to give back to the industry, Evans served on The Jockey Club for 15 years and was a member of the New York Racing Association Board of Trustees for 12.
Shel and Susan Evans have three children – Michael, Ashley, and Jonathan – and two grandchildren. Asked after the Belmont if he ever is confused with the chairman of Churchill Downs Incorporated with the same name, he said, “My middle name is Sheldon and in Canada they call me Shel. Here, I’m Robert, which is his name.” He prefers Shel.