By John Pricci

It is with some pride we believe that the HRI staff and its contributors were extremely even handed in their assessment of the 2019 three-year-old class.

Indeed, who knows with certitude the identity of this year’s best sophomore: Is it #1 Derby “winner” Maximum Security, or #1 Preakness hero War of Will? Until they meet again, no one knows. But the staff got it exactly right: A dead-heat for the win.

Now Mark Casse has a propensity to run his horses, he’s old school that way. Jason Servis adheres to modern training dogma; fresh is best. So when and if the summit comes in July, it will be advantage Maximum Security in the “Showdown at the Shore.”

“Unbeaten” in five career starts, Maximum Security will likely face some equine tomato cans in the Pegasus, once a prestigious stakes race at The Meadowlands in the day but now sensibly reduced in stature because its status has changed.

Saratoga’s Travers has its Jim Dandy; why shouldn’t the Haskell Invitational have its race- over-the-track prequel?

Due to a network television scheduling conflict, the Haskell will be held a week earlier this year, five weeks in advance of the Travers instead of the usual four. Most horseman are going to love having an extra week to prepare for the Derby of Midsummer.

Avoiding the weekend on which Saratoga stages not one but two Travers prep, the Jim Dandy and the Curlin the day before, actually helps both Grade 1 races.

There won’t be any cross-entering is search of a softer spot, a smaller field, a better post position—any reason that results in a program scratch somewhere.

We still can’t figure out how the Curlin--like the Jim Dandy, a mile and an eighth--fits into the big sophomore picture at year’s end other than to give very lightly-raced late developers a chance to catch up a little to the division’s elite.

The Haskell, with its Grade 1 status and million-dollar purse, is a huge attraction unto itself. It’s a race that can help make or break a champion after all the Eclipse votes are counted. Either way, this year’s renewal will be a boon to reinvigorated Monmouth Park.

In addition to freshness, Maximum Security will either prep or train over his home track. War of Will seems to carry racetracks with him but as the lone three-year-old to compete all the Triple Crown events he must also turn back from a bottom-reaching 12 furlongs.

But 2019 is far from a two-horse and two-trainer division. Richard Mandella might have #4 Omaha Beach back for a summertime assault, a horse with speed and style that should feel right at home at the Shore.

And what of the Baffert three-year-olds? Will one be back at tops and try to give Bullet Bob his ninth Haskell? Baffert has not been a Haskell hero since the great American Pharoah four years ago but has enough bullets in the chamber to take a run at it.

Bill Mott has two would-be contenders himself; the gifted, cough-plagued (eh-hem) Derby winner Country House, at #3, and the colt he believes is the better of the two, #5 Tacitus, who has a date in two weeks in Elmont.

At the moment, the Big Five stand tallest among all others, but their rankings may be tenuous. While it’s easy to understand why distance-challenged #6 Code of Honor will skip the Belmont but that doesn’t mean Shug McGaughey won’t take a run at the Travers.

We were on #7 Game Winner in the Derby and he ran an extremely well, beaten circa five lengths after racing in about the 6-path for a mile and a quarter.

Game Winner was going to be a tricky Belmont read and we’re relieved Baffert has decided to skip the Belmont and point the champ to the Travers. His absence may encourage others to take a shot at winning a classic. We shall see.

We love the Peter Pan as a prep as well as the ability and promise of # 8 Global Campaign. More pedigree study is in order.

One need not be the world’s best trip handicapper to know that #10 Master Fencer, potentially a very good horse, was sharp and genuine making up late ground in the Derby.

So is #10 Owendale who everyone, myself included, thought finished second in Baltimore but lost the place photo. He was coming hard and fast but this is 12 furlongs in New York, a completely different ballgame.

Entries for the Champion’s Test will be drawn a week from Tuesday. On paper, it figures to be every bit as good a betting race as the one in Maryland last weekend.

HRI Triple Crown Poll, Post-Preakness Edition

1--Maximum Security (42)
1--War of Will (42)
3--Country House (28)
4--Omaha Beach (27)
5--Tacitus (25)
6--Code of Honor (22)
7--Game Winner (15)
8--Global Campaign (10)
9--Everfast (9)
10--Master Fencer (4)
10--Owendale (4)

Also Receiving Votes, in graded order: Spinoff, Long Range Toddy, Serengeti Empress, and Bodexpress

©John Pricci,, May 25, 2019, All Rights Reserved