By John Pricci

ELMONT—Looking back on the five weeks of the 2019 Triple Crown leaves at least one observer thinking this: What a short, strange trip it’s been!

First, there were myriad preps, won by multitudes of different Classic contenders. Then came the Derby; the historical, hysterical, event that took place in Kentucky five weeks ago that will be a huge part of Derby lore going forward.

This was followed by an unneeded, unnecessary disparagement of War of Will’s Preakness, who used his speed and power to provide himself with a perfect-trip ending. That was all War of Will and Tyler Gaffalione.

Finally came yesterday’s 151st Belmont Stakes in which most of the post-race storyline concerned itself with the possibility that the “best horse” finished second while the “best rider” won the race.

What was lost in all the might-have-been scenarios is one immutable fact: From beginning to end, Mark Casse put the 2019 Classics on his back in the Louisville starting gate and carried it all the way to the finish line in New York.

His deeply troubled Derby runner and Preakness winner was the only member of the division to make all the dances because this young older-schooler believes that “if you can run in these races, you should.”

And so he did, winning two of the three; one an effort of satisfaction and a certain vindication of belief, the other giving a horse what it needed to succeed on the second Saturday in June:

If by getting fit in the Withers, Tampa Bay Derby and Blue Grass was necessary to set up Sir Winston’s Belmont-winning performance with a fast-finish Peter Pan placing, then so be it. Treating the Belmont winner like an individual was as fitting an ending to this Casse’s personal Triple Crown as any.

When discussing the game’s bigger than life training icons, one always hears the names Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, the “Big Three,” mentioned first. Well now there appears to be a “Murderers Row.” Simply add Casse’s name to the dominating mix.

Triple Crown MVP Mark Casse
File Photo by Toni Pricci

Conditions were terrible for all in Louisville; the wide trip and wet track were ruinous to the Derby chances Baffert’s Game Winner and Improbable, respectively. Pletcher, per custom, competed in only two of the three events and none of his starters ever threated in either race.

Brown had no impact on this year’s Triple Crown but he’s on top of the list when it comes to turf domination and is in the conversation for his handling of possibly the best three-year-old filly in America, Acorn Stakes record-setting Guarana.

But it was Casse who won two classics with different horses, setting the record straight on the stewards’ inquiry process following the Derby in an objective manner before stating, when asked post-Preakness, that he would do whatever it takes to ensure the game endures, including the absence of raceday medication.

But winning the Belmont with the “other horse” with a career-best effort while the stable star-- the only runner cheered by the pre-Belmont crowd--raced as if all tuckered out by cramming for the Triple Crown after the Louisiana Derby debacle, places the 57-year-old horsemen in rarified air, indeed.

Belmont Stakes Festival Grade 1 Watch

Can’t argue with those who believe trips made all the difference in the Belmont. Joel Rosario was brilliant and daring, saving ground on a surface that played faster inside than outside before he angled out, kissing his stablemate en route to a running lane. Even if the track played more fairly, the ground loss by Tacitus was staggering...

The HRI Faithful know that we are huge Jose Ortiz fans. The youngster may be been forced into the wide trip when Tyler Gaffalione and War of Will curiously did not go on with it after entering the backstretch. While love Ortiz’s aggressiveness, but his decision making, Guarana notwithstanding, was poor on Belmont Festival weekend.

The mid-race move aboard Giant Zinger in Friday’s New York Stakes was ill advised given the dynamics at that time. And the attempted mid-race move with Gold Cup co-favorite Red Knight was very poorly executed with the brush into the lower clubhouse turn. Don’t know if there were any viable options for Tacitus, but that trip wasn’t going to get it done on Saturday’s racetrack...

Met Mile favorite McKinzie certainly had a valid excuse--trapped with run behind horses inside the final furlong--finding a seam inside too late to rush passed a good-tripping Thunder Snow. But even at that, we don’t know that Mitole deserved to lose.

He attended the pace all the way, surrounded by rivals contesting for the lead approaching headstretch, but kept on going despite chasing splits of 22.17, 44.38, and 108.24, finishing up in a very worthy 24.51. The final time of 1.32.75 was 2/100s off the Met Mile record...

That McKinzie would have caught Mitole with a cleaner trip was more of an optical illusion in our view. Mitole kept him at bay yards from the wire and still refused to let him by on the gallop-out.

Steve Asmussen has hit all the high notes with this fast and extremely consistent four-year-old, just as he has with Midnight Bisou, the filly giving her G1 Ogden Phipps rivals six pounds and a clear-cut licking. Maybe Monomoy Girl is a little intimidated and has no wish to come out of her at the moment...?

The performance of the day belonged to Acorn winner Guarana. In perfect striking position behind Serengeti Empress’ intense fractions of 21.89, 43.99 and 108.03, Guarana completing the mile in a drawing-out 133.58, the fastest renewal ever. The Kentucky Oaks winner was courageous in defeat. But right now, Guarana is breathing different than her divisional rivals.

(c) John Pricci,, June 9, 2019