This year’s Triple Crown season was largely a letdown. But with the 3YO’s taking their leave from center stage, there is a galaxy of stars in other divisions poised to shine. Bricks and Mortar against the world on grass; Catholic Boy on dirt and turf; Chad Brown’s herd of female turfers; Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl getting together again; super sprinters Mitole and World of Trouble; the latest filly sensation; Acorn runoff Guarana, Pimlico record-setter Covfefe and undefeated Break Even.
By Tom Jicha
Three-year-olds have had their time in the sun. Heading into the second half of the season, they are the least interesting group in what promises to be a spectacular few months of racing.
The seven final phase 100-point Derby qualifiers and the three Triple Crown events were won by 10 different horses. Depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty person, this translates either to parity or mediocrity.
Maximum Security, best on the track in the Derby, hasn’t been seen since. The Kentucky stewards’ Derby winner, Country House, has a cough so persistent you would think he is a lifelong smoker.
Omaha Beach, scratched as the morning line favorite for the Derby, is back in Dick Mandella’s barn a month later than anticipated after his throat surgery. Maybe he can become this summer’s Arrogate.
Enough about the 3-year-olds. There are too many genuinely exciting horses in other divisions to dwell on what was (or wasn’t).
Racing might be heading for another Wise Dan debate when it comes to Horse of the Year. If the vote were today, Bricks and Mortar would probably be a runaway choice. He has been leading the NTRA weekly poll of non-sophomores for a couple of months and increased his standing with his characteristically professional score in the Manhattan.
But can a horse, who races exclusively on grass, be named the best in the game? In Wise Dan’s case, the answer was yes. If Bricks and Mortar adds the Arlington Million and one of the prestigious fall stakes to his credit sheet, it’s hard to imagine the answer being anything but that again.
If there is a caveat, it’s that Chad Brown has said he doesn’t expect Bricks and Mortar to run in the Breeders’ Cup because a mile and a half might be beyond his scope and a flat mile might be too short.
There is a herd of stars, who are expected at the Breeders’ Cup, who could steal racing’s biggest prize.
Brown is also loaded on the female side. Rushing Fall so dominated the Just a Game, her eighth win in nine career starts, that there is speculation her next start might be against colts in the Fourstardave at the Spa.
Why not? If she goes, she’ll probably be favored. Americans are finally catching on to what Euros have known for generations. There is no significant talent gap between the sexes.
Alas, there is probably zero chance that Brown would allow an eventual gender showdown between her and Bricks and Mortar.
Brown has to find some way to keep all his stars apart. Homerique looked like a very special horse in running her U.S. record to two-for-two in the New York. Competitionofideas, who ended 2019 with a win in the American Oaks, would be two-for-two if she hadn’t dropped close decisions to her stable mate twice. This is a rivalry that should continue through the summer and fall.
Brown has not even rolled out his “big filly,” Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf champion Sistercharlie. Her seasonal debut is reportedly not far off. Again, one of the problems with “super barns” is we might not see all these fillies in the same race, as would be the case if they were in different barns.
There are some really special dirt horses this year, too. We probably will see at least two or three of them in the same stakes. Mitole continues to amaze. His seventh straight win in the Met Mile came against what might wind up the toughest group of older horses assembled this season. The question is, does this brilliant 4-year-old turn back or move forward? Either way he faces some mighty challenges.
If Mitole tries to extend another furlong in a race such as the Whitney, McKinzie could be there for a rematch. With a cleaner trip, McKinzie would have made the Met Mile really interesting. Who wouldn’t want to see an encore?
Dirt-turf Grade 1 winner Catholic Boy, who showed his fondness for Saratoga by galloping off with last summer’s Travers, also is expected there and in other major main track stakes. A McKinzie-Catholic Boy showdown would be a great consolation prize if Mitole’s connections decide to go elsewhere.
It’s not as if the sprint division would be a base on balls for Mitole. Sooner or later he figures to run into World of Trouble, who made the Jaipur his fifth straight, three on dirt, two on turf. That confrontation would be a headliner at any track in America.
By the way, kudos to World of Trouble’s connections, who announced he will be kept in training through 2020. There has to be a lot of demand in the breeding shed for a horse with his brilliant speed and sprint purses don’t approach those in longer races for older horses. It’s a rare sporting decision.
Getting back to the “weaker sex,” Midnight Bisou continues to assert herself as the outstanding older dirt distaffer in training. She chased Eclipse champion Monomoy Girl all last year without catching her, absent help from the stewards. The Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, Midnight Bisou’s fourth straight in 2019, strongly suggested she might be ready this season for last year’s Eclipse champion, if and when she ever comes out of the barn.
Then there’s Guarana. The way she demolished her rivals in the Acorn, including Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress, in only her second start gave indications she might be the best 3-year-old of either gender. But standing in her way going short is Covfefe, who obliterated Pimlico’s six furlong record Preakness weekend and undefeated, 5-for-5 Break Even. These speedballs could find each other in the Test.
Casual sports fans might consider the wrap-up of the Triple Crown the unofficial end of the thoroughbred racing season. But real fans have more to look forward to this spring and summer than at any time in years.