By Dick Jerardi
The Triple Crown races have such an outsized influence on the sport that even without the Kentucky Derby winner in the Preakness or a Triple Crown on the line in the Belmont Stakes, the racing cards featuring the last two legs generated $200 million in handle.
The Derby itself somehow gets bigger every year. I was at Churchill Downs for every Derby from 1987 to 2017 and watched the nearly annual transformation of the track to the Twin Spires being dominant to the spires being dominated by all the construction around them. In recent times, especially, a new structure went up just about every year to meet the demand for the Derby experience. That demand, apparently, is insatiable.
After getting the unforgettable American Pharoah tour de force in 2015 and the unraced maiden to Triple Crown winner in 111 days that was Justify last year, we were probably due for a letdown on the track. This Triple Crown could best be described as unsatisfying unless, of course, you were Mark Casse who trained Preakness winner War of Will and Belmont winner Sir Winston.
Something just seemed off after Maximum Security was disqualified and Country House was declared the official Kentucky Derby winner. That neither horse ran in the next two races was certainly part of it.
Hopefully, all of the good three-year-olds will regroup for the second half of the year and we will see more than a few of them for the Pennsylvania Derby in September.
We can only hope Pennsylvania Derby Day will be as good as it was in 2018. Just how good was on full display during the best racing card of the year at Belmont Park that culminated with the Belmont Stakes.
Midnight Bisou won the Grade I Cotillion last year after Monomoy Girl was disqualified, but there has never been anything fluky about the now four-year-old filly’s performances. After running what looked like the best race of her life to win the Grade I Ogden Phipps on the Belmont undercard, Midnight Bisou is now 9-for-15 lifetime and closing on $3 million in earnings. The filly is 4-for-4 in 2019 and, with Monomoy Girl having to miss the first half of the season after a bout with colic, has complete control of the older filly and mare division.
McKinzie, the 2018 Pennsylvania Derby winner, was favored to win the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap (more commonly referred to as the “Met Mile”) against what was the best field of horses assembled all year. The 11-horse field had combined for nearly $26 million in earnings. Firenze Fire, who won last year’s Grade III Gallant Bob on the Pa. Derby Day card, was in the field as was two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow, superstar sprinter Mitole and Grade I winners Pavel and Promises Fulfilled.
Mitole was brilliant in victory: his seventh straight. No way to know what would have happened if McKinzie had not faced serious traffic trouble in the stretch, but the four-year-old was coming hard at Mitole in the final yards, strongly suggesting he has more major wins in front of him.
A star emerged in the Grade I Acorn, a three-year-old filly we may see in this year’s Cotillion. Guarana had raced just once, but her 14 3/4-length win at Keeneland was so impressive she was favored against much more experienced and accomplished fillies. She did not disappoint, blowing by Kentucky Oaks winner Serengeti Empress to win by six lengths and running a mile in 1:33.58. The surface was extremely fast Saturday, but still…
The Met Mile went in 1:32.75 so for a three-year-old filly to run less than a second slower than some of the fastest older males in America really does suggest greatness for the Chad Brown trainee.
With that, the 2019 Triple Crown is in the books and the second half of the season beckons…