by Jeremy Plonk
July 1, 2019
The second half of 2019 uncorks today as the calendar flips to July. You don’t have to be an ace handicapper to tout that we’re looking forward to some clarity in the 3-year-old male and handicap divisions. Even an optimist would have to say Q1-Q2 left more questions than answers among those runners.
Clearly the most dominant horses of 2019 have been in sub-divisions: Bricks and Mortar in the Turf, Mitole in the Sprint, Midnight Bisou in the Distaff and World of Trouble in the Turf Sprint ranks. They are 16-for-16 with more than $7 million combined in earnings. They’ve won both south and north already on the year. If you demand that a horse ‘make it’ in New York (which I don’t, but many do), all 4 have checked that box in recent weeks.
That said, the 2019 Triple Crown gave us zero clarity in the sophomore class, witness to a trio of winners that included Country House via DQ in Louisville, War of Will via perfect trip in Baltimore and Sir Winston via a 4-race losing streak prior to Elmont. It’s fair to say that if all 3 showed up in the Travers, there’s a very good chance someone else would actually go favored. But if you were convinced Derby demotion Maximum Security was the one, his defeat at dimes on the dollar in the ‘other’ Pegasus Stakes left significant plumes of smoke. And Richard Mandella sounds like there’s no timetable in sight for a return to the races by Omaha Beach.
Perhaps it’s Tacitus and rising Owendale to settle the sophomore argument. Game Winner could get his swag back in races like the PA Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic back home at Santa Anita. But he still hasn’t won a race this year after winning last year’s 2-year-old championship.
The older males on dirt bid retirement farewells to City of Light and Accelerate following their 1-2 finish in the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 26. The remainder of the division had 5 months to interview replacements, and so far the sequel has lacked a stellar casting call. McKinzie has been beaten 3 of 4 starts, though never worse than second, and may get the first call-back. Seeking the Soul won the Stephen Foster over a track he loves at Churchill, but he’s 1-for-3 on the campaign, as is Gift Box. That makes the divisional standard-setters a combined 3-for-10 this year.
But hardware aside, they still will run a Breeders’ Cup Classic this year for the dirt route males. McKinzie leads the British books at 12-1 for that currently with Thunder Snow at 14-1. The latter, winner of the 2019 Dubai World Cup and a good third in the Met Mile, seems the horse to beat right now for the Classic even if his resume isn’t on the radar for an Eclipse Award just yet. But an American campaign awaits and Thunder Snow seems the best Classic projection, and, in turn, championship contender at this point.
That Thunder Snow sits 0-for-3 in America lifetime and likely our best Classic division candidate says a lot about where we are as July embarks. The good thing is we have 6 more months to figure this season out.