by Jon White
July 10, 2019
Can Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert in 2019 extend his streak to five consecutive 3-year-old male champions?
I posed that question back in January.
Daily Racing Form first conducted voting for champions in 1937. The Eclipse Awards were born in 1971.
Going back to 1937, Baffert is the only person who has trained four straight Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old males. Baffert’s streak began with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015, then continued with Arrogate in 2016, West Coast in 2017 and Triple Crown winner Justify in 2018.
No other trainer since 1937 other than Baffert has had even two straight 3-year-old male champions.
When Baffert did not win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes or Belmont Stakes this year, it appeared that his run of 3-year-old male champions most likely was going to come to an end this year.
But it turns out that at this point in 2019, the door is still open for Baffert to make it five straight 3-year-old male champions. The main reason Baffert is still alive to keep his streak going this year is because each of the Triple Crown events was won by a different horse.
Country House won the Kentucky Derby in a 65-1 upset through the disqualification of Maximum Security. War of Will captured the Preakness at 6-1 in the wagering. Sir Winston took the Belmont at 10-1.
Maximum Security’s only defeat in his first five career starts was his DQ in the Kentucky Derby. But then Maximum Security stubbed his toe, so to speak, when he finished second as an overwhelming 1-20 favorite in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 16.
Yes, the race for 3-year-old male title is wide open.
In 2016 and 2017, like this year, each of the Triple Crown races was won by a different horse.
In 2016, Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator won the Preakness and Creator won the Belmont.
In 2017, Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby, Cloud Computing won the Preakness and Tapwrit won the Belmont.
When a different horse was victorious in each of the Triple Crown races in 2016 and 2017, Baffert capitalized by having a runner whose strong second half of the year produced an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male.
During the second half of 2016, Arrogate won all three of his starts en route to the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. He won an allowance/optional claiming race at Del Mar in early August, then made a sensational stakes debut in the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27.
Arrogate, in a scintillating Secretariat-like performance, won the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths. His final time for the venerable 1 1/4-mile affair was 1:59.36 in hundredths or 1:59 1/5 in fifths.
Greg Wolf recently said on Fox Sports’ America’s Day at the Races that Arrogate broke a track record that had stood for more than 100 years. Paul LoDuca said Arrogate broke a track record that had stood for more than 150 years.
Actually, Arrogate broke a track record that had stood for 37 years. Arrogate’s final time in fifths of 1:59 1/5 shaved four-fifths of a second off the track record set by General Assembly (a son of Secretariat) when he splashed his way to a 15-length victory in the 1979 Travers on a sloppy track.
Arrogate was credited with a 122 Beyer Speed Figure for his Travers victory. It is the highest figure in the race since the first Beyers were assigned in the 1990 renewal.
In Arrogate’s final 2016 start, he ran down the formidable older foe California Chrome to win the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic by a half-length at Santa Anita. California Chrome was voted 2016 Eclipse Awards as champion older male and Horse of the Year. California Chrome also was voted a pair of Eclipse Awards in 2014 as champion 3-year-old male and Horse of the Year.
During the second half of 2017, West Coast won three of his four starts. His victories came in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby, Grade I Travers and Grade I Pennsylvania Derby.
In West Coast’s final 2017 start, he finished third behind older rivals Gun Runner and Collected in the Grade I BC Classic at Del Mar. Gun Runner was voted 2017 Eclipse Awards as champion older male and Horse of the Year.
At this point in 2019, Game Winner and Mucho Gusto appear to have the best chance to extend Baffert’s streak of 3-year-old male champions to five.
Game Winner was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. However, he is winless in three 2019 starts. But he’s been firing bullet after bullet in the a.m. at Santa Anita. Game Winner has recorded bullet drills on June 13, June 20, June 28 and July 6 to suggest a big second half of 2019 just might be in store for the Kentucky-bred Candy Ride colt.
Mucho Gusto had a bullet workout himself at Santa Anita on July 4. The Kentucky-bred Mucho Macho Man colt goes into the second half of 2019 off back-to-back clear-cut victories at Santa Anita. Mucho Gusto won the Lazaro Barrera Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths on May 18 and Affirmed Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths on June 16.
As of this writing, it looks like Game Winner will be running this Saturday in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby at 1 1/8 miles. Mucho Gusto seemingly is headed to Monmouth’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at 1 1/8 miles on July 20.
Baffert has won the Haskell a record eight times (Point Given in 2001, War Emblem in 2002, Roman Ruler in 2005, Lookin At Lucky in 2009, Coil in 2010, Paynter in 2011, Bayern in 2014 and American Pharoah in 2015).
Improbable was considered to be one of Baffert’s better 3-year-olds at the start of 2019 after winning the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity last Dec. 8. However, Improbable has failed to win any of his four 2019 starts. He has had just one recorded workout (four furlongs in :49.40 at Santa Anita on June 19) since finishing sixth as the 5-2 favorite in the Preakness on May 18.
Kentucky Derby winner Country House will not race again this year, according to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. That takes Country House out of the race to get the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2019.
Mark Casse recently reported that Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston “is dealing with an injury to his left front ankle and will be out of training for a little while,” according to Daily Racing Form’s David Grening.
“I’m not going to rush him,” Casse said of the Kentucky-bred Awesome Again colt. “It will keep us out of the Travers for sure.”
Casse went on to say his plan is to have Sir Winston ready for the fall with the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park early in 2020 in mind (not to be confused with the recent Pegasus Stakes run at Monmouth). Thus, it seems that Sir Winston, like Country House, is out of the race to get the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male of 2019.
Beyond Game Winner and Mucho Gusto, these currently appear to be the leading candidates to get the 2019 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male:
Making her first start since taking the Grade I BC Turf last Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs, Enable won the Group I Coral Eclipse Stakes by three-quarters of a length in England last Saturday for trainer John Gosden.
Once again in the Coral Eclipse, Magical had to settle for second behind Enable. Magical also ran second in the BC Turf.
Enable now has won 10 in a row. The 5-year-old Great Britain-bred mare has won 11 of 12 overall.
Enable’s primary 2019 objective is to become the first three-time winner of the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France on the first Sunday in October at Longchamp.
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 387 Bricks and Mortar (29)
2. 356 Mitole (8)
3. 274 Midnight Bisou (2)
4. 258 McKinzie (1)
5. 212 World of Trouble
6. 126 Seeking the Soul
7. 120 Rushing Fall
8. 88 Thunder Snow
9. 87 Vino Rosso
10. 52 Catholic Boy