by Jeremy Plonk
December 30, 2019
On some counts, 2019 can’t get out of here fast enough. But the racing memories of the year also have their rightful place. History will remember two races this year more so than the others. There were other great performances, such as Covfefe and Vino Rosso in their respective Breeders’ Cup divisions, and the season-long dominance of Bricks and Mortar on grass. But this year belonged to a controversial Kentucky Derby like history has never seen, and a Met Mile matchup for the ages.
Mitole’s victory by three-quarters of a length in the G1 Metropolitan stole the show on the Belmont Stakes Day card. He beat a star-studded field that included eventual Whitney winner McKinzie, reigning Dubai World Cup hero Thunder Snow, elite sprinters Promises Fulfilled and Firenze Fire, and more. Mitole stretched his talents from 6 furlongs to 8, and in doing so became the first true sprinter to win the prestigious Met since Sahara Sky in 2013, and before that Silver Train in 2006.
Mitole underscored his greatness throughout the year, winning 6 of 7, including the Forego and Breeders’ Cup Sprint at season’s end. A sprinter with a 14: 10-2-2 career record in this day and age at such a high level is deserving of plaudits. He has won over 6 different tracks, taking his game with him no matter the venue, literally from coast-to-coast and Middle America in-between.
The biggest race of any year is the Kentucky Derby; it just is. But the disqualification of Maximum Security and promotion of Country House will be talked about for as long as there are roses in May. No matter which side of the decision you reside, the post-Derby direction for both runners left way more questions than answers. Country House didn’t race again. Maximum Security won the Haskell, Bold Ruler and Cigar Mile, but bypassed the Preakness, Belmont, Travers and Breeders’ Cup.
Fallout from the Derby DQ could be important moving forward. We could be in new territory, where a foul on the first Saturday in May is adjudicated as such. The history of ‘letting them play’ could be over in America’s most traffic-marred race. Or, it just might have been the perfect storm: an egregious swerve on the heels of a hyper-sensitive public besieged by discussion of safety reforms. We won’t know until they let them loose again on May 2.
Beat The Host Returns Saturday
I’m in the on-deck circle getting my practice swings in for Xpressbet’s popular Beat the Host handicapping contest. Every Saturday in January and February, you get your chance to out-handicap Xpressbet’s hand-picked host. There’s $50,000 on the line throughout the season in weekly and seasonal prizes. Registration is already underway. The cost to play each week is nothing more than a $5 win wager on the 10 host-selected tournament races (from Santa Anita and Gulfstream), played into your Xpressbet account and the actual pari-mutuel pools.
I’m not going to talk any pregame smack since I’ve had a cold streak in this tournament in the past 2 seasons. Let’s just say I’m ‘due.’ Good luck!
Here’s the host line-up:
• January 4 - Jeremy Plonk
• January 11 - Millie Ball
• January 18 - Jon White
• January 25 - Jeff Siegel
• February 1 - Steve Byk
• February 8 - Ron Nicoletti
• February 15 - Tom Quigley
• February 22 - Acacia Courtney
• February 29 - Eddie Olczyk