by Jon White
May 21, 2020
If a horse sweeps the Belmont Stakes, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes this year, will the horse be a Triple Crown winner who deserves an asterisk?
That question is being pondered now that we know the Triple Crown is going to be radically different this year. The three-race series has been forced to undergo a major revamping because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Martin Panza is the senior vice president of racing operations for the New York Racing Association.
On Steve Byk’s SiriusXM radio program At The Races, Panza said Wednesday that he “gets the tradition” of the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown.
“But this year, tradition is out the window,” Panza said.
Tradition vis-a-vis the Belmont and Triple Crown is out the window this year, of course, as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic that has wreaked so much havoc.
To begin with, the order of this year’s Triple Crown races has been changed. The Belmont will be run first, followed by the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness.
This will be the first year since 1931 that the order of the Triple Crown races will deviate from the Kentucky Derby being held first, followed by the Preakness, then the Belmont.
If it is deemed that a 2020 Triple Crown winner deserves to get an asterisk because of the change in the order of the races, then it’s only fair that Gallant Fox also should get an asterisk.
Gallant Fox in 1930 won the Preakness, followed by the Kentucky Derby, then the Belmont. Each of the other 12 horses to sweep the Triple Crown won the Kentucky Derby, followed by the Preakness, then the Belmont.
The distance of the 2020 Belmont also has been shortened considerably from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles.
The Belmont has been run at 1 1/2 miles since 1926, but a 1 1/8-mile Belmont is not unprecedented. Its distance was 1 1/8 miles in 1893 and 1894. There also have been various Belmonts run at 1 1/4 miles, 1 3/8 miles and 1 5/8 miles.
If it is deemed that a 2020 Triple Crown winner should get an asterisk because of the change in the distance of the Belmont to 1 1/8 miles, then Sir Barton also requires an asterisk.
Sir Barton in 1919 won the Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles, the Preakness at 1 1/8 miles instead of 1 3 1/16 miles, then the Belmont at 1 1/2 miles.
There also is a drastic change in the spacing between this year’s Triple Crown races.
The Grade I Kentucky Derby is slated to be run this year on Sept. 5 instead of its customary date on the first Saturday in May.
This year’s Grade I Preakness, originally scheduled for May 16, now will be held on Oct. 3.
This year’s Grade I Belmont, originally scheduled for June 6, now will be held on June 20.
If it is deemed that a 2020 Triple Crown winner deserves to get an asterisk because of the change in the spacing between the races this year, then it’s only fair that all eight of the Triple Crown winners before Secretariat also get an asterisk. That’s because only Secretariat in 1973 and the subsequent four Triple Crown winners participated in a series in which the format afforded two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont.
Is the 2020 format very different than it was for the Triple Crown winners from Secretariat in 1973 to Justify in 2018? Yes, absolutely. No doubt there will be those who feel there should be an asterisk if a horse sweeps the three races this year. Such a sentiment by self-proclaimed traditionalists is understandable under the circumstances.
Trainer Graham Motion won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom. After news that the Belmont would be run at 1 1/8 miles on June 20, note the asterisk when Graham tweeted: Triple Crown*
Sackatoga Stable owns Tiz the Law, whose trainer is Barclay Tagg. Sackatoga and Tagg won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide in 2003. Funny Cide was thwarted in his bid for a Triple Crown sweep when he finished third behind Empire Maker and Ten Most Wanted in the Belmont.
“Obviously, it’s one of those things that would get an asterisk. I get that,” Sackatoga’s Jack Knowlton said when discussing this year’s revamped Triple Crown in a story written by Ryan Dickey for horseracingnation.com. “There may be people who would feel that it wasn’t a legitimate Triple Crown win.”
Knowlton said he does not have a problem with people who believe it would not be a “legitimate” Triple Crown win this year because of all of the people who have had horses win the first two legs, then not be able to win the Belmont at its demanding distance of 1 1/2 miles.
“If you want to say [a 2020 Triple Crown winner] is not on a par with the other Triple Crown winners, I could understand that and not necessary disagree with it -- having not been able to get that third leg with Funny Cide.”
But the way I see it, the overall history of the Triple Crown should determine whether an asterisk is warranted if a horse does sweep all three races this year. And there has not been an asterisk for any of the eight Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton to Citation even though their Triple Crown was different than that from Secretariat to Justify. In light of that, should there be an asterisk if a horse sweeps the Triple Crown in 2020? I do not think so, unless asterisks also are retroactively doled out to the eight Triple Crown winners from Sir Barton to Citation.
MATT WINN STAKES PAYS TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND
Churchill Downs this Saturday presents the Matt Winn Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile race that pays tribute to the man most responsible for putting the Kentucky Derby on the map.
Points toward starting eligibility for this year’s $3 million Kentucky Derby are up for grabs to the first four finishers in the Winn on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
As for Matt Winn the man, in the outstanding book “The History of Thoroughbred Racing in America,” William H.P. Robertson wrote: “Matt Winn’s monument is a horse race, and his trademarks were a cigar and a twinkle (usually a smile, but sparks when the occasion demanded). However, the deepest imprint made on the American turf by Winn was that of a Moses who led the sport through trying times. On second thought, bulldozer would be a better characterization.
“A native of Louisville, Martin Joseph Winn (1861-1949) watched the inaugural Kentucky Derby on May 17, 1875, standing on the seat of his father’s grocery wagon. At about that same time he discarded his first name in favor of Matt, and ended his formal education; as a 14-year-old he took a job as a bookkeeper, later became a traveling grocery salesman, and then went into the tailoring business. It was his business ability and personality rather than any status in the racing world which led to an invitation in 1902 to join a group being organized by Charles Price to buy financially tottering Churchill Downs for $40,000. On the other hand, Winn, whose only previous connection to the sport had been as a bettor, was reputed to have wagered on two winning 100-1 shots the same day several years earlier, so Price figure here was a man who couldn’t miss. Price was correct.”
Joe Hirsch and Jim Bolus co-wrote the book “Kentucky Derby: Chance of a Lifetime.” It notes that prior to 1902, “the future of the Derby was in jeopardy. Churchill Downs continued to lose money, and the outlook became so bleak following the 1902 Derby that it seemed likely the track would be closed permanently.”
“Enter Colonel Matt Winn. A chubby, pink-faced cigar smoker best described as looking ‘something like Alfred Hitchcock, with a bit of W.C. Fields thrown in.’ Winn was a Louisville tailor and had no previous experience in racetrack management. Nevertheless, he had the imagination and determination to resuscitate the ailing track.”
Thanks in large measure to Winn, it did not take long for Churchill Downs to become profitable.
In the book “The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes: A Comprehensive History,” Richard Sowers wrote: “Winn, the track’s vice president, quickly established a legacy as perhaps the greatest promoter the sport has ever known. Winn not only coined the phrase ‘Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,’ but he was responsible for forever linking Stephen Foster’s ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ with the Derby, making the commemorative mint julep glasses the Derby’s signature souvenir since their introduction in 1938, and converting the race…into a national treasure by convincing the best stables in the East to point their 3-year-olds for the Kentucky classic.”
Winn witnessed every Kentucky Derby from Aristides’ win in the inaugural 1875 running to Ponder’s victory in the 75th edition in 1949. Later in 1949, Winn died at the age of 88.
REGRET: A FILLY FOR THE AGES
Winn credited Regret for making the Kentucky Derby a horse race of national importance.
In my opinion, Regret gets nowhere close to the credit she deserves in a discussion of this country’s greatest female Thoroughbreds.
I cite as a prime example of Regret’s lack of the respect that she ranked 71st on BloodHorse’s list of the Top 100 Racehores of the 20th Century. I think the distinguished panelists responsible for that list really blew it by not ranking Regret much higher.
The panel consisted of racing secretary Howard Battle, racing secretary Lenny Hale, writer Jay Hovdey, writer William Nack, steward Pete Pedersen, writer Jennie Rees and racing secretary Tommy Trotter.
Regret is No. 26 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th AND 21st Centuries to have raced in North America.
I also believe the panel dropped the ball when it came to Ruffian. They ranked her No. 35. I have her at No. 11.
Do you know how many fillies ever beat Ruffian? None. Not only that, Ruffian tied or broke a track or stakes record in all but one of her 10 starts against members of her sex. How many Thoroughbreds, male or female, have a resume like that?
Do you know how many fillies ever beat Regret? Again, none.
Regret in 1915 made history by becoming the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby. The 40 previous winners had all been males.
“Already there was a tradition well established that no 3-year-old filly could beat colts at 1 1/4 miles in May, but Regret proceeded to shatter tradition,” Robertson wrote.
Regret had the distinction of being the only filly Kentucky Derby winner for 65 years. Another filly would not win the roses until Genuine Risk in 1980. The only other filly to capture the Kentucky Derby was Winning Colors in 1988.
Can you imagine what people would be saying if a contemporary filly ever attempted to do what Regret did in the 1915 Kentucky Derby?
Regret won the May 8 Kentucky Derby even though she was making her first start of the year. As a matter of fact, she had not raced since Aug. 22. This was, without question, a tremendous achievement by Regret and a fantastic training job by James Rowe, who also sent out Hindoo to win the 1881 Kentucky Derby. Hindoo was one of the top racehorses of the 1800s.
As a further reflection of Regret’s prowess, she won the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby off a long layoff despite not having previously raced farther than six furlongs. Think of that.
Furthermore, when Regret and jockey Joe Notter led past every pole and won the Kentucky Derby by two lengths, the filly defeated 15 opponents in what at the time was the biggest Kentucky Derby field in history.
“In an utterly brilliant performance, she snatched the bit and led throughout under Notter’s stout hold, flitting lightly over the gummy-dry track Rowe had so worried about,” Mary Simon wrote of Regret for the Daily Racing Form in 2015. “When challenged by champion Pebbles, Notter simply juggled the reins and Regret responded, jetting off by two lengths to a thunderous ovation from 50,000 fans to win under an aggressive hand ride. Afterward, she jogged saucily past the judges’ stand. She couldn’t have blown out a candle.”
Robertson wrote that “when Winn came into racing, the big events for 3-year-olds were the American Derby, Realization and Belmont Stakes, with the [Kentucky] Derby and Preakness also-rans in the purse department.”
Winn, Robertson wrote, was able to make the Kentucky Derby “the most valuable event of its kind in the land.”
Years after Regret’s Kentucky Derby triumph, Winn said the race “needed only a victory by Regret to create for us some coast-to-coast publicity. And she did not fail us. The Derby thus was made an American institution.”
Rowe, whose eight Belmont Stakes victories is the record by a trainer, held Regret in high esteem.
“To his dying day in 1929, Rowe considered Regret the second-best racehorse he’d ever trained, better than the great Commando and brilliant Sysonby, superior to champions Peter Pan, Miss Woodford, Whisk Broom II and Maskette -- Hall of Famers one and all -- and behind only unconquerable Colin,” wrote Simon.
Colin, who won the 1908 Belmont, was never beaten in 15 career starts. He is ranked higher than Regret on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. I have Colin at No. 22.
Regret won nine of 11 lifetime starts. She even ran a terrific race in one of her two defeats. Borrow defeated Regret by only a nose in the 1 1/8-mile Brooklyn Handicap at Aqueduct in 1917. Regret, as a filly, was asked to spot five pounds to Borrow that day. Even though Regret had to settle for second, she defeated two other Kentucky Derby winners in Old Rosebud and Omar Khayyam in what was considered to be one of the greatest races of that era. Three starters in the 1917 Brooklyn -- Regret, Old Rosebud and Roamer -- would go on to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Only two distaffers are ranked higher than No. 26 Regret on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. They are No. 11 Ruffian and No. 24 Zenyatta.
Speaking of Zenyatta, who won 19 of 20 and was voted 2010 Horse of the Year during her glorious career, she foaled a Candy Ride filly last Sunday at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky.
MONOMOY GIRL: SHE’S BACK!
She might not rank way up there with Regret, but Monomoy Girl is a special mare in her own right, as she demonstrated once again last weekend.
As noted earlier, Regret in 1915 won the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on May 8 in her first start since Aug. 22, 1914.
Monomoy Girl in 2020 won a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race on May 16 in her first start since her victory in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3, 2018.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, Monomoy Girl splashed her way to a 2 3/4-length victory last Saturday while competing on a sloppy track.
The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred Tapizar mare completed her comeback trip in 1:36.51 as the 1-2 favorite and was credited with an 85 Beyer Speed Figure. While the Beyer was a modest figure, keep in mind she certainly was not all out and had not raced in a long time. This should be a good building block for her.
Undeniably a marvelous equine athlete, Monomoy Girl now has won 10 of 12 lifetime starts. She was voted a 2018 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly.
“Monomoy Girl overcame a serious bout with colic [in the spring of 2019], then pulled a gluteal muscle last fall,” Marty McGee wrote Monday for Daily Racing Form.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of what she’s done,” McGee quoted Cox as saying. “She’s just an unbelievable horse. It was great to get this out of the way and see her run as well as she did. She’s a superstar, no doubt.”
With Monomoy Girl sitting out all of last year, Midnight Bisou put together a campaign that brought her a 2019 Eclipse Award as champion older dirt female.
Midnight Bisou, like Monomoy Girl, has raced once this year. Midnight Bisou, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished second to Maximum Security in the richest horse race on the planet, the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29.
Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou have met four times so far. Monomoy Girl has finished first all four times, but she was disqualified and placed second for causing interference in the Grade I Cotillion at Parx Racing in 2018. In three of Monomoy Girl’s 2018 victories, she defeated Midnight Bisou in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks, Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks and BC Distaff.
Racing enthusiasts eagerly look forward to when Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou clash again down the line this year.
And don’t forget about two other quality older distaffers, Ce Ce and Ollie’s Candy. They put on quite a show in the Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap on April 18 at Oaklawn Park when Ollie’s Candy lost by a head to Ce Ce. They are scheduled to have a rematch in Santa Anita’s Grade II Santa Maria Stakes on May 31.
MY BELMONT STAKES TOP 10
Now that the Belmont Stakes will be the first of the Triple Crown events run this year, I am switching from a Kentucky Derby Top 10 to a Belmont Stakes Top 10.
Nadal and Charlatan, who rank first and second, respectively, on my Belmont Top 10, won their divisions of the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. According to Baffert, they both are candidates for the Belmont.
Daily Racing Form reported Tuesday that Baffert, via text, indicated he would run “both or one, depending on how they are training.”
The seemingly indefatigable Nadal worked four furlongs Wednesday morning at Santa Anita. His workout can be viewed on XBTV. Here is the link: https://www.xbtv.com/video/nadal-(outside)-and-bronn-worked-4-furlongs-in/nadal-outside-and-bronn-worked-4-furlongs-in-48-00-at-santa-anita-park-on-may-20th-2020/
Nadal worked in company with the Baffert-trained Bronn, a 3-year-old Conveyance colt. Bronn has not raced since winning a maiden special weight race at Los Alamitos last Sept. 8 in his third career start.
In Wednesday’s team drill, Nadal began about a half-length behind Bronn. The pair continued together throughout the workout. Bronn was about a head in front at the finish line. Nadal and Bronn each recorded a 48.00 clocking, fastest of 34 works at the distance.
The zest Nadal displayed in this workout indicates he is in fine fettle following his May 2 victory at Oaklawn.
Tiz the Law, who is No. 3 on my Top 10 and two for two this year, is definite for the Belmont. He won the Grade II Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 1 and Grade I Florida Derby on March 28.
Here is my Top 10 for the June 20 Belmont Stakes:
3. Tiz the Law
5. Sole Volante
8. Dr Post
9. Gouverneur Morris
10. Farmington Road
Maxfield makes his long-awaited 2020 debut this Saturday in the Matt Winn. Trained by Brendan Walsh, the Kentucky-bred colt was two for two in 2019.
Perhaps Maxfield can use the Winn as a springboard to the Belmont.
In Maxfield’s unveiling, he rallied from 10th to win a Churchill Downs maiden special weight race at one mile around one turn on Sept. 14. He prevailed by three-quarters of a length and recorded a 67 Beyer Speed Figure.
Maxfield subsequently won Keeneland’s Grade I Breeders’ Futurity in a scintillating performance at 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 5. He was last early in the field of 10 after a tardy start. Entering the far turn, he was still eighth. But when racing quite wide on the far turn, Maxfield blew by seven rivals while moving at warp speed to take the lead entering the stretch. He then really poured it on when drawing off in the lane to win by 5 1/2 lengths.
Making a quantum leap in the speed figure department from his debut, Maxfield posted an 87 Beyer in the Breeders’ Futurity.
Following his back-to-back come-from-way-back wins in Kentucky, Maxfield was regarded as a contender in the Grade I BC Juvenile at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. But he was withdrawn from that race when all was not well. He then underwent surgery last Nov. 18 in Kentucky for the removal of an ankle chip.
Maxfield recorded sharp workouts at Keeneland on May 10 and May 16. He stepped five furlongs in a bullet :59.20 on May 10, fastest of 34 works at the distance that morning. That was followed by a sparkling four-furlong drill in :47.20 on May 16, third-fastest of 22.
“From what he’s shown me in his works, I can’t wait to see what he’ll do on the track,” Walsh said to Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman. “We’ve done all we can with him.”
Walsh went on to say that Maxfield “is a much stronger horse” than he was at 2.
“He’s a shade off of 17 hands,” Walsh said. “He has high withers. He’s filled out. Last year, he was a frame of a horse. He’s put on plenty of weight and muscle.”
Maxfield’s connections hope that he eventually can follow in the footsteps of his sire, Street Sense, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2007.
Meanwhile, Authentic worked six furlongs by himself in 1:11.00 last Sunday morning at Santa Anita for Baffert. The excellent drill can be viewed on XBTV. Here is a link: https://www.xbtv.com/video/authentic-worked-6-furlongs-in-1/authentic-worked-6-furlongs-in-111-00-at-santa-anita-park-on-may-17th-2020/
Ranked No. 4 on my Top 10, Authentic is projected to be the favorite in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on June 6. He is three for three.
Authentic won Santa Anita’s Grade III Sham Stakes by nearly eight lengths on Jan. 4 despite not running a straight course when racing greenly. Equipped with earplugs in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 7, he exhibited no goofy behavior and registered a front-running 2 1/4-length victory.
Honor A.P. finished second in the San Felipe for trainer John Shirreffs. The Kentucky-bred Honor Code ridgling will try to turn the tables on Authentic in the Santa Anita Derby rather than run in the Belmont, according to Shirreffs.
“Because we’re here at Santa Anita, I think you have to support the track you stable at,” Shirreffs said in a story Ron Flatter wrote for horseracinginsider.com.
I added Cezanne to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 a couple of weeks ago even though the Baffert-trained Curlin colt has not raced yet. But a June 20 Belmont certainly is not in the cards for him. Nevertheless, I am even more excited about Cezanne’s potential in light of his five-furlong workout from the gate on May 14. This work also can be seen on XBTV. Here is a link: https://www.xbtv.com/video/bob-baffert/cezanne-outside-and-tapitution-worked-5-furlongs-at-santa-anita-park-on-may-14th-2020/
Cezanne worked in company with Tapitution, a 3-year-old unraced Tapit colt who sold for $350,000 at public auction last year. Cezanne also sold at public auction last year, fetching a final bid of $3.8 million.
“Super” was the word XBTV’s Millie Ball used to described Cezanne’s May 14 workout.
“He’s definitely the goods,” Ball said Sunday on Mike William’s radio program Thoroughbred Los Angeles. Ball noted that regarding the May 14 work by Cezanne, it was the first time “Baffert said to go ahead and let him run. And Cezanne came back [after the work] and he couldn’t even have blown a candle out. I was very impressed.”
Collusion Illusion, a 3-year-old colt from the Mark Glatt barn, returned from a layoff in marvelous fashion last Sunday at Santa Anita when he trounced his elders in a sprint.
Fifth early in the early stages when just 2 1/2 lengths off the pace, he charged to the front approaching the sixteenth pole and kicked away to win by three lengths. The Florida-bred Twirling Candy colt now is three for four. He also won Del Mar’s Grade II Best Pal Stakes last year.
According to Glatt, the plan is for Collusion Illusion to make his next start in Santa Anita’s Grade III Lazaro Barrera Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs on June 20.
PRAT HAS SIX-WIN DAY AT SANTA ANITA
Flavien Prat took a serious run at Santa Anita’s all-time record of seven wins in one day by a jockey set by Laffit Pincay Jr. on March 14, 1987. Prat rode six winners last Saturday before finishing sixth on 9-5 favorite Winning Element in the 10th and final race on the card.
Credit also goes to Prat’s agent, Derek Lawson, for putting his client on so many live mounts.
Prat’s winners Sunday were Querelle ($10), Noor Khan ($7.60), Bud Knight ($4.80), Collusion Illusion ($7.40), Bellafina ($3.60) in the Grade III Desert Stormer Stakes and Harper’s Gallop ($8).
I remember Pincay’s seven-win day in 1987. I called those official charts for the Daily Racing Form.
Pincay’s seven winners were Polly’s Ruler ($4), Texas Wild ($8.40), Cracksman ($5.20), Fairways Girl ($9), Lookinforthebigone ($18.40), Integra ($6.80) and Bedouin ($11.20).
Prat became just the 10th rider to win six races in one day at Santa Anita. The others to accomplish the feat were Bill Shoemaker in 1962, Pincay in 1973 and 1981, Steve Valdez in 1973, Sandy Hawley twice in 1976, Darrel McHargue in 1978 and 1979, Pat Valenzuela in 1988, Martin Pedroza in 1992, Corey Nakatani in 2000, plus Rafael Bejarano in 2006.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 382 Midnight Bisou (29)
2. 311 Mucho Gusto
3. 292 By My Standards (1)
4. 198 Zulu Alpha (1)
5. 182 Ce Ce
6. 134 Maximum Security (7)
7. 132 Tom’s d’Etat (1)
8. 88 Monomoy Girl
9. 86 Whitmore
10. 72 Mr Freeze
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 376 Nadal (20)
2. 362 Tiz the Law (17)
3. 326 Charlatan (2)
4. 286 Authentic (1)
5. 189 King Guillermo
6. 149 Honor A.P.
7. 106 Sole Volante
8. 105 Ete Indien
9. 77 Maxfield
10. 54 Basin