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Triple Crown Recap: Parity Prevails

by Johnny D

June 13, 2019

Following the conclusion of a wagering endeavor, horseplayers should review previous handicapping opinions. Please note: Cursing and aggressively mutilating losing tickets is not considered an acceptable debriefing. Turning the page to the next race encourages short-term memory development—a requisite for gambling survival--but contributes nothing toward long-term edification. Effort spent in single post-race review—win or lose--serves as a valuable learning experience. Rehashing an entire card functions as the equivalent of a semester spent learning The Art of Wagering. 

Posting of the ‘official’ for the Belmont Stakes marks the unofficial end to the first half of the racing season. At least it does for us, and we’ve currently got control of the keyboard, so… 

In the rear-view is nearly six months of results. The most recently retired winner of the Pegasus World Cup already has satisfied his initial harem and fresh frosh faces are a staple on nearly every nationwide card. To us, the Stephan Foster, presented this Saturday evening at Churchill, kicks off the season’s second half. Haskell, Travers and Breeders’ Cup await down the road. 

At this seasonal mid-point, it serves us well to review previous handicapping opinions in major races--where we went right, wrong or completely wrong. Even though visiting the past sometimes smarts like a stick to the eye, as we stated earlier, lessons worth learning await. 

This year’s Triple Crown season failed to feature a particularly outstanding performance; however, it was entertaining. The broohaha caused by Maximum Security’s illegal lane change in the Kentucky Derby won’t soon be forgotten. In a prep season where a different horse seemed to win each Kentucky Derby prep race, it was fitting that the first on-track disqualification in 145 renewals produced two winners! Country House resides in record books as the official 2019 Derby victor, but doubts surrounding the legitimacy of that title will linger as long as disputes survive regarding the victor in the Civil War. 

2019 produced three (or four) different winners of Triple Crown races: Country House (or Maximum Security) in the Kentucky Derby; War of Will in the Preakness and Sir Winston in the Belmont. 

Beforehand, there were plenty of warning signs that there’d be no dominant 3-year-old this year. In 34 Road to the Kentucky Derby point races--Sept. 15, 2018 through April 13, 2019--just five horses won more than one of them. None won three. Parity prevails. 

Game Winner had a flying start in 2018 and took the American Pharoah at Santa Anita Sept. 29 and the BC Juvenile at Churchill Nov. 2. He’s winless since. War of Will appeared unbeatable in Louisiana and annexed the Lecomte (Jan. 19) and Risen Star (Feb. 16) at Fair Grounds. A freakish moment out of the gate in the Louisiana Derby ended his bid at short odds for a third prep-race tally. Long Range Toddy staggered his pair of triumphs over two years, first by taking the Springboard Mile at Remington Dec. 16, 2018 and then by winning a division of the Rebel at Oaklawn March 16, 2019. Tacitus got hot late and parlayed the March 9 Tampa Bay Derby into the April 6 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Omaha Beach found his best stride in a division of the Rebel and extended it in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. He was the morning-line Kentucky Derby favorite but was forced to scratch due to a throat issue. Following simple surgery, complications forced him to remain in Kentucky until recently when he returned to trainer Richard Mandella’s California string. 

Below are this player’s Bottom Line analyses as they appeared in this space Thursdays before each Triple Crown race, followed by a recap of where they hit or missed. 


Kentucky Derby Bottom Line 

Ones to Beat: 7. Maximum Security, 16. Game Winner
Next in Line: 5. Improbable 17. Roadster
Favorite Price ITM Chance: 19. Spinoff
Most Likely Exotic Fillers: 2. Tax 3. By My Standards, 8. Tacitus, 13 Code of Honor 

We had the Kentucky Derby winner pretty well sniffed out. Sort of. We didn’t see Country House posing for pictures but went strongly in favor of Maximum Security. The first on-track win disqualification in Derby history cost us a nice Pick 5 score and extended a personal season-long wagering slump. 

Those listed as ‘Ones to Beat’ both ran well: Maximum Security clearly committed a foul but wasn’t about to lose the race. Game Winner raced very wide throughout to finish sixth (moved to fifth), beaten less than four lengths. Improbable, among those listed as ‘Next in Line,’ finished fifth (moved to fourth), just in front of Game Winner. 

Roadster and Spinoff were obvious disappointments in 16th and 18th, respectively. Interesting that this player bought into the ‘wide trip/sloppy track excuse for Spinoff and took the bait with the Todd Pletcher-trained runner in the Belmont Stakes where he again disappointed. 


Preakness Bottom Line

Should Run Well: 12. Anothertwistafate 
Vulnerable Favorite: 4. Improbable 
Can’t Ignore: 1. War of Will 
Exotic Add: 3. Warrior’s Charge
For Superfecta Lovers Only: 2. Bourbon War, 5. Owendale, 7. Alwaysmining, 8. Signalman
Not on Tickets: 6. Market King, 9. Bodexpress, 10. Everfast, 11. Laughing Fox, 13. Win Win Win 

Was flat-out wrong about Anothertwistafate in the Preakness. Apparently we overestimated his ability on a dirt surface. He’s a terror on the synthetic and had raced well twice on dirt but couldn’t handle Preakness competition on natural footing. 

We definitely earned props, though, for naming Improbable as a ‘Vulnerable Favorite.’ He finished sixth. Winner War of Will wasn’t ignored in the ‘Can’t Ignore’ category. In hindsight, he probably was the best ‘value’ of any winner of a TC winner this year. 6-1 was an incredibly solid price off his strong winter form, rest and troubled Derby trip! 

‘Exotic Add’ Warrior’s Charge ran well enough to complete the Superfecta at a solid 13-1. Third-place finisher Owendale was mentioned in the ‘For Superfecta Only’ section. Unfortunately, Bourbon War, Alwaysmining and Signalman are still running. That was too many Superfecta add-ons and, in review, suggests I had no clue about how that wager might conclude. 

Everfast, a 29-1 shot, closed inside for second and obliterated every ticket of ours. Didn’t see that train coming and we left Pimlico quite a bit lighter than when we arrived. 


Belmont Bottom Line 

Clearly One to Beat: #10 Tacitus 
Price Exotic Chances: #5 Bourbon War, #6 Spinoff, #7 Sir Winston, #8 Intrepid Heart 
Reasons to Doubt: #9 War of Will 

We had this one nearly perfect. Our top choice and key horse Tacitus didn’t come home on top but ran well to be second. A wide trip combined with a rail-skimming, perfect journey for winner Sir Winston did Tacitus in. One Belmont positive was the identification ‘Reasons to Doubt’ Preakness winner War of Will. The colt didn’t work between the Preakness and Belmont even though his connections had planned to. A change in plans seldom is a good thing with healthy 3-year-olds. 

Sir Winston’s 10-1 score as a ‘B’ horse in a successful Pick 4 wager combined with several earlier multiple Pick 3 tallies to provide this horseplayer with a winning afternoon and an end to life in the handicapping doldrums. 

Currently, the race for top 3-year-old is as wide open as the field in pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination. Like Joe Biden, Maximum Security is the favorite. However, if War of Will, Tacitus, Omaha Beach, Sir Winston, etc. should get hot in the coming months the crown could be theirs. Remember, just three few years ago at this half-way point most of us hadn’t even heard of eventual Saratoga track-record setter, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate. 

Race On!