With the Kentucky Derby complete and the spring racing season well underway, I’m already looking ahead to some of the great racing action we can expect to see this summer.
The 13 graded stakes races held at Churchill Downs on Derby week produced some interesting storylines to keep an eye on during the second half of the year. Here are just a few of my main takeaways from the action on Derby week.
The 3-Year-Old Division Is Wide Open
Following an unpredictable Kentucky Derby prep season, the Derby itself produced the second-biggest upset in history, as 65-1 long shot Country House was upgraded to first place via the historic disqualification of Maximum Security.
But both Country House and Maximum Security will skip the Preakness Stakes (G1) and possibly the Belmont Stakes (G1), which should leave the division wide-open heading into summer. Races like the Haskell Invitational (G1), Travers Stakes (G1), and Pennsylvania Derby (G1) will help clarify the true leader of this three-year-old crop. Considering how two of the last three division champions skipped the Triple Crown series entirely, there’s a good chance we could see a late-bloomer step up and rise above all the current big names.
Bricks and Mortar Has a Shot at Horse of the Year
Bricks and Mortar has always shown promise, but he’s turned into a beast of a turf horse this year with three straight graded stakes victories, including triumphs in the Old Forester Turf Classic (G1) and Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1). It’s possible we haven’t even seen the best this Chad Brown-trained five-year-old has to offer—an exciting prospect for racing fans who enjoy watching truly top-notch horses vie for major prizes.
Bricks and Mortar will be favored to win the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day, and if he keeps on winning through the summer, he could become the first turf horse to earn Horse of the Year honors since Wise Dan in 2012-13. To seal the deal, Bricks and Mortar will likely need to win a Breeders’ Cup race, but which one? He’s never negotiated the 1 ½-mile distance of the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), yet cutting back in distance for the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) could be tricky. Hopefully we’ll get a better idea of his strengths as the summer progresses.
Turf Triple Series Offers Intrigue
Through the years, folks in racing have occasionally pondered the notion of a “Turf Triple Crown” to complement the traditional Triple Crown. If you’ve been a fan of the idea, then you’re in luck—the New York Racing Association has put together not one, but two “Turf Triple” series for 2019. Between July and September, colts and geldings will partake in a “Turf Trinity” comprised of the $1 million Belmont Derby (G1), the $1 million Saratoga Derby, and the $1 million Jockey Club Derby, while fillies will shine in a “Turf Tiara” involving the $750,000 Belmont Oaks (G1), the $750,000 Saratoga Oaks, and the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks.
The two series will provide the ever-growing division of three-year-old turf runners with plenty of options to compete for rich purses in high-class events. Newspaperofrecord, who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) so impressively last fall, will be among the big names in the Turf Tiara, though her recent defeat at the hands of Concrete Rose in the Edgewood Stakes (G3) suggests the series could be more competitive than originally expected. Meanwhile, Newspaperofrecord’s Chad Brown-trained stablemates Digital Age and Fog of War could aim for the Turf Trinity, and judging from the strong international participation in past renewals of the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, foreign challengers should be plentiful as well.
Steve Asmussen Is Ready for a Big Summer
Does any trainer have a deeper roster of high-class dirt horses right now than Steve Asmussen? The Hall of Fame trainer has won 10 graded stakes races already this year with Midnight Bisou (G1), She’s a Julie (G1), Mitole (G1), Mia Mischief (G1), Long Range Toddy (G2), and Lady Apple (G3). The first three all won multiple times at the graded stakes level. Midnight Bisou and Mitole are the current front-runners to be voted champion older dirt female and champion male sprinter, respectively, and Mia Mischief is off to a sharp start in her campaign to be named champion female sprinter. Suffice to say, Asmussen will have a lot going on at Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, and Saratoga during the coming months.
What racing events and storylines are you looking forward to this summer?