And So the 3-Year-Old Plot Thickens

The most fascinating aspect of 2019 is trying to envision how historians are going to treat this unique crop of 3-year-olds, whose adventures read something like an Agatha Christie novel, with twists and turns on every page. You just never know what is going to happen next.

Not even Christie's super sleuth Hercule Poirot could decipher all the bizarre events that have unfolded this year. But no matter what the plot entails, it is all about the ending, and at this point it looks as if we could have an ending where the readers close the book, utter a deep sigh, and say, "So everything makes sense after all."

Well, we won't go quite that far. I don't think anything will ever make sense when it comes to this year's leading characters.

A lot still has to happen to make such a glorious ending a reality, most notably victories by Code of Honor in the Breeders' Cup Classic and Omaha Beach in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. We have already been given a delectable taste of the perfect ending with Maximum Security's stirring victory against older horses in the seven-furlong Bold Ruler Stakes, coming back from one setback and misfortune after another that prevented him from performing his final acts on the sport's biggest stages.

Belmont Park does not attract the crowds it used to and in fact often plays to miniscule audiences. It therefore says a great deal when on the closing weekend of the meet, with only two small stakes carded, there actually was a good-sized crowd that gathered four deep around the winner's circle and gave a rousing ovation to the star-crossed Maximum Security following his Bold Ruler performance, in which he ran pretty much the entire field into the ground and drew off to an impressive score in a dazzling 1:20 3/5 for the seven furlongs.

Perhaps some still feel sorry for him for what he was deprived of on the first Saturday in May. Or perhaps they admire his resilience for bouncing back and still giving his all despite his misfortunes all year. Or perhaps they love a good old fashioned Cinderella story and want to see a happy ending. Then again, perhaps he just has the charisma, brilliance, and talent to warrant such adulation.

In the projected torrid battle for champion 3-year-old honors, Maximum Security, his Kentucky Derby debacle well behind him (well, maybe not), set the bar high for his two opponents by conquering older horses and doing it like a champion, just as Code of Honor had done in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Omaha Beach in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship.

Three contenders to the crown all defeating older horses in graded stakes? Who said this was a poor crop of 3-year-olds?

Yes, it has taken foul claims, stewards inquiries, disqualifications, a suspension, a lawsuit, a quarter crack, an entrapped epiglottis, colic, a last-minute defection of the Kentucky Derby favorite, a number of missed races and altered schedules, a big-race decision change, and a couple of memorable comeback performances to get us where we are now. And how about a jockey taking off the eventual Kentucky Derby favorite and winning the race by disqualification with a 65-1 late pick-up mount? And how about the Derby and Belmont Stakes winner not running another race and the Preakness winner not winning another race? Yet still the leaders of the crop have an opportunity to make history and lift the class of 2019 into an elite status. Even Preakness winner War of Will, who ran in all three Triple Crown races, is still around and ready to throw his name in the arena when he dons blinkers for the first time in the BC Classic.

So here we are with three immensely talented horses all vying for the 3-year-old championship, with Code of Honor, Omaha Beach, and Maximum Security all having to beat older horses once again, and in grade 1 races--the BC Classic, BC Dirt Mile, and Cigar Mile, all of them tough assignments. Two will be favorites and one will be the favorite or second choice, so it is a distinct reality.

Until next weekend's Breeders' Cup, Maximum Security can comfortably sit atop the 3-year-old throne, as many racing fans still regard him, in their mind at least, as the true Kentucky Derby winner. But it is a new season, with a championship still out there waiting to be claimed, and for Maximum Security the past is the past and it is all about now.

As Agatha Christie said: "One of the saddest things in life is the things one remembers." When it comes to this year's Kentucky Derby, as difficult as it may be, perhaps it is time to forget and move on. For these three 3-year-olds the year is still young.

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