Who’s On First - By Lenny Shulman

With every auto dealership across the United States currently running its Fourth of July Savings Spectaculars, it dawns on us that we’re already into the second half of 2019. And with the Triple Crown series behind us, naturally the question of which candidates will be put forth as eligible to be named champion 3-year-old male has come into sharp focus.

Uh, not exactly. In fact, we’re no closer to being able to select a dominant sophomore than we were on New Year’s Day. Quite possibly, we’re even further away, since 2018 champion 2-year-old male Game Winner has yet to visit the winner’s circle this season. What a difference a year makes. Triple Crown winner Justify had put a hammerlock on the hardware at this point in 2018, but this season’s murky series of sophomore classics served only to throw the division into utter

It would be confusing enough with three different individual winners of the Triple Crown races. But how about with four? The official victor of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), Country House, will likely not be seen under silks again this year, and it could be argued that he is more likely to become a trivia answer than a champion. The mystery horse, Maximum Security, a former $16,000 claimer, ran the best race under the Twin Spires, although not a straight one. And then he was defeated in his comeback at his home track, Monmouth Park.

Even if you want to be generous and assume War of Will was ready to make a huge move in the Derby and would have won with a clean trip, the Preakness Stakes (G1) hero still laid an egg in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) when he could have burnished his credentials for the top of the heap, as Ol’ Blue Eyes puts it in “New York, New York.”

Sir Winston, the Belmont winner, went to barracks immediately following the race and might or might not get into competition again before every auto dealership across the United States is running its Year End Savings Spectaculars.

Could we see a dark horse take command in the second half of the season? Of course. Three years ago few had heard of Arrogate at this stage of the season, and he blossomed into a superstar by late summer. Then again, horses such as Arrogate don’t come around all that often. King for a Day, who downed Maximum Security in the Pegasus Stakes last month, might be on the ascent. Perhaps four-time grade 3 winner Mucho Gusto continues to improve. He’s being prepped for the betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) to see whether he can navigate nine furlongs against top competition. Maybe the light bulb goes on soon for Tacitus, who burned money in the Derby and Belmont.

How about Omaha Beach? He was widely thought to be the class of the crop until three days before the Derby, when it was announced he needed to undergo throat surgery. His comeback from that procedure hasn’t been as quick as hoped for, but recent reports on him have been positive, and he’s being pointed for a return to racing later this summer.

Speaking of Mucho Gusto (and Game Winner and Justify), we checked in with an expert in the 3-year-old field, trainer Bob Baffert, in an effort to have him clear things up as to who the current top 3-year-old is. No such luck.

“Hmmm,” Baffert said, mulling the question for several seconds. “I’d have to put the real Derby winner (Maximum Security) first. I think Game Winner is in the top three. He just went off form, but I think I can get him back. He’s going in the Los Al Derby (G3, July 13) as a prep for the (Runhappy) Travers (Stakes, G1, Aug. 24). Oh, and Mandella’s horse (Omaha Beach). I forgot about him. Maybe you put him second when he comes back. I don’t know.”

Neither do we, Bob. Neither do we.

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