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There was a two-year spell there, after American Pharoah's supreme 2015 campaign, when the default babble across the land was, "This is the weakest 3-year-old crop in years."
Which is really dense because 3-year-old Thoroughbred race horses are very much a work in progress, physically and mentally. They can go from the equivalent of a 13-year-old wunderkind to a seasoned 21-year-old success story. All in one season. It would be better to zero in to say that the threes don't impress going into the Triple Crown.
At this point in 2019, I'll say it. These 3-year-olds don't move me and they might really be not much. And what was with Saturday's Preakness?
War of Will, one of the victims of Maximum Security in the raucous Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, won the 144th Preakness Stakes at Baltimore's venerable-but-broken-down Pimlico Race Course under a perfect, golden rail ride from up-and-coming jockey Tyler Gaffalione.
WoW was a worthy winner, but what went on around and behind him aided in setting him apart from the also-rans, some of whom might still be running.
5-2 favorite Improbable, a horse I had to include but hated to, was his typical bad boy self in the gate - he needs remedial gate schooling - and his nerves were contagious and many of the horses were unsettled.
Just as you scan the gate looking for that vacuum calm before the storm, the bell rang and simultaneously the nine-horse Bodexpress, still a maiden who shouldn't have been here or in the Derby, arched his back, bucked straight up, slunk low and fast out of the gate and tossed Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez a few feet past the door. The gate handler still had hold of Bodexpress's bridle on the bell and once he went, the attendant exclamation-pointed his head in disgust, either at himself or at the starter for opening the gate when the horse, and others, clearly wasn't ready.
Velazquez said the horse had already pinned him in the gate. "I jumped sideways and I had my feet out of the irons (as they broke) so I lost my balance and went off." Johnny V. said.
With the attendant still holding him, the horse should have been declared a non-starter, bets on him refunded. Riderless, an outrider tried to chase down Bodexpress at the eighth pole but ran the danger of becoming part of the race and peeled off, but Bode' ducked inside and escaped. He ran the whole race and even beat Alwaysmining and Market King. Just for fun, watch the video and watch for the outrider to come from the left in the bright red coat. It was a fine demonstration of one of the big jobs of these courageous horse people.
Meanwhile, up front, Gaffalione from the one-post deftly maintained War of Will's possession of Saturday's wondrous rail and let five others battle in front of him.
Warrior's Charge kept the lead most of the way and on the turn, he, with Javier Castellano up, led War of Will single file on the rail, with Gaffalione clearly hoping and looking for an opening. Rounding into the straight, Castellano could not hold the one-lane and switched to the two. Having saved all that ground and with plenty of horse, War of Will seized the fence paint, shot to the lead and ran away to win by an expanding one-and-a-quarter lengths.
Everfast (30-1), who had been last much of the way, clunked up for second. He's the horse Calumet had to pay $150,000 for to get into the race.
Improbable finished an invisible sixth.
War of Will paid $14.20, $7.40, and $5.40. Everfast pumped the $1 Exacta to $473.50 and no, dammit, I didn't include him in my Exacta.
When I mentioned the quality of these 3-year-olds, he's a perfect example. I still wouldn't bet on him and we may never see him again in any important race. He clunked up while the others clunked back.
Believe me, I'm not excited. But War of Will has probably taken leadership of this crop of threes. Bad luck in Kentucky, he wheeled right back and won the Preakness, when you can make the argument he may well have won the Derby but for Maximum Security's billiards game. 'Will's trainer, Mark Casse, diplomatically said all day Saturday he just wanted a fair race for his horse. After Saturday's big win, Casse said all systems are go for the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
But like a twisted stage mother whose tarted-up 6-year-old daughter was DQ'd from the Little Miss Pageant down at the Holiday Inn for traces of amphetamines, owner Gary West took his Maximum Security for extended pouting exile at Monmouth, over by Springsteen's Shore.
With delusions of "America's Horse" bouncing in his skull, West even announced that Maximum' would be schooling in the Monmouth paddock at precisely 2:20 p.m. Luckily, NBC quickly threw it to the home of the Haskell Invitational, and there he was! The little groom walking him around, a legit endeavor, and what's that? 'Security's mane was all braided and tied - tarted up - and he looked totally fly.
But wait, there's more.
As so many wealthy people do, West got the idea of realigning racing's world to his truth and justice by throwing money at it.
He announced he will put up $5 million dollars each for Country House, the elevated winner of the Derby, and War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress to be paid to them if, in any future race this year, they finish ahead of Maximum Security. Also, he's filed the obligatory federal lawsuit to get the Derby results overturned. Meanwhile, jockey Luis Saez has been handed a 15-day riding suspension.
Oh boy! Shades of the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race! Which was run at Pimlico! I won't ask you to read it all, but it says further down that West is also requiring that the other five owners also put up $5 million each, so it's really just a straight bet, right outta the risk management class at UW-Oshkosh's Business School.
Problems. He's doing it in other peoples' races. Those races could be compromised if horses are trying to beat each other instead of trying to win the race. Other non-participating owners should have something to say about it. If it's so compelling, set up a damn five-horse match race.
Jeez, America hates pouting, whiny rich people . . . oh, wait a minute, Americans elected one. Nevermind.
Bottom line, Gary West: You sure would have done a helluva lot better had you got back in the saddle and run Maximum Security in the Preakness. If he's so great, you beat two of those others, including the horse hurt the most in Louisville. And you win the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and the wacky courts rule for you in the Derby? It would be a (Tainted) Triple Crown. Now you run the danger of being forgotten. And, by the way, give your horse some race lessons.
We waited for two weeks to see how the NBC yakkers would analyze the Derby. Unfortunately Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey was off the panel, attending his son's law school graduation.
The company line, even though it could also be racing consensus, was that Maximum Security was spooked as he came around the turn.
Randy Moss, while conceding the sanctity of the Kentucky Derby, agreed with the DQ.
"This (infraction) rises to the level of (disqualification). Does it take horses and riders down on the track to be an infraction? If you don't disqualify the horse, you're basically telling the riders 'anything goes.'"
Analyst and former jockey Donna Brothers surmised that Saez' suspension was so severe because he firmly maintained complete innocence and would not acknowledge that his horse caused a serious problem.
"He would have to admit that his horse caused danger and impeded other horses, but he didn't do that," Brothers said.
It has also been noted that Saez has been cited 20 times since 2013 for riding infractions, mostly suspensions and many of them in Kentucky.
It's a ways 'til the Belmont Stakes, and I'll enjoy the relaxation.
I just hope not to lose sleep wondering which one of these guys can possibly get the 12 furlongs.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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