A busy Saturday of racing at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day saw a handful of contenders for the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) enhance their résumés. Others faltered under the bright lights and will have to rebound this summer.
No clear favorite has emerged for the 1 1/4-mile race Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to ranking the top contenders, but here’s how I stack them up with five months to go.
For a horse returning from a layoff and running a distance shorter than his best, I thought Thunder Snow performed well in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1), tracking a fast pace before closing to finish third by a length. Thunder Snow typically improves a lot in his second start of a form cycle, so I anticipate he’ll be even more competitive while stretching back out in distance later this summer.
Gift Box was beaten by Vino Rosso in the 1 1/4-mile Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), but he also endured a tricky trip, dueling for the lead between horses in a fast-paced race. Under the circumstances, I thought he ran well to be beaten less than a length while posting a sharp 104 Beyer. He’s scheduled to run next in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) at Churchill Downs.
He encountered significant traffic down the homestretch of the Met Mile, but rallied resolutely in the final sixteenth to finish second, beaten just three-quarters of a length by the improving speedster Mitole. By closing from the back of the pack, McKinzie replicated the running style he employed to impressively win the Malibu Stakes (G1) in December. It’s possible this wait-and-rally approach is McKinzie’s preferred style.
He’ll return to dirt in the 1 1/4-mile Suburban Stakes (G2) on July 6 at Belmont Park, where he could potentially meet up with Vino Rosso in an mid-season showdown. Catholic Boy never fired in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic, but judging from the way he won the Travers Stakes (G1) going 1 1/4 miles last summer, he should give Vino Rosso all he can handle in the Suburban.
Following a six-month layoff, the 2018 Wood Memorial (G2) winner has come back strong as a 4-year-old. The stoutly bred son of Curlin opened 2019 with a victory in the one-mile Stymie Stakes and a late-charging fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Carter Handicap (G1), where he was beaten just 2 1/4 lengths by top sprinter World of Trouble. Then Vino Rosso shipped across the country and stretched out to 1 1/4 miles in the Gold Cup, where his pedigree came into play, and he wore down Gift Box to win with a 105 Beyer. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Vino Rosso is on the rise and should continue to thrive running 1 1/4 miles, making him an interesting newcomer to the Breeders’ Cup Classic scene.
The impressive Peter Pan Stakes (G2) winner was flattered when the Peter Pan runner-up Sir Winston came back to win the Belmont Stakes (G1). It remains unclear where Global Campaign will run next, but this up-and-coming son of Curlin has been mentioned as a possible starter for the June 22 Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown. Considering the way he trounced Sir Winston in the Peter Pan, earning a 101 Beyer, Global Campaign appears poised to shine in the second half of the season.
He’s been training easily at Monmouth Park and remains under consideration for the June 16 Pegasus Stakes and/or the July 20 Haskell Invitational (G1). Given the unpredictable and wide-open nature of the 2019 Triple Crown season, Maximum Security—by virtue of his romp in the Florida Derby (G1) and his first-across-the-wire finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1)—remains the leader of the 3-year-old division. Whether he can maintain his advantage throughout the summer remains to be seen.
The 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up returned to the Gulfstream Park West work tab May 25 and has already posted three workouts, including five furlongs in 1:01 3/5 June 8. Based on his last two campaigns, don’t be surprised if Gunnevera finds an easy race in August at Gulfstream Park to use as a springboard to the Woodward Stakes (G1) on Aug. 31 at Saratoga.
The reigning champion 2-year-old male skipped the Belmont Stakes to focus on a summer campaign, with the Travers at Saratoga the main goal. He breezed a half-mile in :48 2/5 June 7 at Santa Anita and was equipped with blinkers, which he hasn’t worn in a race since his debut at Del Mar last summer. Perhaps the return of blinkers will help sharpen Game Winner’s tactical speed and bring an end to his current losing streak.
Sir Winston has shown remarkable improvement over the last two months. He improved from a seventh-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) to a runner-up effort in the Peter Pan and finally to a victory in the Belmont Stakes. Sir Winston did enjoy a ground-saving trip in the Belmont, and he appreciated the 1 1/2-mile distance, but at the same time he’s obviously transformed into a different colt than he was during the winter and spring. It’s possible he hasn’t reached his form ceiling yet.