by Noel Michaels
The Belmont Stakes was last weekend, but the season’s best 3-year-old wasn’t running last weekend at Belmont Park, he’s running this weekend at Monmouth. Maximum Security will make his first post-Derby start in the $150,000 Pegasus on Sunday, where his quest for redemption will begin as the 1-2 morning line favorite in a field of six.
With no clear dominant horse emerging throughout the Derby prep season, and the three Triple Crown events each being won by three different horses, the spring’s biggest winner was a horse that “officially” won none of the Triple Crown races yet nevertheless emerged the best.
Whatever your opinion is about the controversial Kentucky Derby disqualification fiasco, the actual results on the racetrack paint a crystal clear picture of who the best 3-year-old has been so far. While the other horses in the division take turns beating up on each other, alternating good and/or promising efforts with disappointing ones, Maximum Security has gone undefeated on the racetrack, unofficially racking up a perfect record of five victories in five races in his career (4-for-4 this year), including back-to-back wins in the Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby. His performances on the racetrack leave little doubt who the best horse is in this 3-year-old crop.
It is difficult or impossible to make a legitimate case that holds water for any other horse atop the sophomore division.
Official Kentucky Derby winner Country House ran a nice race in the Derby, but let’s face it, he lost! He wasn’t bothered by the trouble in the race and he was never going to win the race either way. He got beat and then got lucky to inherit the victory. There’s no championship material in that camp currently.
Sir Winston won the Belmont, but has lost many more races than he’s won and failed to even qualify to run in the Kentucky Derby despite trying multiple times to earn enough points but failing with off-the-board finishes in the Withers (G3) (4th), Tampa Bay Derby (G2) (5th), and Blue Grass (G2) (7th) before losing the Peter Pan (G3). His Belmont Stakes is not yet enough to stamp him a championship contender.
Preakness winner War of Will has racked up some good wins this year and has the strongest championship case of any of the Triple Crown race-winning horses at this stage of the game. In addition to the Preakness, he won the Lecomte (G3) and Risen Star (G2) at Fair Grounds and was bothered (but wasn’t going to win) in the Derby. He lost big in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Belmont. He will need to beat Maximum Security on the racetrack if he wants a legitimate claim to the 3-year-old crown.
The other horse that could contend for divisional honors right now would be Tacitus, based on his wins in the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial (G2), plus his in-the-money finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. However, he lacks a Grade 1 win and has lost his head-to-head meetings against Maximum Security and Country House, and then lost his rematch vs. Sir Winston.
Maximum Security has shown superior talent and ability over this 3-year-old rivals through the first part of the season, and his connections will be racing him with a chip on their shoulders the rest of the way. After all, instead of talking about this year’s undefeated Kentucky Derby winner, we instead are talking about “who is the leader of the 3-year-old division.”
Maximum Security’s route to retribution is expected to start with heavily-favored runs in in Monmouth’s $150,000 Pegasus on Sunday and then the Haskell Invitational (G1). Scared so-called rivals of his like War of Will, Tacitus, Country House, and Sir Winston will all duck him by pointing to Saratoga’s Jim Dandy (G2).
Neither War of Will, Tacitus, Country House, Sir Winston or anybody else will have any legitimate claim to the 3-year-old title until they actually defeat Maximum Security on the racetrack. They will hope that day comes in the Travers (G1) at the end of August at Saratoga. Based on what we’ve seen on the racetrack to date, however, that possibility seems highly unlikely.