Murky 3-Year-Old Division Could Come Into Focus at Breeders’ Cup

Maximum Security could become the division leader if he wins the Pennsylvania Derby later this month. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Which horse races do novice and casual fans focus on the most each year? Easy answer — the Triple Crown races made up of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets.

Now, the last few years we have been spoiled by the rarity of two Triple Crown winners. Bob Baffert trained both in American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).

In 2019, we had three different winners of the Triple Crown races in Country House (Derby), War of Will (Preakness), and Sir Winston (Belmont). I would bet a steak dinner that if you asked most novices to name the winner of one of the Triple Crown races this year, most of them would not know.

This is not to denigrate any of those three horses and their connections for a historic win. But the reality is none of those three has won a race since. In fact, two of them, Country House and Sir Winston, have not started in a race since that classic victory.

That creates an “out of sight, out of mind” imagery to the public.

I surmise more people will remember Maximum Security, the horse who crossed the finish line first in the Derby but was disqualified. That’s because he has run since the Triple Crown, including a win in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park.

It’s been an uneven season, to say the least, in the 3-year-old division overall. No one has stood the division on its head yet.

I’ll bring this essay full circle with this question. If you had to vote for the 3-year-old Eclipse Award champion right now, who would it be? At this point in time, it would be a tight photo finish.

There is still one more Grade 1 stakes restricted to 3-year-olds on the schedule. It’s the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing on Sept. 21.

2019 Travers winner Code Of Honor is another potential division leader. (Eclipse Sportswire)
Maximum Security is being pointed there by his trainer, Jason Servis. He figures to be a heavy favorite to win at Parx. Then, arguably, he would gain a short lead over the likes of Code of Honor and Tacitus.

Code of Honor won the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes for his trainer Shug McGaughey. He is leaning toward the Jockey Club Gold Cup against older horses at Belmont Park as his last prep before the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  Another top 3-year-old, Tacitus, is also pointing toward that race.

Now if Code of Honor or Tacitus were to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup that would make them the “chip” leader, using a World Series of Poker term, going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

If we consider the Classic to be the “final table,” so to speak, for winning Eclipse Awards, then the owners and trainers will truly be going “all in” at Santa Anita. And that defines what the Breeders’ Cup should be … to decide champions.

Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies," an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing.  For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on

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