The three-year-olds are the driving force of any season, in part as the season belongs to them until this point, like having their own series of The X-Factor, protected pre-summer against the established, elder acts in the charts.
The generational clash, from July onwards, is the foremost factor that can transform a conventional campaign into a classic one, all because of the classic crop, regards their ability and ambition.
So, the key question, ahead of the half-time show at Royal Ascot, is how are the three-year-olds of 2019 shaping up? With four of the five Classics in Britain done and dusted, we should have a good gauge…
WHO IS THE BEST THREE-YEAR-OLD RIGHT NOW?
The finish of the Derby was deafening, but not defining. Less than a length separating the first five was a mob mentality, rather than any monopoly, though any one of them could conceivably climb higher. For now, nevertheless, the middle-distance colts are much of a muchness.
And it’s hard to rate the fillies, via the Oaks, as anything other than a bog-standard bunch. We’re talking collectively, rather than individually, but Anapurna isn’t a Minding let alone an Enable.
The Guineas at Newmarket bore little resemblance to the one at the Curragh, in terms of personnel, which might dampen or dilute the stranglehold show by Phoenix Of Spain that day, but, even so, his hand is up higher than most when asking who’s the top of the crop, and if it’s not him then it could be Sottsass.
Recency bias can be a dangerous thing but, in the latest European Classic, the French Derby, Sottsass came in cold and went out hot, easy to say he outstayed Persian King, but that one was in turn clear of the rest and Sottsass ran away from him at the end.
Nobody had much heard of him prior to the Prix du Jockey Club, but the same was also true of Almonzor, likewise trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, and Sottsass suddenly looks the real deal, seeming at this stage the chief representative of the three-year-olds in the Arc.
WHO HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE THE BEST THREE-YEAR-OLD BY THE END OF THE SEASON?
As mentioned, Sottsass is in the running, as are several from the nip-and-tuck Derby who weren’t fully-formed at Epsom, as it should be. But there are others bubbling under, two in particular, both from Ballydoyle.
It’s rarer, and it’s harder, for a filly to trump the colts in a generation, but it happens every now and then, and, the way Hermosa is storming through the season, it’s easy to see her battling against the boys at some point.
It’s not so rare, nor hard, for a sprinter to blitz its way to big ratings, and Ten Sovereigns has it in him to do just that, by doing what he’s best at: running fast. Moulding him into a miler was worth a try, but a lesson learnt, and the beauty of the Commonwealth Cup is that there’s now an Ascot outlet for some outboard-motor output.
The mechanics of Ten Sovereigns are such that letting him rip at sprint trips is what he wants and what he needs in order to become a giant of his generation.
ANY TOP-NOTCH THREE-YEAR-OLDS IN HIDING?
One, for sure. When Anthony Van Dyck powered to the front at Epsom, it fostered the ‘what if’ factor with a horse who smothered him stylishly in a Group 1 last year, namely Quorto. Injury has forced him to miss the season so far, and he has no entries upcoming, but it may be stardom delayed rather than diminished, given the collateral line to the classics.
WHAT’S THE STATE IN THE STATES?
We’ve been spoilt in two of the last four years with America riding a Triple Crown tidal wave. On the eve of the Belmont Stakes, a pretty thin edition at that, looking a match between War Of Will and Tacitus, it might feel like a colourless crop over there, too, but the furore around the Kentucky Derby reversal rather took away from the fact that the first past the post, Maximum Security, is still a shining light, and still effectively undefeated.
There’s nothing quite like Maximum Security in Europe, as a potential great, and that makes him important for the season and for the sport, more so in North America where racing is under scrutiny like never before.
The Belmont Stakes itself may be a little underwhelming, but it’s only one of eight Grade 1s on the card, and the Met Mile is arguably the race of the year so far, anywhere in the world. Eight of the nine runners have Timeform ratings of 120+, including dual World Cup winner Thunder Snow, who’s more beloved over there than over here.
Mitole is the momentum horse, with his sequence of six in a row, but all at shorter trips than a mile, and McKinzie blows hot and cold, plus his trainer Bob Baffert was slightly deflated with his draw in 2.
The answer, therefore, could be Firenze Fire, for whom this is a home fixture, unbeaten at Belmont, including when looking better than ever last time over a distance (6f) on the sharp side for him.