The start of a new year means the start of another chapter in the world of horse
racing, with tracks around the world set to write their next bit of history in the
12 months to come. But, before things get into full swing, there are some burning
questions worth answering about horse racing and its marquee races in 2019.
The biggest English horse racing meets get going this March with Cheltenham
Festival, headlined by the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Taking home that race is a
great start to any horse's year, as the field has a chance to pick up what would
be a signature win for the year with nine months left to pad out their resume
the rest of the way. So, the most logical question to ask is which horse will get
the job done and put themselves in the driver seat to be the top horse in
Of course, the Grand National lurks just around the bend after the Gold Cup,
making it a huge two-month stretch for racing in England. But going into April
without the notch of the Gold Cup under your belt is a scary proposition, as a
horse would run the risk of coming up empty in the biggest steeplechase events
of the year in England.
Though many have tried, the Gold Cup and Grand National double seem virtually
impossible to achieve. If a horse and its team had to choose between winning the
Gold Cup and risking coming up empty across both major races, they would take
the Gold Cup every time. And, like every year, it will be interesting to see who comes
through with the first big win of the British racing calendar in 2019.
After a nearly 40 year drought without a Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah's
2015 performance put him into the record books and took away some of the mystique
of the incredible achievement. But since then, another horse has managed to do what
was thought to be impossible by taking home a Triple Crown of their own. That horse
was Justify in 2018, who made the feat look easy en route to the second Triple Crown
in four years. In 2019, the question is whether or not another competitor can come
along and make the feat look even more achievable.
The Triple Crown is at its best when it is a rare accomplishment. The anticipation of
watching a horse attempt to close out the second or third leg of the event knowing how
hard it was to accomplish was one of the great things in all of sport. But recent years
have made it feel like a horse that finishes the first two legs is almost guaranteed to
score the Triple Crown. For the good of the sport as a whole, it would be great to see
some space between Justify and the next horse to win the Triple Crown, to help restore
some mystique to the achievement.
Looking ahead to the start of the Triple Crown season, the early favourite to win the
Kentucky Derby is Game Winner. Having racked up three straight G1 race victories,
the Bob Baffert trained horse is set to be a serious contender to make it a third Triple
Crown in five years. With the Derby still months away, the betting odds haven't become
too short on him yet, as the field isn't fully solidified, making Game Winner a popular option
on which to use a free horse racing bet in the run for the roses.
But there might be many horse racing fans that would rather see a huge upset in the
Kentucky Derby, to all but eliminate the chance of a Triple Crown right off the bat in
2019. After all, a chance to rebuild what makes a Triple Crown so special to begin with.
The phrase is often uttered that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Well, that
might be put to the test at Saratoga, where the potential expansion of their summer meet
will test just how much horse racing is too much. Due to renovations elsewhere in New York,
Saratoga's famous summer meet may be expanded by another week. That would push their
40-day meet to about 45 days, which would be an interesting shift, to say the least.
Right now, Saratoga is already criticised for holding all of their G1 races on weekends,
which prompts the question as to what kind of quality the additional races will be during
the extra week. If this change makes some top-tier events happen on weekdays, it could
be a positive change. But, if not, it will just feel like more filler in a busy summer.
Either way, it is unclear as to which direction things will go in Saratoga, Belmont, and across
New York, as the racing world anxiously awaits a schedule from New York's Racing Association.
Until then, all anyone has is a question, which could decide where the focus of the horse racing
world is come summer time. And, while Saratoga will surely factor into the equation no matter
how long their schedule is, what events are taking place and when is surely a situation worth following.