Now that the Triple Crown is over, focus turns to the Breeders' Cup. Last year's Breeders' Cup Classic was won by Fort Larned over Mucho Macho Man (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
Now that the intense, nearly blinding spotlight of the Triple Crown has come to an end, attention can be shifted to what awaits during an interesting remainder of the 2013 racing season.
Once again - actually, for the 34th year in a row - a Triple Crown sweep proved too elusive for the 3-year-old crop, but the mix of deep and evenly matched male and female 3-year-old divisions and a strong collection of returning and developing older talent could produce an enticing elixir in the months to come.
Among both 3-year-old divisions, little has been settled.
For the fourth time in five years, there were three separate winners of the Triple Crown races, which at least bodes well for competitive races in the Haskell and Travers. Yet none of the three classic winners were ultra-impressive and their ordinary times indicate that unless they take a few steps forward in the coming months they might struggle against the top older runners.
After Palace Malice’s 13-1 victory in the Belmont Stakes, division leadership is up in the air with the important summer Grade 1 precincts yet to report.
Based on their body of work throughout the year, the top spot in a poll figures to be a coin toss between Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Preakness champ Oxbow. Oxbow, who was sixth in the Derby, rates a slight edge as he was second in the Belmont while Orb was third, giving him a 2-1 edge over the Derby winner in head-to-head meetings.
The final National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top 3-year-old poll, released Monday, had it more one-sided in Oxbow’s favor as he received 32 first-place votes to 12 for Orb and two for Palace Malice.
OXBOW CAME OUT THE WINNER IN THE LAST 3-YEAR-OLD POLL OF THE YEAR
Though he has some ground to make up, Palace Malice certainly deserves inclusion in any conversation about an Eclipse Award. His Belmont victory is surely a better reflection of his ability than a 12th place finish in the Derby which can be linked to the one-time addition of blinkers and the setting of a ridiculously fast pace.
More might be heard as well as from Incognito, who was fourth in the Belmont, Itsmyluckyday and Mylute, who were second and third in the Preakness, plus Verrazano and Normandy Invasion who exited the Triple Crown trail after the Derby – just to name a few.
On the distaff side, the notion that the ladies might be better than the boys took a hit when Unlimited Budget, who was third in the Kentucky Oaks, finished sixth in the Belmont Stakes. The marathon distance as opposed to her talent seems the logical reason for that disappointing effort and upcoming Grade 1’s like the Mother Goose, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama should still be stellar events.
The key question involves whether the Kentucky Oaks was a reflection of the new pecking order or just a glitch. The unheralded Princess of Sylmar won the Grade 1 test at 38-1 odds with 2-year-old champ Beholder second and Unlimited Budget and Dreaming of Julia directly behind them.
Dreaming of Julia was the 3-2 favorite in the Oaks after a monstrous effort in the Gulfstream Oaks when she won by 21¾ lengths and her final time of 1:48.97 for a mile and an eighth was faster than the clocking of 1:50.87 for Orb a few races later in the Florida Derby. She had a troubled trip in the Oaks and is scheduled to run next in the Mother Goose at Belmont on June 22, where a powerful performance can help her regain her lost stature and set the table nicely for the major races to come.
Midnight Lucky, an impressive winner of the Acorn, is another who can make the chase for an Eclipse Award even more compelling.
Meanwhile, until displaced, the sport’s star power rests with its older runners.
An injury to Point of Entry, who came out of a victory in Saturday’s Manhattan with a non-displaced condylar fracture, will sideline him for a while, but there’s hope he’ll be back for the important late summer-fall stakes.
Wise Dan has won both of his starts this year, and if all continues to go well, his victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile is proof that even the Europeans will have a tough time beating him in the world championships at Santa Anita.
2012 HORSE OF THE YEAR WISE DAN LOOKS TO RETURN TO THE BREEDERS' CUP
Game On Dude disappointed when seventh in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but a 3-for-3 record this year, featuring a win in the Santa Anita Handicap, shows he is more than capable of atoning and perhaps emerging as the brightest star of all in 2013.
Clubhouse Ride finished second to Game On Dude in all three of those 2013 starts and then showed that he’s more than just a bridesmaid by winning the Grade 2 Californian at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 1.
Saturday’s upcoming Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs should put the quality of the Eastern runners into a sharper focus, with the field expected to include last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, Successful Dan, Take Charge Indy, Golden Ticket, Pool Play and Ron the Greek, winner of last year’s Foster.
Flat Out should also be a major player in the division. He had a rough trip when third in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, but his affinity for New York tracks makes him a natural for Grade 1’s like the Whitney and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Sahara Sky won the Met Mile but it remains to be seen if a two-turn Grade 1 like the Whitney is within his scope.
SAHARA SKY WON AN EXCITING MET MILE IN MAY
Cross Traffic was a hard-luck loser by a nose to Sahara Sky in the Met Mile and by a head to Flat Out in the Westchester, and will be a handful for anyone to handle in his upcoming races.
While both of them could wind up in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the sprint division has plenty of horsepower based on the recent efforts of speedsters like Delaunay, who owns a six-race win streak, and Fast Bullet, who won Saturday’s True North at Belmont.
The Breeders’ Cup Marathon is hardly the marquee event of the series, but last year’s Marathon winner Calidoscopio expanded his fan club rather dramatically with a dazzling victory in the Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont this past Friday.
Racing in a monsoon, Calidoscopio seemed hopeless beaten on the backstretch of the mile and a half test, trailing by 22 lengths after a half mile. He then flew home in the stretch like Forego and won by a length going away. Since the race was broadcast on NBCSN and video clips of his seemingly implausible late-running heroics popped up all over the Internet, the his presence alone will make the BC Marathon much more than afterthought this year.
In addition, if there’s a horse everyone can get behind and support it is Paynter. The 2012 Haskell winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up is scheduled to make his first start Friday at Hollywood after overcoming life-threatening battles with colic and laminitis. If he can return to anywhere near top form, it would be as heartwarming a story as any novelist could script.
THE SECOND HALF OF THE YEAR ALSO BRINGS THE RETURN OF PAYNTER
On the fillies’ side, reigning champ Royal Delta will rip another page out of her 2012 playbook when she runs in Saturday’s Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs. A year ago, Royal Delta was ninth in the Dubai World Cup and rebounded with an 8-length victory in the Fleur de Lis. Now, after finishing 10th in the World Cup, she will be looking to once again get on track in the Fleur de Lis.
As strong as last year’s distaff ranks were, this year’s group is on the thin side and could use some replenishment from a strong 3-year-old crop in the fall and the anticipated return of sprint champ Groupie Doll.
All in all, everything seems in place for a rather compelling run to the wire on a number of fronts.
Yes, Virginia, and everywhere else horses run around tracks, there is indeed a racing season after the Triple Crown.