Update: Paradise Woods, the filly that Simon Bray announced “could not lose the Kentucky Oaks,” could not win the Torey Pines today at Del Mar. In fact, the filly — who went off the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks after a spectacular victory in the Santa Anita Oaks — only beat one horse in her return to the races.
Paradise did bobble at the start, but seemed to recover quite nicely and moved strongly into contention entering the final turn. But she faded quickly — like she did in the Oaks — and was no factor when the real running began.
Now, trainer Richard Mandella must be wondering what to do next with this filly. In fact, he finds himself in much the same position as Bob Baffert was when the great Arrogate misfired in the San Diego Handicap over a month ago.
I guess poor performances at Del Mar is more the norm than the exception these days.
Undoubtedly, in a season full of tasty treats that barely last a day on the menu, West Coast has faulted himself into the race for the 3-Year-Old Championship with an impressive, easy, run-away and hide victory in the G1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday.
But is he here to stay? A mainstay that we can count on, when we are hungry for a good, old-fashioned, staple at our local diner or OTB. Or is he just another one-day special, cooked up by Master Chef Bobby Baffert (sorry Bobby Flay; you’ve been replaced at your home town track), only to whet the appetite, and, then, suddenly and without warning or notice, disappear?
You can blame us for being a bit hesitant. Can you?
After all, Always Dreaming gave us a head full of happy thoughts when he masterfully and manfully dominated this year’s Kentucky Derby — only to dash away, just as quickly, with the morning sun. He hasn’t been seen since; not the horse we always dreamed about.
After all, Cloud Computing gave us hope on a dreary, rainy day when he parted the skies and the 3YO crowd with a forceful run to nip Classic Empire and capture the Preakness Stakes. But despite all the charms that mega-trainer Chad Brown can muster, this colt can’t even muster a spark of sunshine any more.
After all, Tapwrit gave us all a thrill with his thunderous stretch run to power his way past the pesky Irish War Cry and openly declare that he was now the heir to this year’s throne with his beautiful victory in the Belmont Stakes. But, it seems, his ascension lasted about as long as a New York minute.
Then came Good Samaritan, who stopped along the side of this year’s 3YO road to give us hope and lift our dreams, only to forget to bring his dirt shoes to the party that is the Travers Stakes.
And, speaking of shoes, there was Girvin. This one disappeared the week before the Derby when trainer Joe Sharp hustled him off to Keeneland, the clinic, to a swimming pool, and God only knows where else, due to a shoddy shoe, slash, hoof, quarter crack. Only to return this summer with impressive runs in both the Ohio Derby and the G1 Haskell Invitational. Cinderella, right? Had to be Cinderella. Had to be. The shoe had to fit. Yesterday, the shoe did not. Neither did the horse.
So, you can understand why we are a little jaded right?
The moment we get our fill with the latest and greatest, we are left wanting more. And, getting less.
Yet, we are a hearty lot. We turn pages in our lives like we do the pages of our Daily Racing Form. Next. So, here we are on the cusp of Labor Day laboring over the DRF once again, trying to pick a winner, and the PPs of our past favorite 3YO colts, still looking for a horse and a fantasy to grab onto, and hold.
This morning, at brunch, I asked my good friend, and breeder-owner, David Osborne, who the top 3YO in the country is — as of today. His answer, without hesitation, was Oscar Performance, trained by Brian Lynch.
And, with only a slight hunch of the shoulders, I could see his reason and understand his reasons.
A solid case can be made for the ridgling son of Kitten’s Joy and the Theatrical mare, Devine Actress. He finished a brilliant 2YO season with three straight victories — including a win the in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. And, he has staked out an equally-as-good 3YO season with three straight victories now — the last two in G1 events.
But there are holes in his resume, too. He started the year with a dull 5th-place performance in The Transylvania Stakes at Keeneland, and then was a total bust on the soft ground at Churchill Downs — finishing 10th in the American Turf Stakes.
And, he is a grass horse. After all, history has saved this Eclipse Award for the best dirt horse of his generation. Although, to date, that has been hard to find.
I, on the other hand, now make the significant argument for — I would ask for a drum roll, but in this case, a tap of the cymbals will do, for now — Practical Joke.
Really, no joke. I think the top 3YO in the country, right now, is Practical Joke — owned by William H. Lawrence and the Klaravich Stables; trained by Chad Brown. And, why not?
The colt has raced six times this year. Arguably, four of them were outside his comfort zone and past his most preferred distance of a mile or less. And, still, the colt has performed admirably in all. He has two wins — in both of his tries at a 1 mile or less. He captured the 1 mile, G3 Dwyer Stakes and then blew away the competition in the 7-furlong, G1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga on Saturday. He has two seconds — in the G2 Fountain of Youth and the G2 Blue Grass Stakes — both at two turns. He has a third — when rapidly closing in to the wire in the G1 Haskell Stakes. And, he has a fifth — in the 11/4-mile Kentucky Derby.
If Practical Joke — by one of the hottest stallions in the world right now in Into Mischief — can step up his game, just a tad, and take on the Champ, Drefong, in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and come away with a victory? Then, I think he has to be considered at the top of his class. Especially if Oscar Performance and West Coast cannot tackle their elders in the final months of the 2017 racing calendar.
Just consider. In 10 lifetime starts, Practical Joke has 5 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds. His only miss was the Kentucky Derby — where he gets high marks for guts, if not glory.
Yet, the stage is now set:
West Coast has forced the East Coast to recognize his talents — just as his stablemate (Arrogate) and his head coach (Bob Baffert) had to do a year ago. Now, all of a sudden, the world’s greatest trainer (er, that would be Bob), who many have claimed has had a bad year, is sitting on a full house as he rolls into this year’s Breeders’ Cup. After all, he will likely saddle Arrogate, Collected, West Coast, and, perhaps, Cupid for the world’s most significant race not named The Kentucky Derby. And, if West Coast can best those in his home barn, then he has to be at the top of the list.
Oscar Performance has forced the West Coast to recognize his talents — with his impressive victories in the Belmont Derby and the G1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park.
But, please do yourself a favor and put Practical Joke in that discussion. The guy may just show up at Del Mar and do what he has been doing all his life. Running good. Winning tough. And, gritting it out. If he does all that, he would be a deserving Champion.