LOUISVILLE, KY (June 26, 2017) – It always amazes me that some so-called “experts” in the horse industry and the handicapping business claim that the chase up to and the races throughout the Triple Crown are too traumatic on the legs and souls of some of the game’s best 3-year-olds.
As soon as the hooves have stopped churning, the mouthing begins.
“It’s too much, too soon, too fast.”
“It’s too taxing, too exhausting, too demanding.”
“It’s too bad.”
Some people, in fact, start a poll to see if the Triple Crown timeline should be changed to help horses “recover” from all the trauma and the drama.
Truth be known…?
“It,” actually, is too good to be true. For the game. For it’s fans. And, really, for most of the horses involved.
Let’s just take a look at the 20 horses that lined up in the starting gate for this year’s Kentucky Derby. And, let’s see what they have done since.
1st: Always Dreaming, came back to run 8th in the second leg of the Triple Crown series, the Preakness Stakes, at Pimlico Race Course on May 20. He is now getting a bit of a break from trainer Todd Pletcher.
2nd: Lookin at Lee, the only one to make all three legs of the Triple Crown this year, ran fourth in the Preakness and 7th in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.
3rd: Battle of Midway just came back this weekend to dominate a small field in the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita.
4th: Classic Empire, who had a troubled fourth place finish in the Derby, came back to run a hard-fought second in the Preakness Stakes, and appeared ready to nail down the Belmont Stakes before being sidelined with an abscess in his right front hoof. He is now back in training at his home base of Churchill Downs.
5th: Practical Joke, trained by the patient Chad Brown, got an extended layoff, but is now being pointed to one of the mid-summer classics like the Haskell, the Jim Dandy or the Travers.
6th: Tapwrit, who won the Tampa Bay Derby on his way to the Kentucky Derby, came back to capture the Belmont Stakes in a furious stretch duel with Irish War Cry.
7th: Gunnevera ran fifth in the Preakness Stakes before getting a vacation back home in Florida. He is now back in training, too.
8th: McCraken, who was undefeated at Churchill Downs before the Derby, came back on June 17 to win the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes in impressive fashion. He is now being pointed to the mid-summer classics by his trainer, Ian Wilkes.
9th: Gormley, a talented, yet inconsistent sort, ran fourth in the Belmont Stakes for John Sheriffs.
10th: Irish War Cry ran a huge, game, gutty second in the Belmont Stakes and is now being pointed towards one of the big ones coming up.
11th: Hence came right back to run 9th in the Preakness for trainer Steve Asmussen, but he has turned in four published workouts since, including a 5-furlong breeze on June 25 in 1:01 flat. It was the fourth fastest time out of 32 that worked the distance.
12th: Untrapped, another Steve Asmussen-trainee, came back to run 3rd on June 24 in the Ohio Derby.
13th: Girvin, hampered by a quarter crack leading up to the Derby, ran a huge one before getting nipped at the wire in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on Saturday.
14th: Patch, the one-eyed wonder horse, came back to run third in the Belmont Stakes.
15th: J Boys Echo, disappointing in the Blue Grass Stakes and tough-luck loser in the Derby, came back to disappoint again in the Belmont Stakes – running ninth.
16th: Sonneteer, who ran in the Kentucky Derby despite the fact that he is still a maiden, is still a maiden. He ran fourth in a MSW event at Santa Anita on May 27 and has worked twice since. Maybe, just maybe, he will win one, one of these days.
17th: Fast and Accurate ran a solid fourth in the Grade 3 Arlington Classic on May 27, before faltering to a disappointing 9th in the Ohio Derby.
18th: Irap, who won the Blue Grass Stakes as a maiden, showed that he and that win were no fluke. He won the Ohio Derby in dramatic fashion, nipping Girvin at the wire – despite many traffic issues and several significant bumps by his chief rival.
19th: State of Honor just ran third in the Plate Trail Stakes at Woodbine for his trainer Mark Casse.
20th: Thunder Snow – who bucked, squealed, snorted and refused to engage in running in the Derby – has come back to run second in the Group 1 Tattersalls Irish Two Thousand Guineas at the Curragh and third in the Group 1 St. Jame’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in two of Europe’s most prestigious races for 3-year-olds. Not bad for a horse that was selected by our own Dave Baker to win the Kentucky Derby, and hasn’t been allowed to forget it, ever since.
For the record, this group of 20 horses has collectively run 22 times since the Kentucky Derby. In all but one case, they all ran back in Graded or Group Stakes races. And, the record is:
In 22 starts, they have 4 wins, 4 seconds, 4 thirds, 4 fourths, a fifth, a seventh, an eighth and three ninths. In 22 starts, that amounts to 16 finishes in the top four. And, only one has yet to run back, and the plan is for him to show up soon in a Grade 1 stakes.
Seems to me, just looking at the numbers, the Triple Crown sequence is just perfect. And, the horses are doing just fine. Carry on, racing world. Carry on.
Blue Grass Stakes Wasn’t So Bad, After All
I had a chance to go by the barn of Ian Wilkes last week, and check on the status and health of McCraken, who was so impressive in winnng the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs on June 17.
At that time, we both remarked how this year’s Blue Grass Stakes – which had been demoted to Grade 2 status this year by the Graded Stakes Committee – has turned out to be a pretty good race, after all.
After this week, this year’s version of the Blue Grass became even more impressive – what with BG-winner Irap running down the game Girvin to capture the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown Race Track this past Saturday.
Since the Blue Grass, here’s what the field has done:
- Irap won the Ohio Derby, after running 18th in the Kentucky Derby.
- Practical Joke ran a huge fifth in the Kentucky Derby, despite many predictions that he couldn’t last that far.
- McCraken won the Grade 3 Matt Winn, after a rough 8th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.
- J Boys Echo has since run 15th, and, subsequently 9th in the Derby and the Belmont Stakes.
- Tapwrit won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in a furious stretch rally, after a sixth-place finish in the Deby.
- It’s Your Nickel ran third in the Illinois Derby.
- Wild Shot, the last-placed finisher in the Blue Grass, came back to win the Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, prior to running 7th in the Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park.
Last week, before Irap’s impressive victory in the Ohio Derby, Ian Wilkes said this about this year’s version of the Blue Grass:
“I’m happy for Tapwrit, Todd (Pletcher, the trainer), and the owners of the horse. It justifies where we are running our horse (McCraken). It’s funny. Coming into the Blue Grass, after the Tampa races, (everyone was talking about) how strong a race it was (going to be). After the Blue Grass, everyone was saying that it wasn’t very good and that these horses just weren’t that good. Now, he (Tapwrit) wins the Belmont and he’s one of the best 3-year-olds in the country. It’s a fickle business.”
Fickle, indeed. Now, with Irap winning the Ohio Derby, maybe the Blue Grass will be restored to its rightful slot atop the Graded Stakes scale, and be recognized again as one of the best races – period.
3-Year-Old Colt To Watch – Pocket Square
On Sunday, June 18, I picked a young, 3YO colt to break his maiden at Churchill Downs in just his second lifetime start. I wrote, in my handicapping picks of the day, that bettors and fans alike should keep a keen eye out for Pocket Square.
Not only is Pocket Square the son of Into Mischief and both bred and owned by a good friend and longtime client of mine, Mike Schnell, but we had watched him train very aggressively all spring under the tutelage of trainer Dale Romans. We knew that he was coming into his own and into this race in good shape. (We have a picture of him on this page to give you an idea of how good he looks!)
And, so I touted. And, so I bet.
At 5-1 odds, he didn’t disappoint. The colt sprinted to the lead soon after the break and put away a good field, winning by ¾-length over My Eminence.
Don’t wait too long before you take notice of this one. He could be a good one. A real good one. And, as such, he becomes our first “Pressbox Power Play.”
We will add to this group, as time goes on, and keep you posted on all horses that fit into this category. And, we will try to issue our tout before they have a chance to make a splash.