11/11/2013 9:51AM

The 3-Year-Old Championship


From January to June, the marquee division in racing in this country is the 3-year-old male division. For better or worse, the run up to the Kentucky Derby, the Derby itself, and then the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, dwarf anything else that happens between the rails in this game during the first half of the year.

Even after the Triple Crown, the 3-year-old male division remains a primary discussion point. The Travers and the Haskell, the signature races at two of our biggest summer race meets, are for 3-year-olds. And beyond that, there is always talk on how the 3-year-olds will stack up against their elders in the Breeders' Cup Classic division.

This is why for fans of the sport (and I'm here to tell you that you can be both a racing fan, and a hardened horseplayer), the 3-year-old male championship is a pretty big deal. And as it has been for a good part of the season, this year's 3-year-old male championship is a pretty tough puzzle.

Well, maybe not so for a significant segment of the racing public, who seem to think that by virtue of his second in the Breeders' Cup Classic, beaten just a nose, Will Take Charge secured this divisional Eclipse Award. I can't argue strongly for or against Will Take Charge's merits in terms of a divisional championship. I think, given their respective records, it is impossible to be passionate about the title candidacies of any of the potential 3-year-old male Eclipse Award finalists. But I can say this: If Will Take Charge does win the vote for champion 3-year-old male of 2013, he might be the shakiest such champion not only in the history of the Eclipse Awards dating back to 1971, but ever.

If Will Take Charge gets the title, he will have done so with only one Grade 1 victory on the year, in the Travers (he also won the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, the Grade 2 Rebel, and the listed Smarty Jones). He will have but one Grade 1 win despite the fact there are a plethora of Grade 1 opportunities for 3-year-olds both within the division, and against older horses. It really does seem that if Will Take Charge becomes divisional champion, it will be because of his near miss in the Grade 1 Classic (he was also second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy). And one thing I could argue strongly about is whether this or any other horse should get an Eclipse Award on the basis of a loss, no matter how good or close that loss was.

At this point, no one is talking about Preakness winner Oxbow and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice in terms of being strong title contenders, and that is understandable. Oxbow never raced after a dismal fourth in the Haskell, and eventually was retired. And Palace Malice squandered his very live Eclipse Award hopes with two uninspiring performances to conclude his campaign.

However, it can be argued that Palace Malice, for one, has a resume that is at least comparable to Will Take Charge's. Palace Malice won the Grade 1 Belmont (say what you will about the Belmont, it is a Triple Crown race), and the Jim Dandy. I'm not going to get into the head-to-head records between these two (for the record, it was 3 to 2 in favor of Will Take Charge) because there were a few unrepresentative performances involved on each side. But it could be said that when Palace Malice's seconds in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Grade 1 Blue Grass are taken together, they probably carry weight similar to Will Take Charge's second in the Classic.

Heck, it can be argued that Orb has not merely comparable, but stronger credentials than Will Take Charge for a divisional championship. It's immaterial whether Orb disappointed after his win in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby (although he did manage thirds in the Belmont and Travers), or whether his Derby was pace and wet track-aided. The fact is, Orb won the biggest race there is for this division, in addition to the Grade 1 Florida Derby (and the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth), giving him twice as many Grade 1 wins as Will Take Charge, Palace Malice, and Oxbow. And Orb could have drawn a more distinct line of demarcation between him and Will Take Charge had he won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile on Nov. 30, which he was pointing to. But Orb was just retired.

Goldencents, however, is coming for the Cigar Mile in an inspired attempt at the 3-year-old championship. And it just might work. Goldencents did win the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby (in addition to the Grade 3 Sham) early this year, and his victory (as bias-aided as it was) in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile gives him something none of the other divisional title contenders have, a Grade 1 victory over older horses. If Goldencents wins the Cigar Mile (and Ill tell you right now that he will be a popular bet against because his Breeders' Cup win was assisted by the speed bias), that would give him two Grade 1 wins over older horses, in addition to seconds in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship, the Grade 1 Bing Crosby, and the Grade 2 Pat OBrien, all also against older opponents.

In his current permutation as a sprinter/miler, Goldencents does not have a profile that one associates with the traditional 3-year-old champion. But in a year in which a colt with just one Grade 1 win seems first in line at the moment to receive this honor, these are clearly not traditional times.


Danielle Gershberg More than 1 year ago
i think this should be updated ;) now 3 year old champion is obvious, right?
Forego137 More than 1 year ago
First the Penn. Derby is not a G1 only in wishful thinking, someday it might be deemed worthy of that honor, till then it is what it is. Now with that being said 3yr.old of the year no question is ORB, he has accomplished more and won the most important race for 3yr olds (Kentucky Derby) sure a case can be made for Will Take Charge but the real thing about him is he was knocking alot but not getting in, he had alot of close finishes this year one G 1 win, Palace Malice only won the Belmont and has not run good since. ORB your hands down 3yr.old champ.
jttf More than 1 year ago
Anyone who doesn't think the Pennsylvania derby isn't a grade 1 race, is as foolish as the grading committee. In last years Penn derby, the two travers winners could only finish 3rd and 5th.
nick More than 1 year ago
Yes jttf, and it was won by a horse who was still eligible for NW1x and struggling to hit the board in any kind of graded stakes race. Is that the kind of race you envision as a Grade 1? If so, good luck to you.
jttf More than 1 year ago
Simple minds never do any research. Golden ticket just finished 2nd in tHe breeders cup. Alpha just won Woodward this year where mucho macho man scratched because he was going to lose on a wet track. 2011 Penn derby winner , to honor and serve won the Woodward over mucho macho man. Past Woodward winners, havre de grace, Rachel and curlin all won horse of the year awards. Will take charge and moreno run 1st 2nd in both the travers and Penn derby. Class is dismissed.
nick More than 1 year ago
Dear Mr. Jytf, Did my research already, and if you had done yours you would have found that since 1979 the Penn Derby has been won mostly by horses without a lot of Grade 1 success. Sure there was an occasional To Honor and Serve, Macho Uno, or Anal Nakal, but for the most part it has been won by a lot of horses without much Grade 1 success further down the road. You can't isolate on a few really nice horses who may have dropped down to grab a lucrative purse, you have to look at the whole body of work. And in the Penn Derby's case it just isn't there, and that is what the grading committee judges a race by, is it not? Quad Erat Demonstratum.
nick More than 1 year ago
By the way, Mr. Jttf, Before you leave class today might I suggest you do some English homework? Your initial premise "Anyone who doesn't think the Penn Derby isn't a Grade 1 is . . . foolish" is actually saying 'anyone who thinks the Penn Derby is a Grade 1 is foolish( the double negatives cancel each other out and turn your attempted negative statement into an endorsement). I would normally suggest you stay way after class to study, but I'd rather have you out putting your money into the thoroughbred mutual pools for the rest of us to divvy up. . . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Why not look up the competition in 1776 ?? Wasnt The Penn derby known as John Hancock derby. What does 1979's derby have to do with today's lasix using horses ? The travers winners are all going to Penn derby for $million purse. There are plenty of $250,000 grade 1 races. But some people have poor math skills and don't understand the difference in purses.
nick More than 1 year ago
Oops, make that "Quod". My Latin is a little rusty.
nick More than 1 year ago
Ok, Mr. Anonymous, Went back last 10 yrs. looking for Grade 1 winners among Penn Derby winners. Morning Line won a Grade 1 Sprint. To Honor and Serve won a couple, and Will Take Charge has won the Travers, so far. Not a very auspicious rundown for a wanna-be Grade 1 race. Where are all the Travers winners dropping down and winning the Penn Derby? Haven't seen any in the last 10 years except for WTC. Thanks for your support.
jttf More than 1 year ago
What three year old race produces the most in the money finishes in the last four breeders cups ? The Pennsylvania derby has at least 5. Can the triple crown races compete with that production ? Remember, the Penn derby only averages 7 horse fields. Talk about quality. Nicky didn't know this fact.
Rob Yetman More than 1 year ago
It would never happen but the reality is the best three year old to run in America this year was Magician. He just received the Cartier award as Champion European 3 year old. I doubt this country produced anything better this year.
nick More than 1 year ago
Mr. Yetman, hats off to you. Wish I had thought of that first. And there is precedent for this, as several years ago a horse made the trip across the pond for one race, once a year for four straight years. Three times she beat all comers in what then known as The Breeder's Cup Mile(now the "Turf Mile"). Twice she was voted Eclipse Champion for Turf females, I believe. You may remember her. Her name is Goldikova.
Ann More than 1 year ago
And I also remember that a North American mare who never had a chance to run in the BC (because she DIED in August) was denied an Eclipse award she had won on the track. Tuscan Evening was her name.
Scott More than 1 year ago
It's not an award for the most talented horse, it's supposed to be an award for the best campaign. I think occasionally, you can start getting a little out of the box like when Zenyatta failed to win a race against open company all year, but still won the HOTY award over a horse that actually beat her on the track even with her getting a weight break and even though he clearly ran in the much tougher races all year. Some people justified this by saying that it had to do with how much she did for the sport. I think Goldikova fell into this type of argument too, but there is no way that Magician can make this argument. Simply put, nobody outside of the die hard in this country know who he is and the other factor is the Eclipse is about the North American Campaign. Sorry, he's not even on the radar this year. Will Take Charge has a real chance of ending the discussion if he is able to win the Clark. Coupled with his narrow defeat in the biggest race of the year (notice, I didn't call it the toughest, because I believe the Derby is the toughest) and that should be enough to make voters swing his way. The toughest part for me is that when on the track with Orb this season - 4 times - he was only able to beat him once and it wasn't nearly as impressive a win as Orb's 3 wins against him. The only race I think that WTC had an excuse in was the Derby, but I still don't think he would have caught Orb. It's the first half of the season vs the 2nd half right now and without a really good showing (either 1st or a narrow 2nd) in the Clark, I would actually vote for Orb right now. It doesn't mean that I don't recognize that WTC is the best 3 year old in the country as I type this though. It simply means that I think Orb's campaign was overall better, especially when the two were on the track at the same time.
Alicia More than 1 year ago
WTC is clearly the best 3 year old...if he hadn't gotten stopped in the stretch he wins or places in the Ky Derby...one more inch in the BC Classic and he's the man...Orb disappeared after the Derby and Palice Malice is clearly 2nd best. Goldencents come in third...he cannot get the classic distance and cannot win outside of Cali...speaking of Cali, the BC has become a joke out there...a couple of year ago it was the polytrack (playdoh_bias....now, it's only for souped up speed...what are they doing out there and why not rotate the BC around?
nick More than 1 year ago
Dear Alicia, What happened to Will Take Charge in the Grade 3 Southwest Derby?(6th). Where was WTC in the Preakness?(7th, Orb was 3rd.)Or the Belmont?(10th, Orb was 4th). Or the Grade 2 Jim Dandy?(2nd). Or the Kentucky Derby, after having some traffic problems?(8th, Orb was 1st, I think). Orb won a Grade 3 and two Grade 1 stakes at a time when all healthy 3 year olds are trying their hardest to win, then was at least competitive in the rest of his races, excepting his last. He would.be a very deserving selection, in a year without a standout choice.
overturnH8 More than 1 year ago
FYI. Though a disaster to be sure Santa Anita never had Polytrack (in Southern California that's Del Mar), but rather Cushion Track.
Ann More than 1 year ago
Actually, it was something called Pro-Ride. Hollywood Park has Cushion Track and Del Mar has Poly. And Golden Gate, the only remaining major track in the cradle of California racing (going back to the 1850s), has Tapeta. The fairs are all still dirt - I guess cheaper horses don't need the safety protections that the elite do.
nick More than 1 year ago
Santa Anita switching to a synthetic surface, if that is what you are calling a " DISASTER", is only a disaster for people(maybe you, Mr. overturnH8?) who like to bet speed horses and were unable to adjust their handicapping methods. If Santa Anita still had a synthetic surface, we might still have a few more races alive today(R.I.P. Take Control, Points Off The Bench, Secret Circle, and all the others I didn't hear about or have forgotten . . .)
nick More than 1 year ago
Make that "a few.more race horses alive, not races alive". Sorry.
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
Us regular fans/gamblers don't have a voice so HOO ever wins the 3yo championship is what it is...Can't wait to crank it back up in 2014 and hope like hell we get a stone cold freak in the 3yo division!!!...
Mark Stulga More than 1 year ago
Mike; I consider you an astute gambler/fan and thoroughbred writer. But I think as both an NTRA writer and gambler.. that you have to give serious consideration to WTC. If you are going to ignore his nose loss in the BC; then I guess your going to have to ignore the decline of ORB which most certainly has to be relevant as an indication of his stature as a three year old
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the kind words. But in regard to WTC, I never say anywhere in this piece that I won't give him serious consideration. I am simply pointing out what I see are his weaknesses as the current top title contender in his division.
Jack Jenke More than 1 year ago
I will never understand how a 3 year colt is named a champion since the year BARBARO didn't get the Eclipse Award for Champion 3 year old. He dominated everything under so many different circumstances during his run in the first half of the year. After his tragic demise, I still feel the horseracing world jumped on the bandwagon of that other horse to forget the sadness of that year's Preakness Stakes. I'll probably get a thousand DISLIKES for this comment, but I stand by what I say. BARBARO not officially being named a Champion is the one area of the sport that I firmly think is a mistake.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
bernardini has a MUCH better resume than Barbaro....Preakness , Traves , Gold Cup vs older then 2nd in the Classic vs Barbaro who beat future claimers in the Fla Derby and won the Derby
nick More than 1 year ago
Dear Mr. Lentini, After reading previous posts by you I'm not surprised by this one. No, Bernardini does not have a MUCH better resume than Barbaro. To help refresh your memory, Barbaro's first win on 2006 was a Grade 3 TURF stake. He then won a Grade 3 stake in the slop, then the Florida Derby, and then DESTROYED the best and most competitive Kentucky Derby field I've seen in the 30 years I've been attending the Ky. Derby. Bernardini picked up the pieces in the Preakness after Barbaro got hurt. He won the Travers in a race where his only competitor, Bluegrass Cat, suffered a career ending injury while about to challenge him. (A horse who won the Haskell by daylight, and whom Barbaro crushed in the Derby). Bernardini then beat 3(THREE) horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And then, after a golden trip in the Breeders cup Classic, when a good horse looked him in the eye in the stretch Bernardini had no response. No, Mr. Lentini, it is quite the other way around.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Well, of course it was a shame what happened. I'll never forget the horrible events of the 2006 Preakness, from the breaking through the gate to the tragedy that followed. I suppose you could make a case for Barbaro but Bernardini went on to win enough to probably warrant the title. It would have been one heck of a rivalry.
nick More than 1 year ago
And Perl, no to you too. Does beating three horses you've never heard of in the JGC merit a lot of attention? The horses Bernardini held second over in the Classic weren't in hailing distance of Barbaro in the.Derby. Excepting Bluegrass Cat, there was no one else in the Travers, and only 5 of them. And Bluegrass Cat broke down, or else who knows? Go back and watch his Haskell and see what you thinner of his chances as healthy in the Travers. Bernardini's second in the Classic was an ok second, but he and Invaaor didn't pull away from the rest, who were the same horses Barbaro ran away and hid from in the
nick More than 1 year ago
(I accidentally hit post in.mid-thought) . . . Bernardini's second in the Classic was an ok second, but nothing to stir souls over. He and Invasor didn't pull away from the field by 5, or anything like that. And when Invasor pulled along side Bernardini, Invasor went right on by. Yes, its only my opinion, but Barbaro was the best 3 yr old I've seen in the 30+ years I've been following horse racing. Bernardini might have been a rival, but only in the sense that Sham was a rival to Secretariat(and yes, I do compare Barbaro favorably to The Big Red.), always second best.
Jack Jenke More than 1 year ago
Nick, I thank you for your responses and opinions. Just from reading your entries I finally feel somewhat vindicated. I used to believe I was the only one who believed this about Barbaro, but you have changed that for me. Thank you.
Scott More than 1 year ago
This is a tough one, because I think most fans of Horse Racing really felt Barbaro was the 2nd coming. I know I was absolutely blown away by his Derby win, but as a handicapper, I was off Barbaro in the Preakness after watching him prior to the race. This was a race that I was initially going to watch as a fan, because I thought Barbaro was such a lock, but he didn't look right even before the breaking through the gate to me. Sadly, I cashed my ticket, but my real point was that I felt that he was beat prior to the loading. He wasn't right that day for whatever reason and I don't think even if he remained sound he would have caught Bernardini. File it under the we'll never know category, but it's more the rule (especially these days) that the early season king (read as the Derby winner) is the best runner by the end of the year. As it stands right now, we have another year where this rule seems to have unfolded. Orb was clearly the best 3 year old in training through the first week in May and didn't run poorly in any race until the JCGC. Will Take Charge on the other hand didn't really seem to get it until his runner up performance in the Jim Dandy and from there he took the Division over. My real struggle giving it to Will Take Charge is that he and Orb met on the track 4 times and Orb beat him soundly 3 out of the 4 whereas WTC only beat Orb by a length or 2 in his one win against him. Even with a BCC win, this fact would make it worth discussing.
Jaime Dubyna More than 1 year ago
If Palace Malice deserves it, Orb deserves it more.
Tom More than 1 year ago
This whole discussion is a no brainier, Orb wins 3 year old champ title if there is any justice regardless of the politicking by the WTC camp. It is very simple other than the fact he won 2 grade ones, it goes like this The Ky. Derby trumps the Travers and for that matter The Fla. Derby trumps The Travers just compare the winners of the Travers & Fla. Derby over the 67 years, The Travers comes up very weak. So since The Fla. Derby trumps The Travers it most certainly trumps The PA. Derby. Move on to the Fountain of Youth which used to be a Grade 1 and compare the winners over the last 67 years to The Travers or something called the Rebel, again The Travers comes up weak, and the Rebel and PA. Derby have no weight. Orb also finished ahead of WTC 3 out of 4 meetings, the one time WTC beat him he was life & death to beat Moreno by a nose. Case closed Orb is the best beast.
Vince Lentini More than 1 year ago
PLEASE ..Orb won the Derby with a perfect trip in a sea of slop and flopped the rest of the year...It would be a TRAVESTY if this horse wins an Eclipse....WTC , Palace Malice are WAY better animlas
Scott More than 1 year ago
Vince, Orb didn't have a perfect trip in the Derby. He had a perfect setup which is much different. Here's a horse running in the longest race of his career and he ends up running further than every horse in the field save one (I can't recall which horse actually travel further, but the point is he had an extremely wide trip). A great perfect trip example is Oxbow's Preakness win. Given an easy lead and never pressed he was able to save himself for any challenge in the stretch. The race was over by the 1/2 mile marker and probably by the 1/4 pole. Can you say the same about Orb's Derby win? (rhetorical question)