08/01/2011 11:29AM

The Battle For Champion 3-Year-Old Male

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If I had to vote for champion 3-year-old male today, the day after the Haskell, I would vote for Animal Kingdom. The Kentucky Derby Animal Kingdom won is still the most important race that was available to 3-year-olds so far this year. He won the Derby decisively, followed with a sharp, close second in the Preakness, and made a big run in the Belmont Stakes after being brutalized a couple of strides out of the gate that drew the admiration of everyone. In the meantime, none of Animal Kingdom’s rivals for a divisional title has as of yet put together any sort of run.

But if I am still voting for Animal Kingdom for champion 3-year-old come December, then we’re in trouble, and I say that with no disrespect whatsoever toward the Derby winner. However, if Animal Kingdom, who suffered a season-ending injury in his Belmont mugging, is still the leading contender for the 3-year-old title at the end of the year, that would mean that none of his contemporaries was able to compile even a couple of important victories by the time we’re done with the remaining big events for this division such as the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, and the critical fall races open to older horses. And that wouldn’t be very good, especially given the profound weakness of the handicap division.

After watching Coil best Shackleford in the Haskell, and Stay Thirsty run away with the Jim Dandy the day before, it’s hard envisioning that one of these three won’t win at least one more important race this year. Coil, in particular, seems perfectly positioned for a big second half-of-the-season run, because he was much more impressive winning the Haskell than his neck margin would suggest.

For one, Coil overcame a trip that was completely alien to him, having to rally from well off the pace, much farther back than he had ever been before. And I also buy into the suggestion that Coil idled once he struck the front in the stretch. It looked like Coil was going to blow by Shackleford and win by open lengths, but he geared down noticeably once he took over, certainly making the finish of the Haskell look a lot tighter than it really was. But even if Shackleford was no match for Coil in the Haskell, his earlier victory in the Preakness is still an important chip in the Eclipse Award discussion. And Stay Thirsty’s impressive score in the Jim Dandy marked a significant breakthrough on his part, and it came on the same Saratoga track over which they’ll run the Travers, which, it goes without saying, could well play a major role in determining the 3-year-old male champion.

Yet despite all the important racing last week – the Haskell, the Jim Dandy, Euroears’s brilliant U.S. return in the Bing Crosby, and Zagora’s emphatic score in the Diana – it was Winter Memories’s victory in the Lake George that wowed me the most. I was off a couple of days and didn’t have the chance to weigh in on Winter Memories until now, and yes, I know she’s only a 3-year-old turf filly and wasn’t beating very much. But . . . my, oh my. To get stopped cold turning for home, and to still inhale her field with a brilliant turn of foot to win laughing . . . Winter Memories is some sort of freak.

GE More than 1 year ago
On the other hand, Shackleford is the only horse with a chance to be 3-year old of the year, not just 3-year old of the first half-year or of the last half-year. Of course he has show something in the Travers or the BC to win it.
RoMo More than 1 year ago
Hi Leah ..? "but I find the BSF's of Stay Thirsty and Coil to pretty much reflect how the two did this past w/e. Coil (96) got the lead inside the 1/8 pole, on a bold last to first move, and let Shack come back and make it close. A tendency that sez "Shack can be had". Stay Thirsty (106) added a G-2 to his G-3 (Gotham) and 2nd in the G-1 Belmont. He did so with a scintillating, explosive, and yet, professional move that sez, "more". If anything the Beyer Boys erred on the low side, if I might say as much." .. since you can imagine in the best interest of your point .. Imagine Shack in the J-Dandy instead of the Haskell .. I can imagine Shack winning that race and S-Thirsty .. finishing second ..? I don't mind that the NY Todd's Town runners get the higher BSF .. they all ways do.. It was just that the faster fast track 9f run was 11 BSF points lower and not even 100 ..?
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Yo Ro Mo! Splits of Haskell: 23.38 :47.02 1:10.68 1:35.44 1:48.20 Splits of J. Dandy: 24.00 :47.66 1:11.39 1:35.81 1:48.78 Raw times tell a bit. Can't go into how they create the Beyers - Andrew Beyer and Steven Davidowitz spend endless pages and chapters doing such, BUT (and this is BIG) - I've been tracking the par times for class and distance and watching the track variant ( mostly at the SPA but at the shore to some extent) and have absolutely no problem with the numbers generated. Haskell was a good race / J. Dandy "might" have been something special. That is all. Feel free to disagree and bet against me - kinda the object.
Sam Ludu More than 1 year ago
Mike: I know this is off-topic, but I hope you (or Steve) will address the announcement that Santa Anita is scheduled to get the Breeders' Cup in 2012. They had it two years in a row recently, Churchill Downs gets it two years in a row, but Belmont hasn't hosted the BC since 2005. What gives?
Tim More than 1 year ago
What if Frankel wins on BC day, can he be 3 yr old champ?
Lenny More than 1 year ago
Frankel's owners have said no about bringing him stateside, however one never knows.. I feel he not only could be 3 year old champ, But, Horse of the year, he's never been put to a drive.... he's undefeated, and just crushed the horse who crushed Goldika, galloping.............
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike. A bit late to this "show" (never stopped me before), but I find the BSF's of Stay Thirsty and Coil to pretty much reflect how the two did this past w/e. Coil (96) got the lead inside the 1/8 pole, on a bold last to first move, and let Shack come back and make it close. A tendency that sez "Shack can be had". Stay Thirsty (106) added a G-2 to his G-3 (Gotham) and 2nd in the G-1 Belmont. He did so with a scintillating, explosive, and yet, professional move that sez, "more". If anything the Beyer Boys erred on the low side, if I might say as much. Anyway, I know, I want more and can't wait for the G-1 Travers Stakes! Thanks.
RoMo More than 1 year ago
Mike .. ... You just had a "vid" about "BSF's" .. your contentions in the blog about the 3 year old picture is true enough.. Still .. I'm struggling with the disparity in Coil's 96 and Thirsty's 106 BSF ..? Sort of leads you to who shows up for the 10f Travers and who does not ..? I guess some of the west-eees could elect to go 10f in the P-Classic .. but that of course will get discounted because of the surface.. Maybe creating a "we'll see which 3 year old does what in the BC C" ..? I'm of the mind the best they could do is show .. behind BL & HDG ..?
Lenny More than 1 year ago
Mike, It's a matter now of how Animal Kingdom comes back from the injury. We need to see a race.. If he's not the same horse, Coil and Baffert will dominate as he's a very green colt still and improving by leaps and bounds. After he worked for Baffert at 6 furlongs, Baffert got so excited, he shipped him and he won, and running completely out of his style. Very impressive for a young colt, with not too many starts to move up in class like that, ship out, not run his style, and beat the best that we have to offer in the 3 year old division. He surprised me. But he did it...
jimbo66 More than 1 year ago
Mike, While the general point you are making about no 3-year old having stepped up to seize control of the division with any consistency, I have to strongly disagree with your conclusion that this makes Animal Kingdom the "leader in the clubhouse". What exactly has Animal Kingdom done? As a polytrack/turf bred horse, he ran a huge race on a cuppy dead rail surface at Churchill Downs. As past history shows with Pioneer of the Nile and a few others, when the Churchill surface is wet or drying out, poly/turf horses can run well on it. Animal Kingdom got the easier of the trips IMO in the Preakness as Shackleford "warred it" up front with a top quality sprinter and still won the race. Then Animal Kingdom made a quarter mile run in the Belmont after a bad start and then flattened out like a pancake. I hardly call this "distinguishing himself". It would be a very bad joke if he won 3 year-old honors. Shackleford ran a game Florida Derby, game Kentucky Derby, excellent Preakness and game Haskell. He is by far the most consistent of the 3-year olds (route horses), in that his bad race was at the 1 1/2 mile distance he is not bred to handle.
Chasie More than 1 year ago
HEAR HEAR!!! I totally second this. He's shown up consistently in every race, against all comers, and always makes a good account for himself. Last year Curlin was third in the Haskell, yet you didn't hear people touting Any Given Saturday as the new three year old champ. I know this is an extremely different situation, but if you count the fact that Shackleford ran in all three Triple Crown races (which is highly unusual in this day and age), and is the only one to come out perfectly healthy, the fact that he lost to Coil by so little, in my opinion, only adds to his resume
Brian R More than 1 year ago
Have you been hibernating? Curlin ran 3rd in the 2007 Haskell, not last year.
Stewart More than 1 year ago
I was at Saratoga for Winter Memories' victory on Friday. Standing near the top of the stretch, I got a firsthand view of her breathtaking acceleration/turn of foot, as she blew by a good field in less than a sixteenth. WOW!! If she stays healthy, she will absolutely become another champion in the long line of Jimmy Toner trained grass fillies/mares. Based upon history, I anticipate that Mr. Toner shall run her two more times this year, in September's G1 Garden City at Belmont and October's G1 QEII at Keeneland, at which point she will be put away for the rest of the year. The only question will be if she can stretch out effectively next year in races like the Beverly D, Flower Bowl and the Breeder's Cup F&M Turf. I would love to see her try a race in Europe (Royal Ascot?) next year, especially since all of the big G1 turf races for older fillies/mares on the East Coast do not begin until late July/August.