01/07/2014 9:41AM

The 'Other' 3-Year-Olds


On this date last year, Orb was still eligible to an entry-level allowance race, and was still over six weeks away from making his first start in a stakes race. Orb, of course, went on to win the Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby, and the Kentucky Derby, and later finished third in the Belmont Stakes, and Travers.

Shared Belief, Cairo Prince, Honor Code, and Havana are already proven stakes horses and current leaders of their generation, and they would surprise no one if they went ahead and dominated the run up to this year’s spring classics. But Orb offers a very recent example that there is another way to get there, that a colt can come from relative obscurity at this time of the year and still be sufficiently impressive on the Triple Crown trail that he not only goes off the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, he also wins it.

With that in mind, let's take a look at a few new 3-year-olds who are analogous to Orb at this point in time in that they haven’t yet run in a stakes, and are not yet completely the property of the general public. This is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s simply a group I find intriguing.

Commissioner – This Todd Pletcher-trained colt by A.P. Indy might be the most well known of this group because he just won a good nine furlong allowance race at Gulfstream last Friday off a four month layoff, earning a decent Beyer Figure of 91. I would also have to think he is the only member of his generation to so far to have won two nine-furlong races. Commissioner got his maiden win at Saratoga going that distance two starts back in his second career outing.

Top Billing – Shug McGaughey, who trained Orb and who trains Remsen winner Honor Code, also trains this Curlin colt. Top Billing, who came from way back to romp at first asking at Laurel in the slop, made his second start in that Commissioner race at Gulfstream. And though he finished second, beaten a neck, he ran every bit as well, if not better, than the winner. While Commissioner enjoyed a perfect trip, Top Billing had the tougher task of coming from farther off a slow pace, losing a bit of momentum when lacking room on the rail late on the far turn, and being in tight between horses for a bit in the stretch.

Kristo – Sent off at 3-5 in all three of his starts, this John Sadler-trained colt by Distorted Humor finished second sprinting in his first two races before breaking through with an impressive maiden score going two turns at Santa Anita on Halloween in his most recent outing. Kristo was determined to go to the front in his first route attempt, yet despite running hard every step of the way, he still drew off to win by almost seven lengths.

Harpoon – After finishing second in his debut at Saratoga in the mud, he was made the odds-on favorite in his next three races, including one in which he was the 2-5 favorite over Cairo Prince, who came back to win the Nashua and be a narrowly beaten second in the Remsen. Harpoon finished second twice more after his debut before putting it all together the day after Christmas at Gulfstream, running away from 13 opponents after a four to five wide trip to win by 5 ½ lengths going a mile. This Tapit colt is also trained by Todd Pletcher.

Coup de Grace – Another colt by Tapit, he delivered as the 1-2 favorite for trainer Chad Brown sprinting in his debut at Aqueduct in November, and came back last month to win an allowance race at Gulfstream at 4-5 off the stretch out to a mile. Neither of Coup de Grace’s victories were by big margins, but he was better in both performances than his win margins would suggest. In his most recent score, for example, Coup de Grace was hard held early while on the pace, was three wide on the turn (never a great place to be at Gulfstream), and, despite the “driving” term in his comment line, I thought he won while doing less than his best.

Gold Hawk – This Steve Asmussen-trained colt by Empire Maker won both of his starts from off the pace in going away fashion, the first a seven furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs in late November, and the second an allowance route late last month at Fair Grounds. Gold Hawk’s Fair Grounds win was interesting for a number of reasons. It was around two turns, it was accomplished despite not having as especially fast pace to rally into and after a four wide run around the far turn, and his 82 Beyer represented a 15 point improvement off his first start. Moreover, Gold Hawk left the visual impression that he was barely scratching the surface of his ability.

Cool Samurai – I can see how people could go either way on this John Shirreffs-trained gelding by First Samurai. He was a completely ignored 56-1 in his debut in late October at Belmont Park, which is usually a negative sign, and he got an incredibly favorable pace set up in his second and most recent start late last month at Santa Anita. However, Cool Samurai did make up 12 lengths in the course of his one-turn mile debut to finish second to Wicked Strong, who gained a bit of a fan club with his close third in the Remsen. And Cool Samurai did come from 10 lengths out of it most recently to get his maiden win in a two-turn mile event.