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.

john More than 1 year ago
two notable on the cusp horses,,,indianapolis & surfing usa .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tamarando is the one!
Paul Aussenhofer More than 1 year ago
What a great time of year. Hope springs eternal for horsemen and players alike with every promising race from a 3 year old. There are 2 problems inherent with this. Too many trainers & owners push these young horses to make the starting gate on the 1st Saturday in May. And too many horses run in the race just for the sake of running in it. 20 horses are too many for a race that stressful that early in a horses life. You should limit the fields to ONE gate(14 horses) like in the Breeders Cup. Too many times the best horse loses because of traffic caused by the excess horses. I'd rather see a truly run race rather than the current stampede of 20 horses. 2 additional thoughts: ever notice that Secretariat, Seatle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid etc. never ran against those huge fields. Back then, only the best, deserving horses ran, not any horse that won any prep. 2nd thought: think about how many great horses skipped part of all of the Crown and came back later as more mature "Great" horses. Tiznow, Ghostzapper, & Holy Bull come to mind( yeah the Bull ran in the Derby but then was given time to mature and became a monster). I wish more trainers would focus on the long term well being of the horse (and the sport) rather than focus on ONE day. Just my opinion. FYI: I so live the Derby, I just wish some changes were made!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't agree with you more. The owners just want to have a punchers chance at the almighty holy grail. Thats why the new system is in place. Love it. Now reduce the field as you stated and we now have only the best that are ready to race in the fields. That would be amazing. Unfortunately it may never happen as it's all about the churn of dollars and getting horses into sales, preps, breeding etc. billions of dollars spent on this. Now lets knock it down a by 30%. Too much to disregard. Although this might have a profound impact on breeding as breeders concentrate more on the classic breeding instead of the speed horses. The horse I love this year so far...so far is Commissioner out of AP Indy out of the Touch Gold Mare... Now thats classic breeding. Had a prep the won it`s next 2 races at 1 1/8. They have a concern trying to cut the distance back to 1 1-16th in the Holy Bull. Gotta love that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tap it horses don't have the distance...so out with harpoon and coup de grace. Cool samurai is interesting but distance is a question and has a bad schedule. Commissioner has bad schedule, and so does gold hawk. Gold hawk's breeding is awesome. Kris to looks good, but the multiple 6 furlong works might mean he is sidelined before may comes around. Top billing looks like the most likely out of this bunch.
JeanK More than 1 year ago
I'm looking at two horses for this year's Derby, Top Billing and Just Call Kenny. I believe Honor Code will be primed for the Belmont and Travers. Just Call Kenny has a tremendous stride and turn of foot, plus he has the pool of genes as a once Windfields Farms caring for Northern Dancer once taught me. Top Billing has so much upside it gives me goose bumps As for the others mentioned in here, did not see much that got me excited one way or the other. Mr. Speaker if can handle dirt, could be a major impact...but my horse close to my heart is Just Call Kenny..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Talking about scratching the surface, I don't think they have come close to scratching the surface on Shared Belief. He won that Futurity and he wasn't using fourth gear or overdrive. It was a nice Saturday work around the track. Very few horses prick their ears at the finish, like he did. It was like he was listening to his rider sing and the rider quit singing at the finish line and he quit running. A thing of beauty.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Top Billing can develop into an awesome horse..... might fall back in next start but after that he could be another Orb for Shug. Honor Code a Belmont horse. My early money on Top Billing, Curlin / A.P.Indy is perfect for derby.
Gary Smith More than 1 year ago
you said you bet the All in the first future book ,now your coming with Shared beleif and top Billing.youre betting against yourself.
Early Thompson More than 1 year ago
Unknown Road has this Triple Crown on lockdown. By Bernardini and a half to the five-time Grade 1-winning champion Banshee Breeze, this dude has every right to improve when he goes a route of ground. Which is a scary thought, as he won by 14 lengths while earning a 98 BSF in his last.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
There's another Pletcher trainee named Constitution who scratched out of a maiden race after drawing the rail in a one turn mile at Gulfstream. He has yet to start and may lack seasoning but looks great. Still believe Asmussen colt lacks the type of class he will need as he hasn't beaten much. Kristo is a nice colt but strange pedigree for classics on dirt. Top Billing is best of these mentioned here I believe. Don't count out winner of Spectacular Bid as he stretches out. He beat a nice field and galloped out strong coming off a fast pace in which he closed on to win.
Jay Stone More than 1 year ago
Winner of spectacular bid is done. Undergoes surgery this week.
Classhndicapper More than 1 year ago
What about Strong Mandate? He may have been the best horse in the Juvenile. He ran right into the teeth of the fast pace and hung on quite well. Just needs to relax and stretch out