07/28/2013 10:23AM

Weekend Notes


The notion that Palace Malice, by virtue of his victory in Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, has somehow moved to the forefront of the 3-year-old male division, or even has joint-claim to leadership, is ridiculous.

You might think Palace Malice is currently the best 3-year-old male, and that’s fine. You might also would want him more than anyone else going into the Travers, which is fine, too. Those would be legitimate opinions that I couldn’t argue with. I might even agree with you. After all, Palace Malice was very, very good winning Saturday, and he gave the strong impression that he has some room to get better.

However, the suggestion that Palace Malice is now even co-leader of his division  before knowing the result of Sunday’s Grade 1 Haskell Invitational just cannot be taken seriously. I mean, even if you take the Haskell out of the mix, this notion is wrong. Palace Malice’s winning resume this year includes the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes along with the Jim Dandy. Orb’s winning resume this year includes the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Florida Derby, not to mention the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. By any measure, wins in the Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby dwarf wins in the Belmont and Jim Dandy, all day every day, and twice on Sunday. Adding a Travers win to scores in the Belmont and Jim Dandy would certainly change the equation. But Palace Malice has to go out and win the Travers first.

I’m not at all down on Paynter after he was narrowly beaten as the 3-5 favorite in Saturday’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. The San Diego was Paynter’s first two turn start in a year, and first ever encounter with Del Mar’s Polytrack. He will be better for this outing.

That said, don’t take anything away from Kettle Corn’s win in the San Diego. He rallied from last into a pace that was surprisingly unremarkable – the opening quarter of 23.41 and half of 47.28 were slower than what filly and mare claimers went in the day’s other two routes – and he is clearly a much better horse since getting blinkers. I bet if Kettle Corn’s connections now wish they waited less than 23 starts to try him in blinkers.

Saturday’s two Grade 1 events at Saratoga, the Diana and Prioress, were odd affairs. The two beaten favorites in the Diana, Centre Court and Stephanie’s Kitten, were flat, but they weren’t anywhere near as profoundly empty as Kauai Katie was in the Prioress. Kauai Katie was so shockingly bad that you would expect a concrete excuse to surface.

But as weird as these races were, the victories by Lighthouse Bay in the Prioress and Laughing in the Diana are big ones that can never be taken away from them. I still can’t red-board them, though. Even having the respect I do for trainer George Weaver’s work, and knowing he is now going off on one of his patented hot streaks, I could not have bet Lighthouse Bay with counterfeit money. Same with Laughing, who everyone knew would control the pace, and who was helped by really only having Dream Peace running at her in the stretch. Dream Peace has banked a ton of money, and is an enormously valuable broodmare prospect. But she has shown in North America that she wouldn’t go by me in the stretch if it meant winning.

UPDATE, Monday morning – It’s a bit ironic that while Verrazano’s romp in Sunday’s Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth was the definition of domination, it also seemed, in a larger sense, to add only more intrigue to the 3-year-old male division.

The Haskell was Verrazano’s second Grade 1 victory of the year, to go along with his win in the Wood Memorial, and his scores in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby, and Grade 3 Pegasus. And though that resume also falls shy of what Orb has accomplished this year, it had to be obvious to anyone watching the Haskell that Verrazano has as much if not more talent than anyone else in his division. This is not exactly news, for this was a widely held suspicion going back to last February. So there is little doubt that a Travers win is certainly within Verrazano’s capabilities, and a Travers win is one that could well be a divisional game changer.

That said, it is important to note that when Preakness winner Oxbow showed he wasn’t right in the Haskell (and faded to be a badly beaten fourth after setting a comfortable early pace), Verrazano was left with only modest opposition to beat. It won’t be that way for him in the Travers, nor should it be, considering what might be at stake.

One other note concerning a comment made below that might be best addressed here. A commentor said if Orb was as good as I want to make him out to be, then he shouldn’t be getting freshened, he should be running in these races. The commentor also said, “It’s all about what have you done for me lately in these stakes races, not what have you done for me two months ago.”

Beyond the strange implication that a horse is somehow weak or unworthy because he needs a freshening, I don’t see where I’m trying to make Orb out to be better than he is. I stated that Orb won the Kentucky Derby, the Florida Derby, and the Fountain of Youth, which is just fact. It is my opinion that right now, after this weekend, Orb’s wins carry more weight than any other 3-year-old’s, and I think that’s a pretty conservative opinion..

As for what have you done for me lately being more important than what happened two months ago, this is certainly true when it comes to betting. But it is a different mindset when dealing with the subject of divisional championships. With championships, body of work is most critical. To discount or downgrade a victory in the Kentucky Derby because it happened over two months ago would be terribly irresponsible.

And that leads to one of the reasons why I wanted to address this here. I get questions along these lines all the time asking why I keep horses who are injured or retired in my top 10s in the Watchmaker Watch. I do it because if a horse is injured, or retired (or freshened), it doesn’t invalidate what they accomplished on the track during the year while they were still active. Imagine if there was a Watchmaker Watch in the summer of 1977, and I didn’t have Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew on top of the 3-year-old male division because he was sidelined and out for the rest of the year. That wouldn’t be reflective of reality, would it?

Mary Hansen More than 1 year ago
I am rooting for Palace Malice in the Travers. I am a huge fan of Curlin and for him to produce a horse like Palace Malice in his first crop is a good sign for him as a stud. I only hope his conections keep racing him after 3. The sport needs a superstar to survive. I honestly thought Zenyatta could of gone on racing after her last Breeders cup win. It is sad to see so many 3 yr olds retire to stud, without proving themselves as being able to compete with older horses or carry weight.
Jim Pappas More than 1 year ago
i really like palace malice he's the horse i've been betting from the start. he's made me good money. however i agree with you 100%. until they face off in the travers Orb is champ.
Tyler Mathis More than 1 year ago
The facts stated in this article--and the opinions of my commenting--just go to show that qualities like patience and looking at the overall big picture mean nothing these days in racing or society in general. Orb is tops. If he loses the Travers to PM or Verazano, or if he doesn't run at all, then he relinquishes his status. It's that simple. It's also amusing that every time a horse wins and someone doesn't like it, it's because the pace was tailor made for that particular horse, never because he came in ready to fire. At the end of the race it's all about who won and collected the top piece of purse, not whether they got an ideal pace setup, which is something every jockey or trainer wants to happen! Seems these comments have become less about openly evaluating horses and their connections and more about bashing those we dislike. I've been guilty of this a time or two myself, no question, but I'm trying to get better, Ringo. I'm trying real hard...
Michael Watchmaker More than 1 year ago
Very well said.
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Any given day... I always find the debate over which horse is best somewhat void of meaning, as if human opinion, by year's end, finally gets the ultimate say, after having been proven alternately right and wrong all year. Any of these top horses can beat one another on any given day, and just because they did it on a 'bigger' day doesn't change that simple underlying fact.
Vince More than 1 year ago
Orb had a perfect perfect trip in a rain soaked Derby.HIs next 2 races were awful. Palace Malice next 2 races were wins in the Belmont and Jim Dandy......In the Fla Derby Orb ran done many distance limited competitors , the best of which , Itsmyluckyday , soundly beat him in the Preakness.....Orb=Mine that Bird
Irma Garcia More than 1 year ago
Wow, what's up with all the drama in July. Every one has their opinions, lets wait till November and see who is standing by their records on track. Palice Malice really never did anything till the Belmont, his race in Jim Dandy was impressiver and looks like he is indeed putting it together. Veranzano sure looked good, I do agree about the number he received seems to good to be true. The Travers will be here soon, lets hope no other defections happen. Lastly, I always like to see a 3 year old beat older horses in fall. Hence, BC will probably be the last test to see who is champion for the year.I agree with Mike that his top ten should include injured and retired horses who have accomplished major wins early in the year. Yes, Derby winner carries alot of weight, lets see a great Travers and then we can continue discussion.
Edward More than 1 year ago
Go back and watch the Haskell and tell me that me that the explosive move Verrazano made in the stretch was " too good to be true" . When you see a move like that, you are seeing the real deal.
edb More than 1 year ago
Verrazano passed a struggling Oxbow and who else. This year's trials were won by average horses in average times. Your real deal showed nothing in the derby and then went into hiding. He missed one of the worst lackluster Preakness( and slow) and a no big deal Belmont. No super horse this year and Beyers seem inflated. Oxbow's 106 was a magic trick in the Preakness. No way a 3 yr old wins Classic this year. Enjoy the 7-5 odds in the Travers. Make sure you box.
Mark More than 1 year ago
The derby form has been turned on its head. Orbs win was strictly a result of a pace meltdown period. To have a race carry that much weight in ones opinion is silly to me. Just because its the Kentucky derby. It was run over a sloppy surface with s suicidal pace. Had WTC not been steadied sharply HD just as well could have been the winner. And I don't know of anyone placing him near the top of their most talented 3 year olds list. Orb will be shown once again what he is come the Travers. An also ran.
Edward More than 1 year ago
That's like saying putting too much weight on winning the World Series is ridiculous.
Greg Stevens More than 1 year ago
That's NOTHING AT ALL LIKE SAYING THAT...I've never seen a pace meltdown in baseball...in case u don't know wut that means...it's a FACT that ORB passed very very tired horses...he has never passed a horse that is actually running in the stretch
jttf More than 1 year ago
wasnt it obvious that the monmouth track superintendant was setting up the track for oxbow ? oxbow already won on deep tracks in the preakness and rebel this year.
Eddie Smith More than 1 year ago
Any race before the KY Derby is utterly meaningless when discussing the top 3 yo.
Jamie DeRouen More than 1 year ago
Its not going to be funny when Verrazano whips them all in the Travers, I think he would of gotten a mile and a quarter in the Haskell and I think he will get the distance in the Travers. Times don't mean anything unless your in Jail, pace makes the race and so does track bias.The horse lost one race and you people will tell us I told you so when he loses his next. He didn't do anything wrong except get frustrated in the Derby was that because of the track, size of field, or trip who knows. ALL I know now is that until about 30 years are so ago the best horse would almost always win the derby now its anybody' s guess. Go back and look at the past twenty and you see where the best horse finished.
Greg Stevens More than 1 year ago
The best horse finished 12th this year in the derby....