07/28/2013 9:23AM

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?