05/31/2013 11:35AM

Countdown to the Crown: Week 22 - May 31, 2013

Barbara D. Livingston
Wins in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and Kentucky Derby make Orb the captain of the 2013 All-Countdown all-stars.

The eighth season of Countdown to the Crown returns as one of the most comprehensive handicapper’s scouting reports of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday at DRF.com from Jan. 4 through the Belmont Stakes, Countdown keeps you apprised of the rising stars of the 3-year-old class from the maiden ranks through the Grade 1 stakes. You can access daily updates, opinions and interactive features at Countdowntothecrown.com as well.

Straight from the Gate

A large cast appears to be building toward next week’s Belmont Stakes. Why that is, I’m not sure. In a season where ORB (Shug McGaughey) and REVOLUTIONARY (Todd Pletcher) have proven superlative to this eye, they continue to be a two-horse brigade that stands above this modest class. Certainly OXBOW (D. Wayne Lukas) has earned his stripes, but the rest of the Belmont hopefuls would appear to be in need of all the top players to come back to the pack. This year’s Belmont field, in reality, should number eight or nine, but as a bettor, I won’t complain if 12 or more show up.

This week’s fearless forecast

With next week’s Countdown the season finale for 2013 and our look at the Belmont Stakes contenders, this penultimate edition will break format and offer something unique to the eight-year history of the series. This week we’re going to review the class of ’13 by category with a series of best-of lists. Call them the “All-Countdown” lists – some serious, some tongue-in-cheek. Every great team needs a starting five, so that will be our basis.

All-Countdown Team (best horses of the season)

ORB: Wins in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and Kentucky Derby bring the cream to the top.

REVOLUTIONARY: Amazing Withers performance followed up by Louisiana Derby win and Kentucky Derby third.

OXBOW: His best proved awfully good, witnessed by the Lecomte and Preakness, even if inconsistent.

ITSMYLUCKYDAY: Rousing start to the year in Florida and then solidified it with a big showing in Baltimore.

VERRAZANO: Even if you didn’t like him in the Derby at 10 furlongs, or as a rush-job to get there, you had to respect the Gulfstream, Tampa, and Wood efforts.

All-What Could Have Been Team (best horses we didn’t get to see develop)

VIOLENCE: Nabbed late by Orb in the Fountain of Youth in only appearance before going on the shelf. His talents were obvious.

HEAR THE GHOST: Just when he looked like he would be California’s best 3-year-old, he was gone like an apparition.

CROP REPORT: European import had Belmont talk after impressing in the Rushaway, but disappeared from the scene.

TIZ THE TRUTH: This was to be Gary Stevens’s big horse for the Triple Crown following a fantastic maiden route win, but he never got out of February healthy.

POWER BROKER: The best 2-year-old I saw in California last year, he was sidelined until the Santa Anita Derby and got too far behind the calendar this spring to factor. He rebounded to beat older allowance horses at Churchill and could be a second-half horse.

All-Green Team (best turf horses of the season)

RYDILLUC: Amazing cruising speed and finishing ability on the front in Florida; ran a sharp one up front in the Blue Grass before falling apart late on Polytrack.

NOBLE TUNE: Swallowed the field late in the American Turf at Churchill after sizzling comebacker at Tampa Bay Downs.

JACK MILTON: His Transylvania at Keeneland validated his rising efforts at Gulfstream earlier in season.

UPWITHTHEBIRDS: Big run at Fair Grounds stamped worthy when he repeated effort in throw down with Jack Milton at Keeneland.

CHARMING KITTEN: Two strong turf stakes performances at Gulfstream before being tossed on the Derby trail.

All-Late Bloomers Team (best horses who came along too late in the spring)

ABSTRACTION: Dazzling winner at Fair Grounds in late spring handled Tesio crowd at Pimlico while not Triple Crown nominated.

ZAIKOV: This Distorted Humor-Wait A While rookie smashed his foes in March at Gulfstream and then went AWOL from the scene.

DECLASSIFY: Pure sprint-bred Bob Baffert trainee ran away and hid from his debut cast at Santa Anita in early April and could be a future star in the dash ranks.

BIG LUTE: The most visually impressive Oaklawn maiden winner I can recall in Countdown’s eight years, his February debut stamped him a horse of the future. Unfortunately, the Southwest Stakes proved too much too soon 17 days later, and he has not been seen since. Patient trainer Steve Hobby will have a star in due time if health permits.

MR PALMER: It’s not that he didn’t start early enough, as he ran all through the winter, but it’s that this Bill Mott trainee didn’t flip the switch and realize his potential until late in the season. By then, his fourth in the Wood wasn’t enough and he’s probably a real fall-type threat if/when he returns for a patient barn.

All-King’s Bishop Team (best horses destined for sprint careers)

LET EM SHINE: West Coast flash might be that region’s best 3-year-old period, despite distance limits.

FORTY TALES: We loved this horse from his sparkling win at Parx, which goes to show we dig everywhere.

ZEE BROS: Preakness undercard showed this late comer to the season is bursting with sprint ability.

DECLAN’S WARRIOR: Pedigree says he deserves one route chance to see what he can do, but we know he can sprint.

SHANGHAI BOBBY: If/when he makes it back to the races (stud value may be best if he retires without future blemishes), he will be a factor going shorter.

All-Underachieving Team (horses who fell short of their hype)

MUDFLATS: Attracted a private purchase after a deceiving win in the slop in New York, and never warmed up his four fields since then.

FOOTBRIDGE: He generated considerable buzz in California, but maidens proved a challenge.

DEWEY SQUARE: Just when we assumed Dale Romans was destined to have top 3-year-olds every year, this one fired three blanks on the Triple Crown trail.

WAR ACADEMY: West Coaster got far too much credit for easy-set allowance win before unraveling in Arkansas Derby. He’s back on the Churchill workout tab with a lot to prove.

MY NAME IS MICHAEL: Still scratching my head how hard this horse was bet every time he showed up in stakes races.

All-2014 Team (best horses who still will be making noise next year)

FLASHBACK: Knee chip after Santa Anita Derby shelved him for a few months, but there’s obvious talent here. Missing Triple Crown could be blessing in disguise by next season.

ITSMYLUCKYDAY: Reminds me a lot of a horse like Mucho Macho Man, who will be a handicap division presence long after his contemporaries are gone.

JAVA’S WAR: Built like a turf miler, this little bottle rocket’s future will be on grass and patient trainer Ken McPeek could have owner Charles Fipke’s next Perfect Soul-type.

PALACE MALICE: The Derby pace debacle aside, his pedigree screams for distance and if allowed to blossom in races and spaces that fit him, the future may be brighter than the present. He could be a Lawyer Ron-type 4-year-old for Pletcher.

SIETE DE OROS: Parx-based runner showed up with consistent tries in every road trip. He’s not a Grade 1 horse, but appears a Northeast stakes performer with potential to run up a lot of dough over a lot of years, if placed properly.

All-Misfired Team (horses I completely missed the mark on and overrated)

OMEGA STAR: Sometimes an awesome visual performance vs. lesser fools you (rather me); nice Cal-bred stakes horse only.

BOLD DANCE: Saint Liam’s little brother looked sharp at Gulfstream before the heavyweights came south, then failed to deliver on my giddiness in a series of allowance races.

FIRE GUARD: Up-and-down turfer for Bill Mott frustrated in three stakes bids after fascinating against lesser competition. Fire Guard burned a few dollars from this pocket in an understatement.

TRANSPARENT: He was second to Revolutionary and then overcame a totally wild maiden race with ease, but then didn’t step forward in stakes. Recent allowance win doesn’t help me get a better line on him.

CODE WEST: Loved his pedigree and grinder’s style all season, but he never stepped up to the big-time and connections don’t seem to think he’s upper echelon.

High Fives

Jeremy Plonk’s Top-5 rated performances by class so far this season (Dec. 26-present).

Stakes Race
1. ORB (Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, 5/3)
2. OXBOW (Preakness, Pimlico, 5/17)
3. ORB (Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 3/30)
4. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (Holy Bull, Gulfstream, 1/26)
5. VERRAZANO (Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, 4/6)

Jeremy Plonk is owner of the handicapping-based website HorseplayerNOW.com and Countdowntothecrown.com. You can E-mail Jeremy your Top 20 contenders list, or any questions about the 3-year-old or national racing scene, at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com. Your Top 20 may be published in Countdown to the Crown!