07/17/2013 1:48PM

Dick Jerardi: A future still beckons for Triple Crown race winners

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I was baffled when I read a story that suggested Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Preakness winner Oxbow, and Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice could all end up in the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes.

Isn’t there a rule that any horse that wins a Triple Crown race must be hustled off to stud after departing the winner’s circle?

Surely, they were all retired the week after the Belmont and I just missed it. Something seems amiss. Really, the nerve of these owners to keep running their horses.

The three horses have combined to run 30 times. And they are still in training? How is that possible? What exactly are Shug McGaughey, Wayne Lukas, and Todd Pletcher up to?

Since the Belmont, I see that Orb has worked twice at Fair Hill, Oxbow once at Churchill Downs and once at Saratoga, and Palace Malice four times at Saratoga. If these trainers don’t watch out, they are going to get investigated for actually training and running their horses.

I doubt any of the three horses are destined for the Hall of Fame, but, if they really are going to make it to the major summer races and into the fall, they get a special place in the 21st century version of the sport where careers of 3-year-olds are often counted in months.

Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice became known during the Triple Crown. They have followings. They inspire debate.

Orb and Oxbow ran in all three races, Palace Malice in two. And nobody really knows which is best.

Orb is the most accomplished, with his wins in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and Kentucky Derby. Oxbow ran the best during the Triple Crown, hanging around after prompting that crazy Derby pace, winning the Preakness, and staying for second in the Belmont when logic and the pace scenario suggested he should have finished off the board. Palace Malice may be the horse with the biggest upside. Very little went right for the son of Curlin in the run-up to the Derby or the Derby itself. The Belmont domination may have suggested something special on the horizon.

None of the horses has gone particularly fast on the Beyer Speed Figure scale, with Orb’s 104 in the Derby and Oxbow’s 106 in the Preakness the only triple-digit Beyers in those 30 races. Each has some perplexing efforts, but there are reasonable explanations for most of the lousy performances. Bottom line, this is a tough group. What happens next will tell us just how good.

The three have combined to earn $4,560,485. The Jim Dandy is next for Palace Malice, the Haskell for Oxbow. After those two run next weekend, Orb is scheduled to join the party at the Travers.

If we could get two in the Travers starting gate, it would be terrific. Get all three and we might all start to believe this sport is not cursed.

If they all get through the Travers, they might just as well re-convene Sept. 21 at Parx Racing for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. Management is offering a $50,000 bonus to any trainer and owner of a horse that starts in the Pennsylvania Derby after winning a Triple Crown race or the Haskell or the Travers. And those bonuses accumulate.

Let’s just say, for sake of argument, Oxbow wins the Haskell and Travers. Think Lukas might find his way to the track north of Philadelphia with $150,000 for himself and another $150,000 for his owner if Oxbow comes out of the starting gate.

And I have yet to mention Verrazano, who very well could be the most talented of the whole bunch. Toss his Derby out, as he was involved in that pace that buried anything near it, and the colt is 5 for 5 with three graded stakes wins and victories at four different tracks.

I could be wrong about this, but I think Verrazano will go favored in the Haskell against Oxbow. The colt does have those two triple-digit Beyers and he did look awfully good winning the Pegasus at Monmouth, albeit under optimum circumstances.

Bottom line, as the second season gets under way, we are not lamenting what might have been. We are anticipating what may yet be.