06/19/2013 12:52PM

Dick Jerardi: Put Goldencents, Vyjack on horses to watch list

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Barbara D. Livingston
Vyjack (far left) and Goldencents (right) were part of a hot early pace in the Kentucky Derby. They should be expected to run well when they resurface this summer.

After the half-mile fraction (45.33 seconds) of the Kentucky Derby was posted, the first five horses in order were Palace Malice, Verrazano, Goldencents, Vyjack, and Oxbow. They finished 12th, 14th, 17th, 18th, and sixth, respectively.

As far as I know the term “key race’’ was coined by the Steve Davidowitz, author of the seminal work “Betting Thoroughbreds’’ and one of the game’s true independent thinkers. I am now ready to coin the term “key pace.’’

Oxbow won the Preakness. Palace Malice won the Belmont Stakes. Verrazano won the Pegasus Stakes. None of the races was close.

Goldencents and Vyjack did not fire in their first races since that Derby pace blew up anything close to it and set it up for a group of horses who have not win since the Derby. But I do have both on my watch list. They deserve another chance. They had no chance in the Derby, just like the winners of those three races.

If I were voting for 3-year-old champion today, I would vote for Derby winner Orb with his terrific overall r é sum é . If there was a vote for Triple Crown champion, my vote would go to Oxbow with his incredible efforts in the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.

In the last 15 years, only two horses who ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown were able to win the Belmont. Point Given and Afleet Alex were brilliant horses, far better than Oxbow, but no tougher.

The two horses who dueled with Oxbow in the Belmont finished last and next to last. Little Oxbow never stopped trying. He was not going very fast in the stretch, but he was going. If it was just about effort, Oxbow would be a champion.

Oxbow’s Belmont was reminiscent of his Derby. He had every reason to retreat, but never did. He is probably not talented enough to get on a long winning streak, but beating him is going to take something out of whatever horses do it.

Now that we have a little distance and context to evaluate this Triple Crown, I think it is fair to conclude we saw some nice, durable horses without the kind of ability that will make any of them memorable over time.

What we saw last weekend, however, was memorable.

When I watched Paynter win that allowance race at Betfair Hollywood Park last Friday, it was impossible not to smile during the running. The colt was winning with total ease. I knew the time was fast, but it was not until I saw the other times on the card that I realized it was something very special.

I was there at Monmouth Park last summer when Paynter destroyed the Haskell field and earned a 107 Beyer. This, clearly, was the 3-year-old who was going to dominate the back end of a season that had been decimated by injury and illness.

The rest of the summer was spent wondering if Paynter was going to live or die. Death seemed a heavy favorite.

A bit more than 300 days after the Haskell, Paynter was a heavy favorite in a starting gate. And ran like the special talent he appeared to be that July Sunday on the Jersey Shore.

Paynter did not just win. He got a 114 Beyer.

We don’t make many numbers much bigger than that these days. It is the kind of figure that can win any race any time anywhere.

Bob Baffert was trying to tell us all something in April 2012 when Paynter’s second career start was in the Santa Anita Derby. The colt did not win that day, but he was beaten slightly less than four lengths by eventual Derby winner I’ll Have Another.

That was the promise. Last week’s allowance race was the delivery. Let’s hope there is much more to come.

If I had a wish for Santa Anita this fall, it would be to see a top-of-his-form Paynter in the Breeders’ Cup Classic starting gate with Game On Dude and Fort Larned.

My absolute favorite scene at a racetrack is a high-class speed horse running really good horses right off their feet. That was Fort Larned on Saturday night at Churchill Downs. The five horses chasing him had combined earnings of nearly $6 million. They had no chance.

Fort Larned started off running fast and never really slowed down. His third and fourth fractions were 23.50 and 24. No horse is running that down, and none came close in the Stephen Foster when Fort Larned ran right back to his BC Classic win and got a 115 Beyer.

A week after a Triple Crown that was dominated by humans who had put so much into the game and got rewards for lifetimes of achievement, the horses took center stage as the second season began and gave promise of a summer and fall that has every chance to create some lasting memories.