02/09/2011 8:20PM

Kentucky Derby trail has no shortage of fast 3-year-olds this year


PHILADELPHIA -- This time last year, trying to find a 3-year-old with a triple-digit Beyer was an exercise in futility. The figures suggested it was a very weak group. Remember Eskendereya did not blow up until late February when he got that 106 in the Fountain of Youth, followed by the 109 in the Wood Memorial. The story ended there, of course.

As February began, the eventual winners of the Triple Crown races had career Best Beyers of 93, 91, and 87. That would be Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky, and Drosselmeyer. Super Saver hit triple digits once in his career -- the 104 in the Kentucky Derby. Once Lookin At Lucky broke through with his 102 in the Preakness, he got a 106. 103, and 105 in his final three races, nice but not superstar numbers. Drosselmeyer won the Belmont Stakes with a 94, his career top.

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Contrast that group with this group.

Uncle Mo's 108 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was better than anything the winners of the 2009 Triple Crown races did in any of their races. And not by a little. The 102 Uncle Mo received when he won his maiden has been winning serious 3-year-old stakes for years.
To Honor and Serve got a 102 when he won the Remsen Stakes in November after a 97 in the Nashua. Boys At Tosconova got a 102 when he won his maiden and a 101 when a distant second to Uncle Mo in the BC Juvenile.

Do you detect a pattern here?

Uncle Mo may be a superstar 3-year-old. In fact, if he were facing last year's group and held form through June, he would have been hard pressed to lose any of those races.

Clearly, Uncle Mo, however he turns out, will have to earn any Triple Crown races he gets in 2011. This is a really strong and relatively deep group. Attrition, of course, will happen. Still, three months from the Derby, this generation has possibilities.
Comma to the Top has not raced on dirt yet, but the horse did win his last five races of 2010. He got as high as a 95 Beyer. If he translates that form to dirt, his Beyers, like Lookin At Lucky when he made the transition, may very well go up. They will have to.
Tapizar got a 98 when he won the Sham Stakes. And everything by Tapit is running.

Mucho Macho Man finished second in the Remsen, but still got a 99 Beyer, a number that would have made him a 3-year-old hero in 2010. He faded in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30 after dueling for the lead.

And, if these horses are getting these kinds of numbers as 2-year-olds, it doesn't take a vivid imagination to project some very big numbers as they get time to develop.

Every time you look up at a race these days, some other horse is running fast. Soldat won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park by 10 3/4 lengths on Jan. 21 and got a 102 Beyer.

Machen won his debut at Fair Grounds on Jan. 2. He just blew the field away and earned a 95 Beyer.

Everybody loved Dialed In visually when he won his maiden on Nov. 12 at Churchill. But the Beyer was just 75. Well, it was 96 when the colt won the Holy Bull, with that same nowhere-to-somewhere style that got so many excited over that debut. And it is always nice to see Nick Zito with a live 3-year-old.

There might be a few more fast ones out there that I missed. Or there may be more that just have not run fast yet.

What we know is that we already have five 3-year-olds that have hit triple digits and more that are closing in on the magic number.
Last year's lack of big Beyers three months from the Derby was a tip-off to an underwhelming Triple Crown season. There are no promises in this game, but there is at least promise at this stage.

We got quite lucky at the end of last season when all the right horses appeared in the starting gate for the Breeders' Cup Classic. And we got a race none of us will ever forget.

Even with the knowledge that the American 3-year-old on the Derby trail is the most fragile animal in the sport, we are overdue to get that lucky in the Derby one of these years. Let this be the one.