06/14/2010 11:00PM

Second-half projections for 3-year-olds


As we look at the Triple Crown in the rearview mirror - which is more than an academic exercise - it is open to argument which of the three race winners is the divisional leader. Yet, of greater importance is the fact that we saw enough during the series to identify which horses we might wish to support in future wagering opportunities, which ones probably need class relief, and which ones might excel at shorter distances or prefer grass.

As a starting point, we can safely state that a narrow range of performance levels separated the vast majority of horses who did well this spring. Below are observations for 20 Triple Crown horses from my notebooks.

Aikenite: Lost ground late in all of his races at nine furlongs and longer, including the Preakness. Should be aimed at one-turn races up to one mile at the Grade 2 or Grade 3 level.

Caracortado: California-bred with good early-season form showed in the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness that he does not belong in Grade 1 races at classic distances.

Dave in Dixie finished well behind Caracortado in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita but has a subtle problem negotiating turns and as we saw in the Illinois Derby and Belmont Stakes, he only fires his belated rally into a hotly contested pace.

Dublin: After he made a move around the turn in the Derby en route to a seventh-place finish, many believed he would run strongly in the Preakness. But his fifth in the Preakness was just another ineffective performance that suggests he has not really advanced since his good races as a 2-year-old last summer. Might be more effective with some class relief and races up to nine furlongs.

Drosselmeyer: The key to his Belmont win was to get off the rail after failing to finish strongly in a series of stakes while kept inside and/or behind contenders. The switch to Mike Smith obviously helped. A grinder with modest acceleration and a wellspring of stamina, Drosselmeyer is in the hands of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who usually improves the form of his top horses as they mature.

First Dude: Late-developing colt improved on his okay early season form when he flashed strong overall speed and determination to nearly win the Preakness. He also ran well when a game third in the 12-furlong Belmont. At the bottom line, there is room for further improvement as he grows into his large body frame and 10 furlongs certainly is within his scope.

Fly Down: Turned in a fine performance in the Dwyer Stakes at nine furlongs over the Belmont track on May 8, defeating Drosselmeyer by six lengths and galloping out strongly. Finished boldly too late to catch Drosselmeyer in the Belmont after being kept inside by that rival for 10 1/2 furlongs. Obvious candidate for the Travers and any other Grade 1 stakes at a true distance of ground. Might even prove to be the best of this division by year's end.

Game On Dude: Lone Star Derby winner ran well but weakened slightly in the last of 12 furlongs of the Belmont to finish fourth, less than three lengths behind the winner. Still developing and will be worth a close look when dropped back into nine- and 10-furlong races.

Ice Box: Strong finisher certainly could have won the Derby with a trouble-free trip, but his Belmont failure, which may have been influenced by breathing issues, suggests that he is at a disadvantage in very hot, humid weather. Beyond that, he probably needs a fast, contested pace to fire his best.

Interactif: Was very good in turf stakes early in the season and ran well on Pro-Ride at Santa Anita. But his fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and his fade to seventh in the Belmont suggest strongly that he would be best served to return to graded stakes on the grass and 10 furlongs might be his distance limit.

Jackson Bend: Game sort with an excellent in-the-money record, had enough traffic problems through the stretch in the Preakness to cost him second money. Seems well suited to Grade 1 stakes at most distances, including 10 furlongs.

Lookin At Lucky: Probably the gamest, most consistent 3-year-old in America and my personal choice as the pro-tem leader of this year's 3-year-olds. A true fighter, not easily intimidated by traffic, or post position issues, and/or serious bumping. Despite losing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he ran terrific from the outside post. Despite troubled trips, he won the Rebel at Oaklawn and finished an okay third in the Santa Anita Derby and a gallant sixth after getting bounced around in the Kentucky Derby from his treacherous inside post. Even his Preakness win included a very wide move on the final turn and he had to outgame stiff opposition through the stretch. While Lookin At Lucky never has earned a big Beyer Speed Figure, he is among the most resilient 3-year-olds of recent seasons. Also, because he is a late May foal, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert believes there is room for more development.

Make Music for Me: His fourth in the Derby on dirt was a good effort that validated his respectable form on the Southern California synthetic tracks. But taken together with his lackluster Belmont Stakes, it seems obvious that he would prefer slightly weaker and shorter races.

Paddy O'Prado: Ran well enough in the Blue Grass on Polytrack and the Derby on a wet surface to believe he belongs at the Grade 1 level, but he did fade late in the slowly run last quarter of the Derby, so there are distance limitations. Moreover, he failed to fire in the Preakness, which also suggests that he needs careful handling between starts. Because his best career race was a win in a turf stakes as a maiden at Gulfstream, I expect to see his top performances in nine-furlong grass stakes this summer and fall.

Schoolyard Dreams: Lost his good Tampa form at Aqueduct in the Wood Memorial and did not recover it in the Preakness. Might need a long, slow program to recover his form and a confidence-building race against allowance types late in the summer.

Sidney's Candy: Santa Anita Derby winner is a very fast colt, who demonstrated in the Derby that he is vulnerable to pace pressure and wants no part of 10 furlongs. While he has yet to prove that he can produce his best on dirt, his sire Candy Ride was a phenomenal winner of the Pacific Classic at Del Mar when a dirt surface was in place.

Stately Victor: Won the Blue Grass on Polytrack with an impressive rally that he did not replicate in the Kentucky Derby or Belmont Stakes. Back to synthetic tracks for him.

Super Saver: Won the Derby with a quintessential perfect trip stalking the speed and saving all possible ground while traffic troubles betrayed several fit rivals. He also enjoyed a similar trip in the slightly shorter Preakness, yet fell apart in the stretch as if the two weeks after the Derby was not nearly enough for him to reproduce his best. Conclusion: Hard to see him getting away with his Derby trip in the Travers and would be an unreliable sort to back in that race if he needed to replicate or improve upon a good performance in the Jim Dandy or Haskell.

Uptowncharlybrown: Showed okay form in Tampa and did run fifth in the Belmont Stakes, although he was disqualified after an eight-pound weight fell out of jockey Rajiv Maragh's saddlebag, Yikes! Still, Uptowncharlybrown left the Triple Crown as a useful Grade 3 or Grade 2 horse with no distance limitations, despite a sprint-oriented pedigree.

Yawanna Twist: A good New York-bred, he finished evenly late for seconds in the Gotham and Illinois Derby and used that foundation to run an encouraging fourth despite traffic issues in the Preakness -- his fifth lifetime start. Seems bred for middle-distance races but already has outrun his pedigree and is eligible for further development.