06/14/2013 3:28PM

Steven Crist: No 2013 3-year-old has had championship season

Justin N. Lane
Oxbow (left), Palace Malice (right), and Orb all have a shot at this year's 3-year-old Eclipse Award.

The nice thing about a year when a different horse wins each leg of the Triple Crown is that anything can happen now, instead of having the 3-year-old championship pretty much settled before summer even begins.

Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice made this the 17th time in the last 40 years that the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont produced different winners. In those 16 previous instances, the 3-year-old title went one of four ways with nearly identical frequency.

Three times, the Derby winner won the Eclipse Award (Spend a Buck in 1985, Unbridled in 1990, and Animal Kingdom in 2011); five times the Preakness winner was the champion (Snow Chief in 1986, Prairie Bayou in 1993, Bernardini in 2006, Curlin in 2007, and Lookin At Lucky in 2010); and four times it was the Belmont winner (Temperence Hill in 1980, Conquistador Cielo in 1982, A.P. Indy in 1992, and Summer Bird in 2009).

Four other times, the 3-year-old champion was a later bloomer who did not win one of the classics: Wajima in 1975, who missed the classics but then won four Grade 1’s including the Travers and Marlboro Cup; Slew o’ Gold in 1983, who was fourth in the Derby and second in the Belmont but won the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup; Skip Away in 1996, beaten in all three classics but a subsequent winner of the Haskell and Gold Cup; and Tiznow in 2000, who didn’t make his stakes debut until July but finished his campaign winning the Super Derby, Goodwood, and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

So if you’re keeping score, that’s three titles for Derby winners, five for Preakness winners, and four apiece for Belmont winners and none-of-the-aboves. (Those 16 years also included three cases where a filly won a classic and was voted champion 3-year-old filly at year’s end – Genuine Risk (1980 Derby), Rachel Alexandra (2009 Preakness), and Rags to Riches (2007 Belmont).

If you had to give out the award today, Oxbow would probably deserve it off a Preakness win and a Belmont second and two out of three decisions over Orb; at least that was apparently the thinking of the 32 out of 47 voters who put Oxbow atop the division in the NTRA’s final weekly 3-year-old poll last Monday. Fortunately, there is no award for the first 23 weeks of the year and we’ll get to see how it plays out in the Haskell, Travers, and the fall races against older horses.

The other uncertainty midway through a year when the Crown gets carved up this way is how good a group it is. It is way too early to judge the crop, and everyone is still eligible to improve with age and racing, but it is equally premature to overrate these races on the basis of their entertainment value, as a headline writer at The New York Times did last week when opining “No Triple Crown, but Three Worthy Champions.”

Part of the problem with this pronouncement is the ongoing misuse of the word “Champion,” which in American Thoroughbred racing has only one correct meaning: the winner of an Eclipse Award as the best of his division. Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice are not champions, though one of them might be by season’s end. (If you want to blame someone for the devaluation of this word, look no further than the Breeders’ Cup, which insists on calling the winner of each of its races a champion, as in “Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf Champion.”)

The Times article under that headline likened this year’s trio of winners to the extraordinary class of 2007, when Street Sense, Curlin, and Rags to Riches shared the classics. All of them were indeed worthy champions – Street Sense was the 2006 champion 2-year-old, Rags to Riches the 2007 champion 3-year-old filly, and Curlin the champion 3-year-old (and Horse of the Year) that same year. Similarities to this year’s trio are, at this point, difficult to see.

In the 2007 Derby, Street Sense beat Hard Spun and Curlin and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110, which has not been matched since in the Derby. In the Preakness, Curlin caught him at the wire and the two earned Beyers of 111. In the Belmont, Rags to Riches held off Curlin in a race that earned a 107 with a final quarter in less than 24 seconds. This year, Orb’s Derby got a 104, Oxbow’s Preaknesss a 106, and Palace Malice’s Belmont, which came home in more than 27 seconds, got a 98.

This year’s classic winners have a ways to go to approach the quality of the class of 2007 – but with a title still to be claimed and plenty of decisive racing ahead, it’s going to be fun to see if they can.

Mike Rozier More than 1 year ago
There may not be a great horse in this year's 3YO division, but they are greatly competitive with one another and it looks like we are setting up for a fantastic summer with all the contenders locking heads with one another. Not only do we get to see Palace Malice, Oxbow, and Orb run some more, but we also have other strong contenders in Normandy Invasion, Its My Lucky Day, Black Onyx, and a number of others coming back into the fold. There will undoubtedly be some other 3YO's that haven't made much headlines yet coming into the picture as well.
W.G. More than 1 year ago
Great to see you writing Steve, you were noticeably missed when you didn't do a Belmont day blog on the DRF site. Right now, I would think Orb is the top three year old based on his overall record, but there is still a lot of racing left this season. Especially if Oxbow or Palace Malice can add a big win on turf later in the year, it can vault them to the front of the class in a hurry.
bill bart More than 1 year ago
If all three run at Saratoga in 'The Travers' it would be a great boost for the sport ... and maybe bring many new fans to the sport. Hopefully their connections will see this as a chance to give back to and help re-grow the sport.
James Mindel More than 1 year ago
I think Steve is being too kind to this year's crop. They are definitely mediocre at best. The silver lining to me is that this may keep a lot more 3 year olds in the game and racing, since really nothing was resolved by the Triple Crown races. It could also lead to a great Travers, especially if all three run in the "Mid-Summer Derby" or later in the Breeders' Cup Classic. As far as I can remember the last time that happened was 1982 when Gato del Sol, the Derby winner, Aloma's Ruler, the Preakness winner, and Conquistidor Cielo, the Belmont winner all ran. And the winner was none of the above, Runaway Groom the Canadian long shot. I'd love to see all three in the Travers this year. Hey, a guy can dream, can't he?
jttf More than 1 year ago
in the last 7 years, you have two california horses (i'll have another, lookin at lucky) that had demanding 6 furlong workouts in between races. i'll have another had a short career and it wasnt unusual for lookin at lucky to come down with a fever after a race. both horses did not run in the belmont. the other 5 horses came from the midwest and east coast. these 5 horses did not use lasix on a regular basis at the age of two. summer bird, big brown, curlin, and bernardini did not run on lasix at 2. animal kingdom only used it once at 2. it could look good for palice malice, because curlin did at lot of damage after the triple crown. summer bird was successful after winning the belmont. big brown won the haskell. bernardini also did very well after the triple crown. these 4 horses did not race at the age of 2. verrazano did not run at 2. orb, departing, and incognito did not use lasix at 2.
PISTOL More than 1 year ago
Oxbow is Jackson Bend, only with a Preakness win.......When these horses mature, Oxbow will be left behind...Very game horse but to small......Orb is CLEARLY the leader in the clubhouse but the jury is far from being decided......
EnthusiastOfAll More than 1 year ago
I agree that this group is not equal to the 2007 crop, but justifying that position with Beyer figures seems the wrong direction to argue such an opinion at this point in the year. If anything, this is the most fun I've had with a group of 3 year olds since that year...because they all keep running! They are racehorses, so I credit the connections for keeping them in the game. I am a huge fan of both Oxbow and Orb, and give Palice Malice a shot to probably get the better of both of them as I think he has the most upside. Still, if the Eclipse were to be decided today, I would vote for Orb. Pointing to head to head finishes is meaningless; the facts are, both horses each won one race of the Triple Crown series. If you look at their respective placement in all three races, Orb is better by a spot: Orb: 1, 4, 3= 8 Oxbow: 6, 1, 2= 9 Lookiing at preps, Orb has two Grade I wins and Oxbow has one Grade III win. This isn't really a conversation at this point in my opinion. Orb is the Eclipse horse by a considerable margin. But, like Steve said, what a great year where we get to break the tie decisively in the summer.
Matthew Martini More than 1 year ago
Watching the end of the Belmont Stakes (G1) was tough: the entire field could not handle the distance. It makes one think about the type of horse that we are breeding these days. The Eclipse for the three-year-old champion will continue into November at the Breeders' Cup. Even after then, there will likely be a lukewarm favorite for the award. It is just that kind of year.
Chris The Mover More than 1 year ago
Palace Malice will never, ever win another race, ever again.
Chris The Mover More than 1 year ago
Never, ever, ever again.
Gunner More than 1 year ago
I'd feel more comfortable if YOU never, ever, ever, commented again. But maybe that's just me.
patrick toal More than 1 year ago
LoL @ your comment!- Gunner! Very Funny.
EnthusiastOfAll More than 1 year ago
Palice Malice was only going to get better with more races. Just like his Daddy. He is a May foal. Only a fool would have disregarded that. He will win many more races.
Union_Rags More than 1 year ago
OXBOW is a very good horse. 32 voters agree with me. You won't see another one like him for a long time.
patrick toal More than 1 year ago
Yeah,Hopefully,in the future, we will see horses that run up to par and come home a little faster that this years lot.----Oh dear ,I'm listening to that Gunner again! How he got a 106 Beyer is beyond my comprehension.