07/23/2010 10:09AM

Trappe Shot could be this year's 3-year-old star

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Trappe Shot takes the Long Branch for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

A couple of months ago, just after he took over as the trainer of Uptowncharlybrown, Kiaran McLaughlin worked him one morning in company. The other horse performed so well that Bob Hutt, who manages the partnership that owns Uptowncharlybrown, asked McLaughlin for the name of the workmate.

"He's one of the best five 3-year-olds in the country," McLaughlin replied.

At the time, that colt, Trappe Shot, had a maiden win and an allowance win, both against Florida-breds, in three lifetime starts. Since then, though, Trappe Shot has scored a dazzling win in an allowance race on the Belmont Stakes undercard, his victory coming hours before Uptowncharlybrown lost his weighted saddle pad during the Belmont Stakes. And in his last start, his first around two turns, Trappe Shot won the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 10.

Now, lots of people believe that Trappe Shot is, indeed, one of the best five 3-year-olds in the country, even though he has yet to run in a graded stakes race. Trappe Shot gives every indication that he could contend for an Eclipse Award by year's end, in large part because of his raw talent and also because of the unsettled nature of this year's crop of 3-year-old males.

The first half of the year hardly settled racing's glamor division. Each of the Triple Crown races had a different winner, and the performances of the winners ranked at or near the bottom of the last decade when measured by Beyer Speed Figures.

There is still plenty of time for a leader to emerge, and the opportunities will come quickly in the next five weeks. The Jim Dandy Stakes will be run Saturday, July 31, at Saratoga, and the following day will be the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth, a race that is expected to feature Super Saver, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Lookin At Lucky, the Preakness winner, with Trappe Shot looking to play spoiler.

Those races funnel into the division's premier race of the summer, the Travers Stakes on Aug. 28 at Saratoga. And even though races such as the Super Derby and the Jerome allow 3-year-olds to face one another into the beginning of fall, soon enough the best of the division will have to face an outstanding group of older horses, headed by Blame, Quality Road, Rail Trip, and Zenyatta, the defending champion from last year's Breeders' Cup Classic.

Is Trappe Shot capable of rising to the fore of his division?

"Absolutely," McLaughlin said emphatically. "He's a top horse."

If Trappe Shot were to emerge as this year's champion 3-year-old male, he would be only the third horse in 40 years to do so without having run in the Triple Crown.

"He's a very talented colt," McLaughlin said. "Fun to train every day, does everything right. He's never gotten tired in his works. He's a really neat horse to be around. He's very professional, very kind. He'll nip, but rarely. He likes getting attention, and he's got the stall next to the barn office, so he gets lots of attention."

Trappe Shot has received plenty of attention for more than a year. In May 2009, he was sent through the sales ring at a 2-year-old in training sale at Timonium in Maryland. A chestnut son of Tapit, he brought $850,000, a record for that sale. Steve Young, a former trainer who now has a booming bloodstock business, bought Trappe Shot on behalf of owner Nicholas Brady, the former United States Secretary of the Treasury who races as Mill House.

"He was the best horse in the sale," said Young, the twin brother of Gary Young, a respected clocker in Southern California. "He was the best-bred horse in the sale, and he trained very well."

Trappe Shot was not initially intended to go through the sales ring. Jack Dreyfus, who bred and raced horses as Hobeau Farms, kept his homebred horses to run. But after Dreyfus died, Trappe Shot was offered at auction.

"He went to the sale as an afterthought," Young said. "He trained like a horse of extreme quality. He was sound, well made, perfectly balanced. And what you saw was his raw ability, as opposed to having been through one or two other sales and not sold. It was like watching a top football prospect at minicamp."

Trappe Shot made his debut last summer at Saratoga but had a rough trip.

"You know how you've heard a million times, 'That horse can't lose,' " Young said. "That was him. But he did lose. Jumped at the start, ran up on a horse's heels, got stopped twice on the turn. He didn't hurt himself, but he wasn't how we wanted him to be after the race, so we stopped on him."

Sent to Florida for the winter, Trappe Shot thrived. In his first start of the year, he crushed maidens by more than 10 lengths, then just as easily disposed of allowance rivals a month later. His connections had considered running him in the Withers Stakes in New York and then the Preakness ? a schedule used successfully by Bernardini in 2006 ? "but he had an ankle that flared up the tiniest bit, so we went, 'Whoa,' " McLaughlin said.

"We took the conservative route ? allowance on Belmont Day, then the Long Branch," he said. "Things didn't go his way in the Long Branch, but he won easy."

Trappe Shot had nowhere to go for much of the Long Branch after stumbling at the start, but he rocketed through an opening under jockey Alan Garcia and disposed of his rivals in a matter of strides.

"Before the race, Garcia told me he didn't want to be inside, that that was not the place to be," McLaughlin said. "Then he ends up stuck on the rail, and he couldn't do much about it! The Haskell is going to be tougher than the Long Branch. He's going to have to step up."

"I've been impressed by all his races," said Todd Pletcher, a close friend of McLaughlin and the trainer of Super Saver. "He does something I love to see with good horses, which is win with their ears pricked. You know there's more in the tank."

A contrarian would argue that, as impressive as Trappe Shot has been, he has hardly faced serious competition. He owns two wins in restricted races against Florida-breds plus an open first-level allowance, then he beat the Nacho Friend and two other lesser lights in the four-horse Long Branch.

In the Haskell, he will be coming back on three weeks' rest for the first time in his career and will be racing 1 1/8 miles for the first time. He will also face the Derby and Preakness winners.

"If he wins the Haskell, it's game on from there," Young said. "It's not out of line to think he could be the 3-year-old champ."

In the last 40 years, only Wajima in 1975 and Tiznow in 2000 emerged as champion 3-year-old male without making a start in a Triple Crown race. Wajima's first graded stakes win was in the Monmouth Invitational, now known as the Haskell. He next won the Travers and then beat older horses in two Grade 1 stakes, including the Marlboro Cup, one of the most important late-season races in the pre-Breeders' Cup era.

Tiznow closed his 3-year-old campaign with successive wins in the Super Derby, Goodwood, and Breeders' Cup Classic, and was voted Horse of the Year.

Like this year, the Triple Crown races in 1975 and 2000 had three winners.

Based on Beyer Speed Figures, this year's Triple Crown results were particularly poor. In the last 11 years, only one Derby winner ran slower than Super Saver, only one Preakness winner ran slower than Lookin At Lucky, and no Belmont winner ran slower than Drosselmeyer.

"It's an interesting group," said Pletcher, who earlier this year also trained the division's acknowledged springtime leader, Eskendereya. "If you break the year down by quarters, Eskendereya was clearly best the first quarter, but he got hurt. Since then, they've taken turns. Super Saver won the Derby, Lookin At Lucky finally got things right in the Preakness. It's going to come down to who can string together consecutive big races. If Super Saver steps up or Lookin At Lucky steps up or Trappe Shot steps up, they can win it. But if not, I think there will be a move to look back at Eskendereya."

Super Saver was given a freshening after the Preakness, and Pletcher said he thinks the time off has served him well.

"He's gained weight," Pletcher said. "He's stronger than at any time of his life. He's gotten wider and stronger. Physically, he's more imposing than he was two months ago. He's developed the way you would want him to. He's always been a very willing horse without being overzealous.

"The Haskell is the target," he said. "If he runs well, we'd love to run in the Travers. One at a time. Let's see how he does."

Like Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky also has been on vacation since the Preakness.

"He's right on schedule for the Haskell," said his trainer, Bob Baffert. "The classics are over. They take their toll on some of these horses. We'll know more as we go along. The Haskell will be a good gauge. It's gonna be a great race, the showdown, like at the OK Corral."