06/11/2016 8:01PM

Watchmaker: Second half of season holds intrigue

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Barbara D. Livingston
Creator (left) and Destin should be prominent players during the second half of the season in a wide-open 3-year-old division.

Creator’s final strides, nose victory over Destin in the Belmont Stakes means there were three different winners in this year’s Triple Crown races. Yep. Very, very unlike last year.

But there is a potential silver lining.

Although we don’t have another Triple Crown winner like American Pharoah to celebrate, Creator’s victory does set up an interesting second half of the year for this group of 3-year-olds.

Nyquist, the Kentucky Derby winner who suffered his first defeat in the Preakness, and who had to miss the Belmont due to minor illness, remains the ranking member of his class. Nyquist is still 4 for 5 against Preakness winner Exaggerator, and he satisfied every skeptic when he survived a hot early pace to win the Derby. And Nyquist only lost in the Preakness because he was foolishly involved in an even hotter early pace. Nyquist is working his way back, and one would think the Haskell and Travers could be on his schedule. This division goes through him. Still.

Exaggerator’s position is less clear. After racing in easy early striking distance in the Belmont, Exaggerator gave up the ghost in the stretch, was not abused, and finished in front of only maiden winners Seeking the Soul and Forever d’Oro. Exaggerator’s empty performance Saturday only underscored how perfectly set up he was both pace and surface-wise in the Santa Anita Derby (which he won), the Kentucky Derby (in which he finished second), and the Preakness. Despite being a Preakness winner, Exaggerator really has some divisional work to do.

Depending on how Nyquist rebounds, the door in this 3-year-old division is open to others. And Creator is certainly eligible to make some real headway, as is the horse he nipped in the Belmont, Destin.

Before the Derby, Creator was one of the most improved members of his class, going from five-time maiden loser, to romping maiden winner, to, just two starts later, winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. If you draw a line through his Kentucky Derby, and you must considering how badly he was wiped out at the top of the stretch when he was actually moving well, Creator has a solid record that just gets better from start to start.

And Destin ran a race in narrow defeat in the Belmont that should not be underappreciated. The Belmont was only Destin’s second start in 13 weeks. This was a schedule dictated by his sheet-owning owners, who determined that Destin’s win in the Tampa Bay Derby was so fast that he would need extra time to recover. This is why Destin went into the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished sixth, off a gaping eight-week layoff. And that was his only outing between the Tampa Bay Derby on March 12, and the Belmont.

Anyway, the sheet guys were almost right. Despite an unconventional schedule, Destin almost won. And it really makes you wonder how effective he might be with a more conventional racing schedule.

Okay, so the 2016 3-year-old division doesn’t have nearly the glitz right now that the class of 2015 had. But what this crop might lack in flash, it can make up for in intrigue. And there is something to be said for a division that isn’t decided in June.

 Frosted gives astounding performance in Met Mile

Not surprisingly given the quality of stakes races offered, there were a lot of stellar performances on the Belmont Stakes undercard, such as the emphatic victory by Cavorting in the Ogden Phipps, and Carina Mia’s breakout performance in the Acorn. However, none were close to the level of Frosted’s victory in the Met Mile.

I’ve always been a fan of Frosted. I thought his fourth in last year’s Kentucky Derby was terrific, and I was glad to see him win the Pennsylvania Derby one start after being used like a public battering ram hooking American Pharoah early in the Travers, and racing the Triple Crown winner into defeat. But as much as I’ve liked Frosted, I never, ever imagined he was capable of the jaw-dropping performance he put on in the Met Mile.

Okay, this was not the strongest Met Mile field ever assembled. But there were lots of useful, hard hitters in the race, and Frosted made them look positively helpless. The way he inhaled his field in upper stretch, ran off to win by an astounding 14 1/4 lengths, and stopped the timer in a sizzling 1:32.73, all while barely being asked to run, was incredibly impressive.

And perhaps the most impressive aspect of all to Frosted’s Met Mile is that one-mile is hardly his game. I mean, it might be now, after Saturday. But one mile is actually on the short end of Frosted’s distance range. As he showed in the 2015 Kentucky Derby and in the Travers with the absolute wrong trip, 1 1/4 miles is well within his sphere.

Ironicus ran well as Manhattan runner-up

Flintshire was very good winning the Manhattan in his first start since finishing second in the Hong Kong Vase last December. He looked very much like the horse who was so breathtaking winning the Sword Dancer at Saratoga last summer (easily the best U. S. performance of 2015 by a male on turf), and also looked very much like the leader of his division.

However, Ironicus ran an excellent race finishing second in the Manhattan. Due to many stops and starts in his career, this was the first time Ironicus had the opportunity to race at a distance as far as 10 furlongs, and he showed he has no problem whatsoever with the trip. Ironicus was beaten slightly less than two lengths by Flintshire on Saturday, but he steadied on the rail in midstretch, costing him precious momentum, and he galloped out ahead of Flintshire not too far past the finish.

Start spreading the news. The Manhattan was indeed good news for the male turf division.