Now that the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes have come and gone, the race for which 3-year-old eventually will be voted a 2017 Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male is wide open.
This is in stark contrast to two years ago. Midway through 2015, American Pharoah already had essentially clinched both the Horse of the Year and 3-year-old male titles. Snagging those awards is what typically happens following a rare Triple Crown sweep.
A primary reason there currently is no clear-cut leader for champion 3-year-old male of 2017 is a different horse took each of this year’s three Triple Crown events. Always Dreaming won the Kentucky Derby. Cloud Computing captured the Preakness. Tapwrit got the job done in the Belmont.
In the last 17 years only three horses have been voted champion 3-year-old male without winning at least one of the three Triple Crown events -- Tiznow in 2000, Will Take Charge in 2013 and Arrogate in 2016. Interestingly, the three Triple Crown races had three different winners in each of those three years, just like this year.
In 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus won the Kentucky Derby, Red Bullet the Preakness and Commendable the Belmont. Tiznow did not run in any of the Triple Crown races, yet he ended up being voted champion 3-year-old male following a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
In 2013, Orb won the Kentucky Derby, Oxbow the Preakness and Palace Malice the Belmont. Will Take Charge did run in all three Triple Crown races, though he didn’t run well. He finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, seventh in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont. After that, nobody -- with the possible exception of trainer D. Wayne Lukas -- would have given Will Take Charge any chance to get the 3-year-old male title. But after Will Take Charge won both the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby before losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose to Mucho Macho Man, he was voted champion 3-year-old male.
In 2016, Nyquist won the Kentucky Derby, Exaggerator the Preakness and Creator the Belmont. Arrogate did not participate in any of the Triple Crown races, yet he was voted champion 3-year-old male after a record-breaking victory in the Travers Stakes and a Breeders’ Cup Classic win vs. the accomplished older foe California Chrome.
Will Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing or Tapwrit go on to be voted champion 3-year-old male of 2017? Or will this year be like 2000, 2013 and 2016, with the title going to a horse who did not win one of the Triple Crown races?
Here are my odds in the race for 3-year-old male champion of 2017:
5-1 Cloud Computing
6-1 Always Dreaming
6-1 Classic Empire
8-1 Irish War Cry
8-1 West Coast
20-1 American Anthem
30-1 Battle of Midway
30-1 Lookin At Lee
12-1 All Others
One reason I decided to make Cloud Computing the lukewarm 5-1 favorite for the 3-year-old male title is he was making just his fourth career start when he won the Preakness by a head over 2-year-old male champ Classic Empire. To win the Preakness with so little racing experience suggests to me that a strong second half of the year campaign might be in store for Cloud Computing.
Cloud Computing and Always Dreaming are scheduled to run in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on July 29, according to Daily Racing Form’s David Grening. Both colts are expected to use the Jim Dandy as a steppingstone to the Aug. 26 Travers.
Classic Empire, Irish War Cry and Timeline are among those eyeing the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 30.
Tapwrit is considered a possibility for either the Jim Dandy or Haskell.
Meanwhile, McCraken regained his winning ways in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday at Churchill Downs. Off awkwardly, he rallied from 9 1/2 lengths off the pace to win by 2 1/4 as a 1-5 favorite. His Beyer Speed Figure won’t knock your socks off, though. McCraken was assigned only a 93. The Ghostzapper colt has yet to post a Beyer higher than 95.
McCraken won the first four races of his career, including the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs at 2 and Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in his debut at 3. But then he finished third in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland before ending up eighth at 6-1 in the Kentucky Derby. He came out of the Run for the Roses with a puncture wound to his left hind ankle that likely was sustained in the roughly run opening strides of that race.
The day after McCraken took the Matt Winn, Timeline kept his perfect record intact by winning Monmouth’s Grade III Pegasus Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths at 1 1/16 miles. Timeline now is four for four. The Pegasus was the Hard Spun colt’s second stakes victory. He previously had won Belmont’s Grade III Peter Pan on a sloppy track by 3 1/2 lengths May 13.
Grening reported that Timeline’s win last Sunday was not without incident. A photo of the finish of the Pegasus showed cuts on Timeline’s right hind leg and his shoe hanging off the bottom of his foot.
Timeline “got a cut on his hock and on his right hind leg through the bandage, and he sprung his shoe pretty good,” Chad Brown, the colt’s trainer, said to Grening. “We got [the shoe] off him after the race. He seems like he’s going to be fine.”
Timeline was assigned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for his Pegasus victory. His top Beyer is 101, which was recorded when he won an allowance/optional claiming race at one mile on a sloppy track April 6 at Aqueduct.
Always Dreaming recorded a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in the Kentucky Derby, Cloud Computing a 102 in the Preakness and Tapwrit a 103 in the Belmont.
HORSE OF THE YEAR PICTURE NOT WIDE OPEN
Unlike the race for 3-year-old male champion, there is a heavy current favorite for the 2017 Horse of the Year crown in Arrogate, who has been unstoppable in his last seven starts.
Arrogate is two for two this year. In his 2017 debut on Jan. 28, Arrogate won the richest Thoroughbred race ever run, the $12 million Pegasus World Cup, by 4 3/4 emphatic lengths. His final time of 1:46.83 broke Gulfstream Park’s 1 1/8-mile track record. California Chrome finished ninth.
And then, in an outstanding performance that reaffirmed that Arrogate truly is “one of the ones,” he won the Group I, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 25 by 2 1/4 lengths despite a dreadful start.
Arrogate had another terrific workout last Sunday morning at Santa Anita. He zipped four furlongs in :46 4/5 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. It was the fastest of 107 works at the distance. On Steve Byk’s radio program Monday, Baffert said he was “surprised it was a bullet work because it looked like he was just galloping. But he just does it effortlessly. He’s exciting. That’s just him. He’s just this unbelievable super horse.”
Baffert continues to get Arrogate ready for a summer campaign that might commence with Del Mar’s Grade II San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on July 22. Regardless of whether Arrogate starts in the San Diego, Del Mar’s Grade I Pacific Classic at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 19 definitely is on his agenda.
Arrogate was flattered by Gun Runner’s sparkling seven-length win in Churchill’s Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday night. In Gun Runner’s only loss in three starts this year, he finished second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup.
Gun Runner carried top weight of 124 pounds in the Stephen Foster. He spotted his rivals from five to seven pounds. His final time of 1:47.56 was excellent. It was not far off the track record of 1:47.28 set by Victory Gallop in the 1999 Stephen Foster when he was assigned a 118 Beyer Speed Figure. Gun Runner was deemed to have run a 110 Beyer under the lights last Saturday.
Here are my odds in the race for 2017 Horse of the Year:
5-1 Gun Runner
15-1 Mor Spirit
20-1 Always Dreaming
20-1 Classic Empire
20-1 Cloud Computing
20-1 Shaman Ghost
30-1 Stellar Wind
12-1 All Others
TAPWRIT A SUPER SPECIAL SIRE
What Tapit has achieved as a Belmont Stakes sire is extraordinary. He has sired three of the last four Belmont winners -- Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016 and now Tapwrit in 2017. Frosted, a son of Tapit, finished second to American Pharoah in the 2015 Belmont.
The only horse besides Tapit to sire three Belmont Stakes winners in four years was Lexington in the 1880s. Lexington was the sire of Belmont winners General Duke in 1868, Kingfisher in 1870 and Harry Bassett in 1871.
Lexington later got a fourth Belmont victory as a sire when Duke of Magenta won the 1878 renewal.
Tapit is the first horse to sire three Belmont Stakes winners since mighty Man o’ War. Man o’ War was the sire of Belmont winners American Flag in 1925, Crusader in 1926 and War Admiral in 1937.
War Admiral not only won the Belmont for owner Samuel Riddle, he swept the Triple Crown, a feat Man o’ War himself no doubt would have accomplished if only he had been given the opportunity to do so. When Man o’ War was 3, he was not entered in the Kentucky Derby because Riddle felt it was asking too much of a horse to run 1 1/4 miles so early in the year. But 17 years later, when War Admiral was 3, Riddle decided to go ahead and run him in the Kentucky Derby.
Tapit is the first horse to sire back-to-back Belmont Stakes winners since Count Fleet. Count Fleet, who won the Triple Crown in 1943, was the sire of Belmont winners Counterpoint in 1951 and One Count in 1952.
BELMONT STAKES WINNERS APLENTY IN PEDIGREE
Twenty-five years ago, Tapit’s paternal grandsire, A.P. Indy, won the Belmont Stakes to extend his winning streak to seven. After A.P. Indy lost his next two starts following the Belmont, he rebounded to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was voted champion 3-year-old male of 1992 and Horse of the Year. A.P. Indy currently has the distinction of being the oldest living Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
A.P. Indy won eight of 11 career starts. Eddie Delahoussaye rode him in all of his races. Eddie D. once told me that he believes A.P. Indy would have won the Triple Crown if he had run in all three races. Delahoussaye’s credibility with me is such that when he said that, I did not doubt him.
Unfortunately, A.P. Indy was scratched the morning of the Kentucky Derby due to what originally was thought to be a bruised foot, but what actually turned out to be a blind quarter crack, according to trainer Neil Drysdale. After A.P. Indy missed the Kentucky Derby, he recovered enough from his foot issue to win the Peter Pan at Belmont by 5 1/2 lengths prior to his Belmont triumph.
A.P. Indy won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont in the splendid time of 2:26. Tapwrit won this year’s Belmont in 2:30. That means A.P. Indy ran approximately 20 lengths faster in the Belmont than Tapwrit. Creator won the 2016 Belmont in 2:28 and change.
These are the fastest final times in the history of the Belmont:
2:24.00 Secretariat (1973)
2:26.00 A.P. Indy (1992)
2:26.00 Easy Goer (1989)
2:26.40 Point Given (2001)
2:26.40 Risen Star (1988)
2:26.60 American Pharoah (2015)
2:26.60 Affirmed (1978)
Forty years ago, A.P. Indy’s sire, Seattle Slew, won the Belmont Stakes by four lengths. Seattle Slew remains the only horse to sweep the Triple Crown while undefeated, a feat that becomes all the more amazing as the years go by.
Many have called 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat a failure as a sire. That’s hogwash. Did Secretariat do as well as Seattle Slew as a sire? No. But Secretariat was far from a dud at stud.
Secretariat sired such outstanding racehorses as Lady’s Secret, the 1986 Horse of the Year as a filly; Risen Star, the champion 3-year-old male of 1988 when he won the Preakness and Belmont; and General Assembly, who held Saratoga’s 1 1/4-mile track record for 38 years until Arrogate broke it last August.
Furthermore, Secretariat was the sire of A.P. Indy’s dam. That means if there had been no Secretariat, there would have been no A.P. Indy, which would mean there would have been no Tapit, which would mean there would have been no Tonalist, Creator or Tapwrit to win three of the last four editions of the Belmont Stakes.