The Brock Talk

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Championship Path Can Skip Triple Crown Wins

With the less than star power talent of the thoroughbred colts and geldings class of 2011, it seems the times are ripe for perhaps a late season run by a non-winner of a Triple Crown race for year-end championship honors.

Three horses have been named the champion 3-year-old male in the last 30 years without winning the Kentucky Derby (gr. 1), Preakness (gr. 1) or Belmont Stakes (gr. 1). Tiznow was the most recent to take home the divisional eclipse award after going 0-for-triple crown in 2000 while Skip Away (photo left) in 1996 and Holy Bull two years earlier, also share the distinction.

Holy Bull was one of the early stars of the 1994 class chasing after the Kentucky Derby after going undefeated in three starts as a 2-year-old including a victory in the grade 1 Futurity. The big grey colt started 1994 just as hot, winning the grade 2 Hutchinson Stakes at Gulfstream Park keeping his record unblemished. The son of Great Above then had his first bad race in the Fountain of Youth, tiring badly to finish sixth, more than 24 lengths behind winner Dehere. But trainer Warren Croll bounced right back with Holy Bull, and won both the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Blue Grass (gr. 2) Stakes as they headed to Kentucky with jockey Mike Smith as the favorite.

But Holy Bull broke slow in the Kentucky Derby and he was never able to completely recover, finishing a well beaten twelfth behind Go For Gin. Croll then decided to rest Holy Bull and skipped they both the Preakness and Belmont.

But Holy Bull came back stronger than ever, winning the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. 1), Dwyer Stakes (gr. 2), Haskell Invitational (gr. 1), Travers (gr. 1) and Woodward (gr. 1) to end the year with a five-race winning streak and eight wins in ten starts. He also accumulated more than $2 million in earnings that year and was also named Horse of the Year for 1994.

Tiznow and Skip Away both started their championship years much more inconspicuously than Holy Bull. It took Tiznow three races to break his maiden as a 3-year-old in Southern California and Skip Away bled and was distanced in his first race as sophomore at Gulfstream Park.

Also unlike Holy Bull, Skip Away started in all three Triple Crown events after finishing third in the Florida Derby and winning the Blue Grass that year. He would go winless in the three races, however, finishing 12th in the Derby and second to both Louis Quartorze in the Preakness and Editor’s Note in the Belmont.

There would be no rest for Skip Away though, as he went to win the Ohio Derby (gr. 2) three weeks later before winning the Haskell Invitational and finishing third in the Travers behind Will's Way and Louis Quartorze. The son of Skip Trial then finished the year winning the Woodbine Million (gr. 1) and the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. 1) over the great Cigar.

After breaking his maiden at Hollywood Park May 31, it was already post Kentucky Derby and Preakness for Tiznow in 2000. But he would win the grade 2 Affirmed in his next race before a string of seconds against grade 1 company hit him in the Swaps and Pacific Classic against older horses. But Tiznow was not deterred and kept on rolling while winning the Super Derby (gr. 1) at Louisiana Downs and the Goodwood Handicap (gr. 1) back in Southern California. Trainer Jay Robbins put the son of Cee's Tizzy back on a plane and he soon at Churchill Downs defeating Giant’s Causeway to win his first Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) (photo right). Like Holy Bull in 1994, Tiznow concluded his year with the Championship 3-Year-Old Male trophy but the golden Horse of the Year Ecplise as well.

There are candidates for such a run in 2011 with Mucho Macho Man among the possibilities. Celebrating his real birthday (official birthday for thoroughbreds is Jan. 1) just this month, he is likely to continue to grow into his large frame and may excel on the track at the same time. He is the only non-winner of any of the Triple Crown races to start in all three this year finishing third in the Derby, sixth in the Preakness and seventh in the Belmont Stakes.

Belmont second and third-place finishers Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed respectively should be late season contenders with their late running styles that may have compromised them in the Belmont. Santiva, eighth in the Belmont Stakes, may be another late bloomer who will benefit running in races at much more conventional distances than the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes.

There are some other possibilities for some earlier stars to return to racing after not making the Triple Crown. Rebel Stakes (gr. 2) winner The Factor and pre-Derby favorite Uncle Mo are considered likely to return. The Factor has been recovering from minor throat surgery and may start in the Aug. 27 King’s Bishop Stakes (gr. 1) at Saratoga while Uncle Mo continues to recover from a liver ailment that forced to be withdrawn from the Derby at the last hour. There may be another Tiznow out there as well that remains virtually anonymous for the first six months before exploding to success in the later part of 2011. One-time Santa Anita Derby (gr. 1) favorite Jaycito may not be so under the radar, but certainly has the potential for late season success.

There are certainly plenty of big races left on the racing calendar dispite with the less informed racing fan might think. The Jim Dandy (gr. 2) and Travers are the big races for 3-year-olds at Saratoga and the Haskell Invitational likewise at Monmouth Park. There will be plenty of opportunities for sophomores to take on their older brethren in the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup in the East and the Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic and Goodwood on the West Coast to name but a few.

There is no doubt that Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont champion Ruler On Ice all have a jump on the field in pursuing the Eclipse Award over all other 3-year-old colts and geldings. But they will likely have to win more than their respective Triple Crown jewels to remain in the race for the championship.

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