The Brock Talk

Monday, August 1, 2011

Jumbled Group of 3-Year-Olds Reaching Fast Times Levels of Confusion

There hasn’t been a class like this since Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Literally. Not since 1982, when Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli said “Aloha” to Ray Walston’s Mr. Hand in the California teen-culture classic movie, has there been no 3-year-old with more than one grade 1 win at 1-1/8 miles or further on the main track this late in the year.

This schedule of grade 1 races begins just before the Triple Crown with the Florida Derby six weeks before the first Saturday in May. Other grade I Derby prep races include the the Santa Anita Derby, the Arkansas Derby, the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby. The grade I schedule continues with the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the Preakness, Belmont which make up the Triple Crown, and continues with the Resorts World Casino Haskell Invitational. There is also the grade 1 Queen’s Plate run at Woodbine in Canada in late June or early July and the Travers Stakes run in late August.

Since 1982, there have been 13 years in which the Triple Crown races were won by three different horses. In fact, in the last three years, nine different horses have won the nine Triple Crown races in that span. There were also three different winners of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 2006, 2000, 1996,’93, ’92, ’90, ’86, ’85, ’83 and 1982.

In ten of those 13 years, there was yet a different winner of the Haskell. So it is not uncommon for the sophomore thoroughbred male picture to be so unclear this late in the year.

What is unique about this group, is that their inability as individuals two win two grade I races on the main track around two turns goes back to the major Kentucky Derby prep races in Florida, New York, California, Kentucky and Arkansas. This year's winners of those races were Dialed In, Toby’s Corner, Midnight Interlude, Brilliant Speed and Arch Arch Arch respectively. Then Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Ruler on Ice won the Derby, Preakness and Belmont as Inglorious wins the Queen’s Plate and Coil wins the Haskell.

In fact, one has to go back 20 years to match this level of inconsistency through July among our star 3-year-olds.

In 1982 Gato Del Sol won the Kentucky Derby while Aloma’s Ruler, Conquistador Cielo and Wavering Monarch won the Preakness, Belmont and Haskell respectively. Six days prior to the Belmont Stakes, Conquistador Cielo won the grade 1 Metropolitan Mile Handicap over older horses, but that was around a one turn one mile at Belmont Park.

The prep races that year were won by Muttering (Santa Anita Derby), Timely Writer (Florida Derby), Air Forbes Won (Wood Memorial) and Hostage (Arkansas Derby). Son of Briartic won the Queen’s Plate that year.

There have been some classes get close to matching the infamous mid-season mark. In 1985, Tank’s Prospect won the Preakness after winning the Arkansas Derby, but was the only sophomore colt or gelding with two grade 1 wins as of Aug. 1. Eight years later, Prairie Bayou won the 1993 Blue Grass Stakes and the Preakness to become the only male 3-year-old with two grade I wins on his resume in the first seven months of that year. But both 1985 and 1993 had interesting circumstances that may mislead to assume apparent confusion in the grade 1 ranks in those years.

Spend A Buck (photo), winner of the 1985 Derby, skipped the Preakness in pursuit of big bonus money then offered by the folks at Garden State Park. That class also included Crème Fraiche, the middle member of trainer Woody Stephens’ five-consecutive Belmont victors; and the next two Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. 1) champions in Florida Derby winner Proud Truth and Skywalker, winner of the Santa Anita Derby. Spend A Buck was named Champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year that year.

In the 1993 Kentucky Derby, 12-1 shot Sea Hero upset favorite Prairie Bayou, who came to the Derby off his win the Blue Grass. Prairie Bayou managed second in Kentucky, but avenged his loss by winning the Preakness in his next start. Unfortunately, Prairie Bayou broke down in the Belmont Stakes and had to be euthanized. That day Colonial Affair made jockey Julie Krone the only female jockey to win a Triple Crown and Kissin Kris would win he Haskell to keep Prairie Bayou as the only dual grade 1 winner so far that year. Early the next year, owner John Ed Anthony accepted the Eclipse Award naming Prairie Bayou as the champion 3-year-old male of 1993.

This year, nationally acclaimed trainers Todd Pletcher, Nick Zito, Bob Baffert, Bill Mott, Dale Romans, Graham Motions and Kelly Breen have tried everything except the toolbox belonging to Spicoli’s dad in an effort to return their grade I victors to more grade I winners’ circles. But none have been able to muster much consistency out of their high profile trainees of this class to do so.

The next grade I for this bunch is the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 27. After that, the natural transgression then leads to races against older horses as the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, and the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita lead to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in early November.

Some grade I winners from this 2011 sophomore class are sidelined temporarily with minor injuries. Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Wood Memorial winner Toby’s Corner are among them. Others such as Arch Arch Arch have met early retirement due to more serious lameness issues. But the connections behind Ruler On Ice, Coil and Shackleford have indicated they are pointing toward the mid-Summer Derby at Saratoga.

So as Spicoli might say in Fast Times "If Baffert, Breen and Pletcher don't get their stars back in form pronto, this class of 3-year-olds might be remembered as bogus too. Get it?"

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