How about “King of the Kid Gloves”? Now we might be onto something. Uncle Mo makes his second start as a three-year-old in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial before heading to Kentucky to run in that race. If George Orwell’s Thought Police saw what’s happening to the sophomore Triple Crown prep season they may see it as a chance to reduce the “language” of the season down to one single race ... but only after starvation and any number of crude forms of torture.
The number of prep races these horses use to get to Kentucky is alarmingly small. I understand the risk, the pros, as well as the cons of such campaigns.
Risk: Injury. There’s always the hindsight game to play. What if War Pass hadn’t run in the Tampa Bay Derby but instead ran in a nicely catered allowance, then moved to the Wood?
Pro: Keeps them fresher for a better run at the Triple Crown, but, more importantly, keeps them fresher to win the Derby (because, really, that’s all that matters to these connections and the breeders).
Con: Not as much experience. But, then again, not many of these horses even have experience so it’s a wash.
Risk: The Demoralization of the Equine Mind. How long did it take Brad Lidge to come back from that homerun Albert Pujols hit off him in the 2005 NLDS? When that ball lands, let’s have a talk. Sure, Lidge isn’t a horse, but it took him years to recover. Years.
Pro: There really isn’t another pros.
Con: Not a chance to see horses square off against one another multiple times. I know this is a call back to Affirmed and Alydar and Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, but how fun would that be to relive that? How great was it watching Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta run against each other? I remember it like it never happened.
Affirmed raced four times before the Kentucky Derby. Seattle Slew raced three times. When you look at the 2000s you see the Kid Glove Trend. The past four Kentucky Derby winners all raced just two times prior to the Derby — Super Saver, Mine That Bird, Big Brown, and Street Sense. The past two did virtually nothing after the Derby. Big Brown roared in the Preakness then purred in the Belmont, but still came back to win the Haskell as well as defeat Proudinsky and Shakis on the grass before he was retired. He was practically eased while winning the Preakness so all that proves is that freshness is still no guarantee for history. It helps.
Smarty Jones raced four times before winning the Derby. Four times! And he nearly won the Triple Crown. What if he raced one less time? Would he have had enough gas to hold off Birdstone? These things are, no doubt, at the heart of the present-day trainer as they groom their babies into potential stake horses. There’s so much at stake that it’s a wonder they race at all these days.
That’s why we have the claimers, God bless ‘em.
Brendan O’Meara is the author of the forthcoming book Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year to be published by SUNY Press. You can read more at The Blog Itself and follow Brendan’s Twitter feed. His web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.