Monday, July 30, 2012
From Maiden to Horse of the Year Without Winning a Three-Year-Old Classic?
July 29, 2012—It will be interesting to see how the NTRA Horse of the Year Poll shakes out on Tuesday after this weekend’s 3-year-old action.
While some of the nation’s top older horses will be on display in Saturday’s Whitney, and with the Pacific Classic and Woodward upcoming next month, it will be interesting to see how this week’s poll shakes out.
Last week, seven voters still had the retired dual classic winner I’ll Have Another ranked #1, reasoning that no other horse accomplished as much--three Grade 1s and 4-for-4 on the year—thus far.
Those votes, as well as some others that place him in the Top 10, was good for a #7 ranking overall, down from #6 a fortnight ago.
As for that, the conjecture is that some voters, by leaving the Derby-Preakness winner out of the Top 10 entirely, are more interested in punishing the connections which is, of course, not fair to the horse.
Hopefully, the news won’t reach Japan.
Following today’s Haskell, won impressively by Paynter, the Derby of Midsummer, a.k.a. the Travers Stakes, becomes pivotal, especially if the runner can go on and win something important en route to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Fans of the sport should be rooting for some sophomore to have a big second half, a possible epic battle that would turn the Classic into a…well, classic.
The question is which colt will it be?
Recalling Friday’s Curlin, that colt is unlikely to be Ever So Lucky, a colt that hasn’t had much good fortune since making a juvenile splash last fall at Churchill Downs. He finished in the money two days ago but highly likely ran his way out of serious Travers consideration.
But not so Street Wise, who showed his turn of foot earlier than he had in recent races in which he finished third and fourth in the Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes, respectively.
The Chad Brown runner powered up to take command just above the three-sixteenths pole and completed nine furlongs as if to say I’ll have another--no word play intended. The question is whether he will have enough brilliance against the division’s heavy-heads.
Not so Alpha, who lived up to the hype of winter and early spring, and then some. Speed was a new dimension for the Jim Dandy winner and, yes, while he got away with a soft pace, the sealed wet surface appeared demanding late Saturday afternoon.
Runnerup Neck N’ Neck loomed a serious threat at midstretch. Ramon Dominguez went to work and after holding the challenger safe, he drew off as he was reaching the wire, winning in full stride.
So that’s a new dimension, strong visible suggestion that another furlong will not be an issue, he loves the surface and has the all-important race over the track when he meets the impressive Haskell winner.
And make no mistake; Paynter was impressive. Fact is this is a very impressive animal, so much so in fact that his trainer, Bob Baffert, was saying this spring he thought this colt was better than Bodemeister.
His career has been nothing short of remarkable especially after putting today’s Haskell performance in perspective. But the story is HOW he got to this point in his current occupation, that of stone cold runner.
After a 5-1/2 furlong maiden win in February, he moved up dramatically in class and distance, to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and was beaten less than four lengths by the subsequent Derby winner 48 days later after beating non winners.
Three weeks later, he was turning back to a one-turn mile in the G3 Derby Trial, chased a strong pace and finished a game second, beaten a length and a half.
Twenty one days after that, it was off to Pimlico where he freaked in an allowance race on the Preakness undercard. And three weeks after that, he lost the Belmont by a neck when the rail opened up for Union Rags.
That’s a lot of accomplishment considering that the modern racehorse is hardly stout when it comes to pressure-packed competition, yet in 164 days, less than a half year, he’s run six times, won half his starts with two seconds and, if his Haskell tour de force means anything, when he returns from California it will be as the Travers favorite.
The nuts and bolts are a 3-3/4 length victory in 1:48.87 after he stalked and crushed Gemologist, making his first start since his Derby debacle. Now it’s debacles back to back. Needing a race is one thing; finishing last of six, 15 lengths behind the winner, as the 2-1 second choice is another.
For sure, Paynter will break into the Top 10, perhaps knock stablemate Bodemeister out of 9th, or even higher.
So, if he proves to be this country’s leading 3-year-old by duplicating his Haskell effort four weeks from now, just where does that leave a horse such as I’ll Have Another, and all the rest for that matter.