Monday, December 16, 2013
Top Moments: The Three-Year-Olds
It’s that time of year when it becomes good fun to fill your favorite pipe with your favorite tobacco, sit around a fire, fix an Old Fashioned and reflect on the year that was.
Add to that I’m coming down with a cold after having shoveled hundreds of pounds of snow on Sunday and I’m ready to put together a list of Iconic Three-Year-Old Moments from 2013. I will, no doubt, miss some. Feel free to add your moments in the comments.
The racing calendar is so long that it’s easy to forget those horses that created such unique buzz in those awful winter months leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Itsmyluckyday was one of those colts, very Musket-Man-in-2009, he shocked the 2012 juvenile champion, Shanghai Bobby.
He’d later finish second in the Florida Derby and second in the Preakness, but I’ll never forget who this horse was when he sprang to life by slaying Todd Pletcher’s champion colt.
9. Shang-Bye Bobby
Like the Sports Illustrated cover curse, winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile comes at a cost: You will not win the Derby (the exception in 29 years was, of course, Street Sense). In fact, you probably won’t even have a good three-year-old year. Not including New Year’s Day, the 2013 winner, here are the last 10 winners: Shanghai Bobby, Hansen, Uncle Mo, Vale of York, Midshipman, War Pass, Street Sense, Stevie Wonderboy, Wilko, Action This Day. The bolded horses made it to the Derby. None of them, save Street Sense, made an impact.
8. Palace Malice and Oxbow 1-2
Palace Malice, after setting those blazing fractions in the Derby while wearing blinkers, didn’t get any respect. He went to the lead with Oxbow and had just enough horse as he wobbled home the winner of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. This marks Todd Pletcher’s best trainer job of the year. The adjustments he made and the patience he exhibited in this colt show that even a trainer of the Industrial Complex is as skilled as any.
Oxbow had just won the Preakness after finishing sixth in the Derby. His trainer, Wayne Lukas, ran him in all three and he hung on bravely when everyone thought he’d run out of fuel. It was a validating runner-up performance.
7. The Travers Field
There were nine horses with a ton of Grade 1-talent. There was Verrazano, winner of the Wood Memorial and the Haskell Invitational. There was Orb, the Kentucky Derby winner, making his first start since the Belmont Stakes. There was Palace Malice, the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy winner.
Sadly, Oxbow scratched with an injury, but it was still an exciting, competitive field nearly won by an upstart front-runner in Moreno. The race was won by Will Take Charge, a horse just taking flight toward rarefied air.
6. Goldencents' Amazing Mile
I loved this horse early on. He was my Derby pick [fail] since his Santa Anita Derby was seconds faster than every other horse prepping at the distance. He had Doug O’Neill, his trainer, confident off winning the 2012 Derby with I’ll Have Another. He stunk. But it had more to do with the track and distance. Fast forward to the Breeders’ Cup.
He blew the doors off the field, setting Two-Year-Old-In-Training-Sale fractions and was one of the few three-year-olds to actually beat older horses this year.
5. Oxbow’s Black-eyed Susans
Gary Stevens, you sly dog, you, piloted Oxbow, the tough-as-a-blacksmith colt to the lead and defeated Orb, the horse anointed as the 12th Triple Crown winner. Stevens wasn’t done in 2013, but this win truly brought D. Wayne Lukas back from the dead. Oh, yeah, Lukas wasn’t done yet in 2013 either.
4. Orb’s Final Win
Orb’s final win, remember this one? It was the Kentucky Derby. My, how the mighty fall. He had won the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby with such locomotion; his trainer was just understated about him enough, that you began to think Orb may have actually hung the moon.
He had the running style and the attentive hands to give him every shot at greatness. In the end, he won the Derby and will be remembered for that, but he never amounted to anything thereafter. Losses in the Preakness, Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup cemented him as a horse who was just good enough on the one day that matters.
He finished his career, dating back to the Florida Derby, with efforts in six straight Grade 1s, but like Mine That Bird and Super Saver, he never won again.
3. Princess Slays the Queen
Princess of Sylmar was Todd Pletcher’s best horse all year. All she did was show up and when she stepped into the ring in the Beldame, what happened shocked everyone: She beat the world beater Royal Delta. It wouldn’t be the final time they met, but it was the type of signature win that iced the already delicious cake of her wins in the Alabama, Kentucky Oaks, and CCA Oaks.
2. Behold, Beholder!
Beholder showed them all up in the small, but elite field in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She defeated Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar “with authority!” according to Larry Collmus, race caller for NBC’s coverage of the Breeders’ Cup.
She was the only filly who looked relaxed in this race and Gary Stevens rode her perfectly. Whether this win was enough to give her the championship over Princess of Sylmar is yet to be determined, but not many people saw this one coming.
1. Will’s Late Charge
Will Take Charge ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown, as an also ran, a horse getting worse with each effort. But just like his running style, he made a late-season rush.
He won the Travers, the PA Derby and finished within a whisker of winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic over Mucho Macho Man. That effort alone was worth a break, but his trainer, Wayne Lukas, took one last shot in the Clark Handicap and defeated Game On Dude, a Horse of the Year candidate.
Will Take Charge was the only three-year-old colt to beat older horses at a distance longer than a mile. He stands atop all three-year-olds and may be Horse of the Year.