Thursday, June 13, 2013

Top Three-Year-Old Has to be Oxbow

The three-year-olds have taken up half of our year, haven’t they? It seems like yesterday Itsmyluckyday upset Shanghai Bobby in the Holy Bull. Then, in a blink, it’s June. It’s fitting the sophomores take up most of our attention as they carry us through a winter wrought with despair and an extra ten pounds of “insulation

There was a momentary second when Oxbow beat Orb where the wind was knocked out of our lungs in Baltimore, but when we had a moment to catch our breath we realized it wasn’t all bad. There are silver linings around every turn. There’s always another race.

I might be in the minority here after the Triple Crown dust has settled and turned into mud that Oxbow is the top three-year-old.

There’s a molasses-like momentum around changing allegiance from Orb to anyone else. Being graced in roses has that effect. It’s time to breakdown, c’mon, now, give it to me.

Orb’s Derby was Overrated

Did you hear about the one when the horse won the race in the mud with the hot pace? Let’s break down our prized Derby some more.

Mike Smith, unbeknownst to him, sat on a loose cannon. Palace Malice got blinkers that, in effect, gave PM an extra edge. But it’s what Smith said leading up the Belmont that was of particular interest. He noted that with the track sealed at Churchill, it sounded like firecrackers were going off. With 19 horses pounding (19 x 4 = 76, phew) 76 hooves into that highway, it scared PM. He ran like his tail was on fire.

He sets typical Derby fractions normally reserved for the sprinter-who-doesn’t-belong-in-the-race. You remember Keyed Entry and Spanish Chestnut. PM tugged several horses with him.

This set up beautifully for the favorite, Orb. He won the one race he was supposed to win. It was the one he had the most control over, among all that chaos, it was his race to lose.

Golden Soul, the Derby’s second-place finisher, threw in a flat-soda effort in the Belmont and Revolutionary, third in the Derby, did what he does by running a fifth in the Belmont. He’s a good horse. That’s it. Both these horses had five weeks off to validate Orb’s win. If Orb has lost his standing he can thank those clowns.

Oxbow is a Lot Better Than People Give Him Credit For

We remarked here that Oxbow was about as gutsy a horse as there was. This was back in February and March. He reminds me a lot of Shackleford; just a hard-knockin’ horse with a heart the size of a Volkwagen.

He got an easy lead in the Preakness and did what he was supposed to do on that lead. Gary Stevens proved that talent trumps age. He was also up on a swift pace in the Belmont and hung on heroically for second beating Orb a second time head-to-head. The best part is, he didn’t skip the Preakness either. You can’t say he was fresher because he ran in the same races.

Palace Malice is a Lot Better Than People Give Him Credit For

Let’s pause a moment and reflect on his Derby. We all agree he set those crazy fractions and faded. But he didn’t fade that far. He only faded to 12th. Think about that for a second. He beat seven other horses while fighting on.

Sure, he—along with everyone else at Big Sandy—was limping home, but given the fast track and the blinkers off, it should come as no surprise that he was near the top. In this case he was the top.

And who should be right there? Oxbow. Oxbow finished six places ahead of Palace Malice in the Derby after being in the same orbit as PM on the pace. Oxbow finished a diminishing second in the Belmont while not being granted the five-week layoff PM had.

To sum, Oxbow is No. 1. Orb is No. 2, and Palace Malice is not as bad as everyone once thought he was. I tell you, this is going to be a fun summer.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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