Some say good things happen in threes. Others say the third time is the charm, while there are some that say three strikes, you’re out. I guess your opinion on this depends on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist.
In horse racing, it seems that the third time is not the charm. In the 144th running of the Travers Stakes, we saw a horse take the necessary step up to remain in the hunt for the rest of 2013. I had stated earlier that the Travers would be a make or break race for Will Take Charge, and because of his brilliant performance and victory, the D. Wayne Lukas trained colt is now a player as we get ready to head to the fall. He showed promise by finishing second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy and proved that the Dandy was a stepping stone race when he won on Saturday. A loss would have certainly caused a change in strategy going forward. Lukas says that he is pointing WTC to the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Saturday, September 21, a $1 million race that is restricted to three year olds. If all goes well there, he will likely be pointed to the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
That takes care of the winner, but what about the rest of the field and the theory of three? We see it a lot in horse racing. We see a horse win two in a row, then for some reason, the hat trick can’t be accomplished. We have seen horses win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and then fail to win the Belmont. We saw Amberjack take the first two legs of the Big Apple Triple then fail to win the Albany Stakes, that third in a row. Some call it “the bounce,” and some will say that it has become difficult to do because horses simply don’t run enough. I do believe that horses should run more, but the Pletchers, McGaugheys and Motts know more about training the modern horse than I certainly do.
Verrazano came into the Travers with a two race winning streak. He dominated at Monmouth Park, winning the Pegasus Stakes, and then trounced all comers in the Haskell. In his attempt for three in a row, he never really did show up. To Pletcher’s credit, he offered no excuses, and jockey Johnny Velasquez was brutally honest, saying that his colt “just didn’t show up.” Perhaps trying to win three in a row was a bit too much for Verrazano. The one thing we did find out is that the colt doesn’t like races over 1 1/8 miles. One would have to believe that Verrazano may be pointed to races from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles going forward. I can already see him in the Met Mile on Memorial Day 2014 at Belmont.
Palace Malice was on a two race winning streak and he, too, was in line for that elusive third in a row. The colt does have a bit of an excuse as he was compromised at the start causing him to play catch up the rest of the way. To his credit, the colt dug in and was a game fourth. He showed good fight, good determination, and though he didn’t get his hat trick, he may have something to say before the year is over. He may show up next in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on September 28 where he would get the opportunity to face older horses for the first time, and if the BC Classic is the goal, you might as well go up against the older horses sooner than later.
Orb came in as the wild card and he leaves in terrific shape. The colt ran well and many thought he was poised to overtake Moreno and win the race. He showed grit and ran impressively after a 77 day layoff. It was that layoff that probably did him in. Should McGaughey have run him prior to the Travers? Would that have helped him? We’ll never know the answer, but the colt ran well enough to encourage his handlers that he may have better days of ahead of him. The word from his camp is that JC Gold Cup is next, a perfect prep race for the BC Classic and like Palace Malice, the opportunity to face older horses.
It’s probably safe to say that Golden Soul, Romansh, War Dancer and Transparent will not be capturing America’s fancy anytime soon. Golden Soul’s performance proved that his second place finish in the Kentucky Derby was nothing more than passing tiring horses late, and Transparent, who many thought could be that special longshot, was last. But, rather than knock these horses and their connections, they should be applauded for entering and making the Travers a nine horse field of intrigue rather than a five horse one. There are future races for these colts, so let’s root for them to get back on track. The Pennsylvania Derby, to me, is the perfect spot for them. It’s shorter at 1 1 /8, and the purse of $1 million is as good as the Travers, the Preakness and the Belmont and many other major races. Parx may not be the most impressive track in the nation, but give their management credit for offering a big day of racing on September 21. In addition to the PA Derby, the 1 1 /16 Cotillion is offered for three year old fillies. In 2012, both Travers winners—Alpha and Golden Ticket—ran the Derby only to see longshot Handsome Mike win the race and the $600,000 first place prize.
Other than Will Take Charge, the biggest winner from the Travers had to be Moreno. Sent off at 31-1, the colt went to the lead and held it for 1.248 miles. He was a jump away from a historic performance, and coupled with his third place finish in the Jim Dandy his connections have to think he has another big one—and perhaps a win—in him. The early word is that he too, is headed for the Pennsylvania Derby which would be great for Parx to once again, get the top two Travers finishers in its race. Part of training is finding places to run, and more importantly, finding places to run where there is a nice purse available for the taking. Parx would have something to hype and promote if both Will Take Charge and Moreno enter the PA Derby and because he won the Travers, a $50,000 appearance bonus would be paid to Will Take Charge.
The win by Will Take Charge further clouded the other race, that being top three year old and trying to answer that is downright silly. Sure, it made for an easy “Monday story”, but the season isn’t over is it? All the key players had answers. Pletcher said that nothing has been settled; McGaughey said that based on the year, Orb has been the best; Lukas said that Will Take Charge has to be considered because he’s peaking at the right time. Easy Monday story, harder question to answer. The best answer is to let it all play out. If all the top contenders never run again in 2013, then there’s a tough decision to make. But, that won’t happen. One of these fine colts will go forward, one will emerge and one will get voted the best three year old for 2013.
But, we have a fine fall to look forward to first.