When Ruler on Ice crossed the line first in the 2011 Belmont Stakes (Gr.I), only one thing was made perfectly clear: The entire three-year-old division this year is more muddled than ever.
However, the end of the Triple Crown means we suddenly turn our attention from those youngsters to the broader spectrum view of the Breeder’s Cup World Championships this November at Churchill Downs.
Now, the racing world will begin following everything from sprinters to turf mares to Classic contenders.
So, where do we start? For this article, let’s focus on the biggest race on Breeder’s Cup day: the $5 million Breeder’s Cup Classic.
The Triple Crown did nothing but severely confuse the heck out of anyone trying to see any direction for the Breeder’s Cup Classic. There are several talented three-year-olds which could have implications on the November race.
Obviously Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Ruler on Ice lead the pack, although frankly not by much. Other horses such as Stay Thirsty, Mucho Macho Man and Brilliant Speed could make an impact.
There are also horses we have not seen since May, such as Dialed In, Midnight Interlude and Toby’s Corner, one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby (Gr.I) before he was injured. And no one can forget last year’s powerhouse Breeder’s Cup Juvenile (Gr.I) winner Uncle Mo, who had a lackluster year as the early Derby favorite, but is currently recovering from a liver disease at WinStar Farm.
It is unclear if he will be able to make the Breeder’s Cup this year, but if he does, he could be a major factor.
There are also talented older horses out there, although there are no Zenyatta or Blame standouts this year. Tackleberry is one of the leading older horses and currently has a record of 6-3-0-0 for the year, including a victory in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (Gr.II). Luis Olivares both bred and owns this four year old son of Montbrook. In addition to Tackleberry, there is Havre de Grace, a mare who looks to follow in the footsteps of recent female giants Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.
Havre de Grace has been unbeatable so far this year and has won three consecutive graded stakes for the Fox Hill Farm team and trainer Larry Jones, in his first year back after retirement.
Bob Baffert has been hot in 2011, and the dude is loaded with his two Dudes. He has Game On Dude, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap (Gr.I). Game On Dude’s sire, Awesome Again, won the 1998 Classic.
Baffert also has First Dude, the giant son of Stephen Got Even who had a strong impact on last year’s Triple Crown races. He is still in the hunt and a leading contender for the Classic as he is currently coming off a win in the Alysheba Stakes (Gr.III) on Derby day.
This is just a few of the contenders currently aiming for the Classic. The older horse category has gone much the way of the three-year-olds this year, with different horses winning most of the major races so far.
Hopefully, the picture will become clearer in the five months between now and November as we still have most of the major prep races still to run.