April 23, 2018

And the leader of the three-year-old males is…No one

The title race for three-year-old male champion is still up in the air after this weekend's action (Harold Roth/Horsephotos.com)

Observers hoping that some clarity in the three-year-old male division would result from this weekend’s Jim Dandy (G2) and Haskell Invitational (G1) had to have been as thrilled as the connections of the top two betting choices in both races, all of whom unceremoniously bombed in the features at Saratoga and Monmouth Park.

With classic winners Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing running each other into the ground in the Jim Dandy, and Timeline and Irish War Cry doing the same in the Haskell, it opened the door for Good Samaritan and Girvin to throw their hats into the three-year-old championship ring, which is quickly turning into one of those old-fashioned battle royals usually seen in professional wrestling.

Who will be the last horse standing in the equine squared circle? A large chunk of the contenders are sure to be eliminated after the Travers (G1) in four weeks, though I doubt a title can or will be clinched in that spot. With the possible exception of the progressive West Coast, all that could lay claim to division leadership with a win in the Travers would still have enough negatives on their CV to offset the positives.

If forced to pick a champion now, I’d be greatly tempted to vote for that old reliable Abstain. Thankfully, ballots aren’t due for awhile yet and there’s lots more racing ahead.

I would argue, though, that any pretensions Always Dreaming had to being a division leader has surely gone up in smoke with his performances in the Preakness (G1) and Jim Dandy. Sure, he probably would garner a plurality if the vote were today, but it’s not and he hasn’t performed like a champion in nearly three months. It makes no sense to claim he’s still on top when all available evidence suggests his stock is nose-diving and the division in general is clear as mud.

In addition to not being too bullish on the Kentucky Derby winner’s chances of ultimately garnering this title (a la Nyquist last year), Irish War Cry also seems to keep taking two steps back for every one step forward. I’m not keen on his chances whether he pursues the Travers or not. Cloud Computing did himself no favors in the Jim Dandy while McCraken, a terrific second in the Haskell, is still looking for a signature win on the year.

The aforementioned West Coast or possibly Tapwrit can seize nominal control with a score in the Midsummer Derby. Good Samaritan, too. And how about that Irap? Who would have predicted that?

Can this be the first year in more than 30 when a grass performer could be considered a viable candidate for this title? This division has always seemed immune from the whims of an electorate that has been, ahem, “creative” in some of its votes in the last 20 years for divisions like three-year-old filly and older male. I don’t ever believe it would happen, but give Oscar Performance a few more easy leads and look out.

When you come right down to it, the uncertainty in the division this late in the season, though exciting and interesting in a way, makes Mastery’s premature retirement and Classic Empire’s foot and training woes even more bittersweet. The latter is not yet out of the championship picture himself, but the sand in the hourglass is quickly draining and winning a race as deep as the Travers off such a long layoff looks like a long shot for a horse who needs more actual wins than moral victories.

Cross your fingers and hope the 2017 version of Will Take Charge or Arrogate emerges…and soon.

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