It has been a strange journey this year for Paynter. After earning his diploma in his 5.5 furlong debut at the Great Race Place on Feb 18, he was thrown to the wolves in the G1 Santa Anita Derby but was hardly disgraced in a 4th place finish. He returned three weeks later to land the place in the G3 Derby Trial and easily captured an allowance event at Pimilco 21-days after his Churchill excursion.
Staying on a three week pattern, Bob Baffert’s late bloomer made all the running in the Belmont Stakes but could not hold off Union Rags. After a much needed rest, he garnered his first stakes victory in the Haskell and got sick shortly after that. He was missing in action for over a week but is now safely tucked away at Belmont Park. The Travers is sneaking up fast and it remains to be seen if he actually makes the gate for the Mid-Summer Derby.
I have only had two horses occupy the top spot in my Triple Crown trail and beyond rankings since I started my list September 2011. Alpha was number one until last year’s BC Juvenile and Union Rags took over until his retirement. Alpha retook the top spot after Union Rags was whisked away to the breeding shed and remains there with a little more than two weeks to go before the Travers.
Jarrod Horak’s Top Ten Active 3-Year-olds
1. Alpha (Bernardini) – Controlled the pace in smart Jim Dandy triumph over wet ground. He figured to get better with age and is peaking just in time for the Aug 25 Travers. He breezed 4f in :48.33 (7/39) at Saratoga on 8-9.
2. Paynter (Awesome Again) – Gave Union Rags a run for his money in the Test of Champions and looked great capturing his first graded stakes in the Haskell. He spiked a temp after the Haskell and could end up missing the Travers…stay tuned!
3. Neck ‘n Neck (Flower Alley) – Late bloomer made the grade in the Matt Winn under the Twin Spires on June 16 and gamely chased Alpha home in the Jim Dandy. He will try to turn the tables on the top dog in the upcoming Travers. Breezed 4f in :48.53 (17/48) at Saratoga on 8-8.
4. Nonios (Pleasantly Perfect) – His Haskell place finish proved that he was more than a SoCal synthetic wonder. He worked 4f in :47 (2/35) at Del Mar on 8-6 and Johnny V will ride him in the Travers.
5. Summer Front (War Front) – Ran his turf record to 5-for-5 in sharp Duluth win at the Spa on July 22. He is expected to challenge fellow turf win machine Silver Max in the G1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park on 8-18. Breezed 5f in :58.55 (2/43) at Saratoga (turf training) on 8-8.
6. Bodemeister (Empire Maker) – The Derby-Preakness bridesmaid spiked a temperature and missed the Haskell. The BC Classic is reportedly his ultimate goal if his heath cooperates. No published works since 7-8.
7. Gemologist (Tiznow) – His perfect record went down the tubes in the Derby but he came out of that with a foot bruise. He set the pace before faltering in his needed Haskell return and could show up next in the PA Derby at Parx on 9-22.
8. Hansen (Tapit) – Juvenile champion got back on the beam in facile G3 Iowa Derby victory but Hero of Order got after him in the West Va. Derby and the Mike Maker trainee surprisingly offered little resistance in a disappointing 4th place effort. The Travers is still on the table but his stock is dropping rapidly.
9. Dullahan (Even The Score) – The Kentucky Derby show finisher flopped in the Belmont and Haskell. He loves Keeneland’s Polytrack and is a competent turf performer as well so hopefully Romans and company will avoid dirt at all costs. He is reportedly pointing to the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on 8-26.
10. Street Life (Street Sense) – He is 0-for-3 in graded ranks (4th Belmont, 3rd Peter Pan) but looked good winning listed Curlin last time and Broad Brush earlier this season. The Travers is next for the Chad Brown trainee and he breezed an easy 4f in :50.93 (40/42) at Saratoga on 8-9.