Now that the Triple Crown series is in the books, it is time to take a final look back at what transpired this spring and look forward to an exciting second half of 2016.
Kentucky Derby 2016 winner Nyquist – photo by Eclipse Sportswire
Nyquist tracked distance challenged Danzing Candy and the race was over when that one got tired. Exaggerator got on track too late to catch his nemesis but ran a quality race to finish a clear 2nd. Gun Runner was always in a good contending position but could not quite see out the trip and held off Mohaymen and Suddenbreakingnews to secure the show by a head.
Hard to believe that the Top 4 betting choices finished 1-2-3-4. The Derby has become a race for stalkers and the betting favorite has won every time since they switched to the points system.
Forwardly placed runners dominated the main track races at CD on Oaks/Derby Day. The Derby fractions seemed to be really fast but that was more a function of a lightning quick racing strip.
Pace makes the race and everything pointed to Exaggerator turning the tables on Nyquist in Baltimore. Not that he needed the help, but Exaggerator moved up on the wet track and jockey Kent Desormeaux was the only rider brave enough to put his horse on the rail in the slop and his smooth inside/outside trip was bold and decisive. Kent D also put the versatile Exaggerator in the race earlier and he always looked like a winner.
Cherry Wine got past Nyquist late for the place. The Derby winner, while obviously a talented horse, was over hyped because of his unblemished record and people were spoiled by Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh last year. The Triple Crown is no easy feat and pretenders to the throne are usually exposed in one of the three distance tests. Nyquist came out of the Preakness with a fever and was forced to pass the Belmont Stakes.
Everything worked out wonderfully for WinStar Farm. Gettysburg the rabbit did his job carving out honest splits and forcing Destin to work long and hard to get past him. Meanwhile, Creator was biding his time and getting an outstanding ground saving ride by Irad Ortiz Jr. In the last desperate stride before the wire, Creator got his nose down to edge Destin, who ran way too good to lose.
Japanese war horse Lani finished a wide 3rd and lost countless lengths running 80 feet farther than Creator.
Governor Malibu was blocked by a tiring Gettysburg and finished an unlucky 4th.
With different horses winning all three Triple Crown series races, the second half of the year is wide open and below are five horses worth following as the year progresses.
Jarrod Horak’s Top 5 3-year-olds to Watch (second half of 2016)
(1) MOHAYMEN (Tapit – Justwhistledixie, by Dixie Union)
Trainer (Kiaran Mclaughlin) – Owner (Shadwell Stable)
Comments: He was my one and only top ranked Derby contender since the start of my list last September. He won his first five starts including four grade two scores. In the Florida Derby, he raced wide on a wet track he did not handle and ended up 4th in his first career loss as Nyquist ruled the day. It rained late in the afternoon on Kentucky Derby Day and he was not handling the track early and was much farther back than normal on a day when forwardly placed runners dominated. To his credit, he kept plugging away and ended up 4th, a head behind show finisher Gun Runner. After the Derby, McLaughlin said he would get a rest and point to the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga.
2. GIFT BOX (Twirling Candy – Special Me, by Unbridled’s Song)
Trainer (Chad Brown) – Owner (W. S. Farish)
Latest Workout: 4f in :48.58 (6/50) at Belmont Park on June 18.
Comments: He was on my early Derby list for a good stretch. He graduated vs. Matt King Coal, another horse I have liked for quite some time and currently on the sidelines with a non-displaced hairline fracture of his pelvis. After breaking his maiden, Gift Box finished 3rd to Mohaymen in the G2 Remsen last fall and did not resurface until easily winning an Optional Claiming race at Belmont Park on May 26. He received a 98 BSF for his win on May 26 and could make some noise in sophomore stakes races later this year.
3. UNIFIED (Candy Ride – Union City, by Dixie Union)
Trainer (James Jerkens) – Owner (Centennial Farms)
Latest Workout: 3f in :36.20 (2/14) at Belmont Park (dirt training) on June 16.
Comments: 3-for-3 lifetime with back-to-back stakes wins in the G3 Bay Shore and G2 Peter Pan. His patient trainer Jimmy Jerkens thought the Belmont Stakes was too much too soon and he opted to wait for the G3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on Sunday, June 19. It remains to be seen if he will be most effective routing or sprinting but he is fast and talented and appears to have a bright future.
(4) AMERICAN FREEDOM (Pulpit – Gottcha Last, by Pleasant Tap)
Trainer (Bob Baffert) – Owner (Gary and Mary West)
Latest Workout: 6f bullet in 1:11.80 (1/18) at Santa Anita on June 19.
Comments: Followed up a visually impressive maiden win on a wet track at Santa Anita with a very disappointing 6th place finish in the G3 Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs. He bounced back with a determined length victory (came again) in the Sir Barton Stakes (muddy, sealed track) on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico. I am not sure what Bob Baffert has in mind for his lightly raced, promising colt but he has won the Haskell many times and that could be his summertime goal.
(5) DESTIN (Giant’s Causeway – Dream of Summer, by Siberian Summer)
Trainer (Todd Pletcher) – Owner (Twin Creeks Racing Stables, LLC and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners)
Comments: He was very good in the Sam F Davis and Tampa Bay Derby this winter and his connections decided to enter the Kentucky Derby off an eight week freshening. He made a bid before flattening out and finishing 6th on the first Saturday in May. His next start would come in the Belmont Stakes and he battled WinStar Farms rabbit and former stablemate Gettysburg throughout but WinStar closer Creator nipped him in the final jump. He ran too good to lose in the test of Champions and he is still fresh for the second half of the year.