Orb started the 2013 Triple Crown off with a bang when he gave Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey his first Kentucky Derby win (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
Tom Pedulla of America’s Best Racing asks – and answers – 10 questions following the end of the Triple Crown series.
Q: If you had to vote now, which horse is the best 3-year-old?
A: I would cast a shaky vote for Orb. His body of work in winning the Fountain of Youth (G2) and the Florida Derby (G1) leading into the spring classics is considerably better than Oxbow’s. He did win the Kentucky Derby, the race that towers above all others. That being said, the issue is far from decided.
Q: How good is Oxbow?
A: Very good. He held on well after sitting off scorching fractions set by Palace Malice in the Derby. His Preakness is tainted for me because he benefitted from a ridiculously slow pace, but he was a solid runnerup in the Belmont. He will have to win another big spot before I can be comfortable voting for him as top 3-year-old.
OXBOW WON THE PREAKNESS BEFORE FINISHING SECOND IN THE BELMONT
Q: Why did Orb run in the Belmont Stakes when there was no Triple Crown at stake?
A: Although the connections are closely linked to New York racing, I think this was a mistake. Orb competed deep into his 2-year-old season, breaking his maiden at Aqueduct on Nov. 24. He has already run six times this year with potential huge challenges ahead in the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Many horses are never the same after being asked to compete three times in five weeks in the Triple Crown series. We can only hope Orb will handle it well.
Q: Why did Todd Pletcher saddle five horses for the Derby, none for the Preakness and five for the Belmont?
A: One of the keys to Pletcher’s success is his determination to give his horses the time they need to recover from difficult races. He and Cot Campbell, head of Dogwood Stable, toyed with the idea of bringing back Palace Malice for the middle leg of the Triple Crown after his Derby flop. They resisted that temptation and were rewarded with a Belmont victory.
Q: How good is Palace Malice?
A: He still has much to prove. Remember, he won one race before he got the Belmont distance much better than the rest after the removal of blinkers, an experiment that went horribly awry when he was rank in the Derby. That being said, he broke his maiden by 3 ½ lengths at Saratoga, which may bode well for the Travers.
PALACE MALICE WAS THE THIRD PIECE OF THE TRIPLE CROWN PUZZLE IN 2013
Q: Which person benefitted the most from the spring classics?
A: The knee-jerk answer is jockey Gary Stevens, 50. He justified his comeback following a seven-year layoff with a calculating ride aboard Oxbow in the Preakness. The better answer, though, is Rosie Napravnik. She is the first woman to compete in all three legs and produced the highest finish by a female rider in the Derby (fifth with Mylute) and the Preakness (third, Mylute). Napravnik and the filly Unlimited Budget also displayed girl power in combining for sixth in the Belmont.
Q: Was it a good idea to run Unlimited Budget in the Belmont?
A: Even before the Belmont, this did not look like a good idea. Her third-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks did not bode well; her pedigree on the dam side was suspect for getting the mile-and-a-half. It should not have surprised ambitious owner Mike Repole that she was never a major player.
Q: What happened to Derby runnerup Golden Soul?
A: It appears that the sloppy track at Churchill Downs was a huge help to him on Derby Day. Trainer Dallas Stewart acknowledged that the Run for the Roses took a lot out of him and, despite skipping the Preakness, he struggled home ninth on a fast track in the Belmont.
Q: Which horse was the greatest disappointment?
A: Goldencents, partly owned by legendary basketball coach Rick Pitino, appeared to be primed to run big after he won the Santa Anita Derby. Yet he was eased in finishing 17th on the first Saturday in May. He was never a Preakness factor after jockey Kevin Krigger inexplicably took him back while Oxbow all but crawled on the lead.
GOLDENCENTS IN THE SANTA ANITA DERBY
Photo courtesy Benoit & Associates
Q: Any 3-year-old’s still under the radar?
A: Withers and Louisiana Derby victor Revolutionary bears watching. He was a solid third in the Kentucky Derby before failing to last the Belmont marathon and settling for fifth there, the only time in eight career starts he failed to crack the top three. His future still looks bright.