Welcome to this week’s edition of America’s Best Racing’s Main Track. Each Tuesday in this space we spotlight the most meaningful story of the past week, detailing news that stands out because of its importance or perhaps the emotional response it generates.
Looking ahead, if you believe there’s a story this week that should be featured in next Tuesday’s edition of the Main Track, let us know by tweeting it to @ABRLive using the hashtag #ABRMainTrack.
As for this week, our story involves how a grand streak appears to be headed to an end.
First it was California Chrome.
Then it was American Pharoah.
Last year it was Arrogate.
For the last three years, horse racing has been fortunate to have a superstar 3-year-old colt to embrace and relish, to watch him dominate his division like a great champion.
Now, the odds have caught up with the sport.
After three spectacular years, we are in the midst of a rather ordinary season for the Triple Crown crop. Yet it’s not necessarily bad news.
As much as there might not be a future Hall of Famer among them who will be fondly remembered decades from now, the sophomore class is generating a different type of excitement.
With brilliance giving way to parity, there’s at least more intrigue and more of a reason to dig into your wallet and head to the betting windows. As evidenced by this past weekend.
After three Triple Crown races produced three different winners, the Haskell and Jim Dandy both featured surprising wins by horses who had little impact during the five weeks that gave us the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
The Jim Dandy at Saratoga had the star power with a glittering showdown between Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing, with division leadership hanging in the balance.
Instead Good Samaritan, who had never raced on dirt before, posted a decisive win, with Always Dreaming third and Cloud Computing fifth in the small field of five.
In the Haskell at Monmouth Park, the star attractions were Belmont Stakes runner-up Irish War Cry and the undefeated Timeline. Both fizzled.
Irish War Cry was fourth and the favored Timeline fifth in a field of seven as Girvin, who was 13th in the Kentucky Derby, closed with a rush to win by a nose over McCraken in a thrilling finish to the 50th Haskell. Practical Joke was a half-length behind them in third.
It meant sheer confusion for Eclipse Award voters, but the connections of the winning horses were not about to complain about that or question the quality of this year’s 3-year-old class.
“I think there’s a lot of depth in this 3-year-old year crop. I really do,” Brad Grady, the owner of Girvin, said in a Thoroughbred Racing Commentary story. “There’s no American Pharoah is what people are saying.”
Yes, the only American Pharoah at Monmouth on Sunday was the one who won the computerized race between all-time great Haskell winners to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the race.
Yet that depth has surely resonated with handicappers. For anyone wise enough to land on Good Samaritan and Girvin, the returns for a $2 bet were $19.20 and $20.40, respectively. Some New Jersey residents fortunate enough to lock in a Haskell wager on the Betfair.com Exchange at the right time even received 35-1 huge odds on the victorious Girvin.
The exactas even paid $145 in the Jim Dandy and $154.80 in the Haskell despite the small field.
So as much we’ve yet to find a 3-year-old male with an overflowing amount of charisma, there are a few more chances for it to happen.
Perhaps the launching pad will be the Travers, like it was last year when Arrogate took center stage, or the Pennsylvania Derby or even the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which has been captured by a 3-year-old the last three years – and it would have been four straight if Will Take Charge didn’t lose by a nose in 2013.
Realistically that seems like a longshot at this moment, but it also means the Aug. 26 Travers at Saratoga should feature a large and evenly matched field of hopefuls that will offer a great betting opportunity and, if another longshot surfaces, the kind of payouts that are truly rewarding.
So there’s no California Chrome. No American Pharoah. No Arrogate.
Oh well. A streak that good had to end sometime. You can bet on that with gusto – just as you should when the next major 3-year-old stakes rolls around.
The Also-Eligible List
Here are some of the other stories that made for a lively week in the U.S. Thoroughbred racing industry: