It was only a couple months ago that we were all talking about how deep and talented this year’s 3-year-old crop was — until Justify came around and turned the Triple Crown into a one-horse show. While Justify basks in the glory, the other 3-year-olds in the division continue to march on and should not be overlooked.
Justify won 6 races in a span of 16 weeks go from maiden to Triple Crown champ and has, thus, earned a well-deserved rest until much later in the season, when he is expected to target the Breeders’ Cup Classic. While we await his return, let’s take a look at what the rest of the division has planned for the remainder of the spring and summer. After all, perhaps there is a challenger in the bunch that could compete with Justify later this year. Remember that even the mighty American Pharoah lost in the Travers at Saratoga when he returned for the second-half of his 3-year-old campaign to a much-less-talented Keen Ice. Is there another Keen Ice-type upsetter lurking out there? Stick around to find out.
Let’s start out with the highly-regarded European Mendelsohn, who won the UAE Derby in the Dubai World Cup undercard by 18 lengths only to have a disastrous trip in the Kentucky Derby and finish last. Mendelsohn’s second-half plans include a comeback in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on July 7, followed by the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22 and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The other Euro to make hay in the first half of this season was surprise Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski, who is now trained by Chad Brown. Gronk is currently being pointed for the Travers with one prior prep race either coming in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 28 or in the 1 ¼-mile Belmont Derby on grass on July 7.
Many other horses (including possibly Justify) will not surprisingly also be targeting the Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 25. Kentucky Derby runner-up and Preakness pace-presser Good Magic, also trained by Chad Brown, has planned a top-class summer campaign including a trip to the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on July 29 followed by a trip to the Travers.
In addition to Chad Brown, there is no doubt that Todd Pletcher will be active and prominent throughout the second-half of the season. Pletcher will point Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso to the Travers, either by training all the way up to the race or with a prep in the Jim Dandy. Florida Derby winner Audible suffered a gluteal strain after the Kentucky Derby and missed the rest of the Triple Crown, but has been cleared to resume training and should point to either the Haskell and/or the Travers. Pletcher won the Easy Goer Stakes on the Belmont undercard with Prince Lucky. That horse will be pointed to the Curlin Stakes at The Spa on July 27.
Bill Mott, who trains Belmont third-place finisher Hofburg, and D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Preakness runner-up Bravazo, each said their horses will come with them to Saratoga and point for the Jim Dandy and/or the Travers.
Remember when Justify wasn’t the only undefeated contender heading to Churchill Downs for the Run for the Roses? That other unbeaten challenger was Magnum Moon, who seemingly disappeared after finishing a disappointing 19th in the Kentucky Derby. Magnum Moon is back in training, however, and will be ready to re-appear this summer starting in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont. The Dwyer is also the next target for Gotham Stakes winner and Wood Memorial runner-up Enticed.
Many handicappers and bettors were surprised that Lexington Stakes winner My Boy Jack was bet down to second-favorite in the Kentucky Derby en route to a fifth-place finish. My Boy Jack will make his return in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. Other sophomores making much less-ambitious summer plans include Kentucky Derby eighth-place finisher Lone Sailor and Derby 13th-place finisher Flameaway, who are both pointing to the Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 23.
On the West Coast, the biggest news will be when and where Bob Baffert’s early-season 3-year-old standout McKinzie will make his return. McKinzie is returning to training and expected to show up at Monmouth in the Haskell for Baffert, who has dominated the race over the course of the past decade or so. Sure, Monmouth fans on the Jersey shore would love to see Justify, but that is highly unlikely to happen and McKinzie will make a very nice consolation prize if he does, indeed, make the race.
Earlier this year McKinzie was nearly inseparable from multiple Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro, but, since then, the latter has fallen on hard times — first, with a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and then with a last-place flop in the Met Mile at Belmont. No further plans have been made for him at this time.
Another horse Baffert could possibly consider for the Haskell is Kentucky Derby 10th-place finisher Solomini, but he will need to improve off of a disappointing loss without an excuse when third in the Affirmed at Santa Anita on June 10. The winner of that race was Peter Eurton trainee Draft Pick, who needed six starts to break his maiden, but now has reeled off two in a row and is pointing toward the Los Alamitos Derby on July 14. Eurton’s other 3-year-olds include Peter Pan runner-up Core Beliefs, who is aiming for the Ohio Derby, and his highly-regarded Cool Bobby, who is now being pointed for a possible start in the Dwyer at Belmont after surgery to remove ankle chips.
Kentucky Derby longshot fourth-place finisher Instilled Regard has been transferred away from trainer Jerry Hollendorfer in order to join Chad Brown’s barn at Belmont for a possible summer campaign.
The Triple Crown and the first half of the season is now complete in the 3-year-old division, and obviously Justify has emerged head and shoulders above the rest of the crop. Who will be the 3-year-old(s) to emerge during the second half of the season?
And will any of those turn into this year’s Keen Ice as the horse that eventually knocks off the Triple Crown Champion in a race such as the Travers? It should be a fascinating summer — even without Justify — and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the Travers.