1) Palace Malice - With wins in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, New Orleans Handicap, Westchester, and Met Mile, the 2013 Belmont winner has moved to the head of the class. Tardy BC break compromised his chances last year, but this year he should be ready to run his best, much like his sire, Curlin, did in 2007.
2) Will Take Charge - Only one win in five starts so far this year, but as the Foster reminded us, he really only starts going after they’ve run at least a mile. At nine furlongs he’s vulnerable, but at ten furlongs, he is a major threat. We all remember how ever so close he came to getting the job done in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at three.
3) Mucho Macho Man - The big six-year-old almost won in 2012, and he did win in 2013. Triple M has been excellent at Santa Anita, as well as at ten furlongs in his career. If he can get over his hind ankle issues sooner than later, there is good reason to believe he will be right back in the thick of things in the Classic once again.
4) Game On Dude - The 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up has disappointed in each of the last two editions of America’s richest race, but otherwise the tireless gelding continues to rack up the stakes wins. The Big Cap winner is the one to beat in Saturday’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
5) California Chrome - America’s glamour boy took the Triple Crown by storm all the way to the final furlong or two of the Belmont Stakes. Getting some R&R back home in California, he should be ready to go this fall with every chance to prove that he can compete with the best older horses in the nation.
6) Lea - Through February 9, this was the best horse in the country. Sparkling wins in the Hal’s Hope and Grade 1 Donn Handicap earned him that status, but physical setbacks have kept him away from the races since. Much like Cigar, Lea exploded for trainer Bill Mott after the turf to dirt switch. Back in training at Saratoga, this is one talented horse that should not be forgotten on the road to November 1.
7) Moonshine Mullin - The headlines came pouring in … “Former Claimer Makes Good!” “Moonshine Served Warm in the Foster!” “Five in a Row for Mullin!” At the very least, he is a very good story that has spiced up racing’s mid-season. He might just be more than that, though. The former Jim Dandy runner-up has clearly put it all together, and is deserving of serious respect moving forward.
8) Last Gunfighter - The good news is he finished ahead of #1 on this list in last year’s Classic. The bad news is he has never proven that he can get the job done against a field this deep and talented. Having said that, his return race was brave, he likes the distance, and he really knows how to win. Further improvement this year puts him in the mix.
9) Tonalist - With many of the best three-year-olds from the Spring in need of time off, this one appears to be going decidedly in the other direction. He’s tactical, he’s lightly raced, and now he’s a classic winner. If he passes his summer exams at Saratoga, there’s no reason to believe he can’t graduate to older competition.