Awesome Again never ran in the Belmont Stakes. At the time, the lightly raced colt wasn’t quite prepared for the great test, but within a few months after the terrific renewal of 1997, the son of Deputy Minister had impressive wins in the Queen’s Plate and Jim Dandy on his resume. He lost his final two races that year, but returned as a four-year-old with a perfect six-for-six season that culminated with an upset victory against a stellar field in the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Although never rewarded with a championship in America, the Canadian-bred star was quickly ushered into the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.
As a sire, Awesome Again has matched his excellence on the racetrack, and has become one of the best stallions in North America. Standing at Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, the 19-year-old stallion made history back in 2004 when Wilko and Ghostzapper surged to victory at Lone Star Park. Awesome Again remains the only Classic winner to sire two Breeders’ Cup winners in one card. Siring a Horse of the Year like Ghostzapper in your first crop, there may be no place to go but down, but Awesome Again has flourished since with more than a dozen grade 1 winners. Much like dear old dad, his offspring have no problem in getting the distance. This combination of excellence and the ability go long makes Awesome Again as a perfect candidate to sire a Belmont Stakes winner. It hasn’t happened yet, but as they say, he’s definitely knocking on the door.
Game On Dude entered the 2010 Test of Champions as a relative unknown. With just five lifetime starts, and only a win in the Lone Star Park Derby as a calling card, not a lot was expected out of the Bob Baffert charge. Sent off at 17-1, bettors let the speedy son of Awesome Again go as the 9th choice in the field of 12. While he could not quite muster an in-the-money finish, the plucky gelding did succeed in proving two things that day. First off, he gave clear indication of his ability to be one tough hombre to pass in the stretch, a toughness that has been validated many times over the last three years. Despite contesting the pace from the outset, Game On Dude tried hard the entire way. Not only did his fourth place finish, beaten just over two lengths, outrun his odds, but it also gave further validation to his sire’s ability to pass on his ability to get the distance to his offspring.
Last year it was Paynter who carried the sire line of Awesome Again proudly into the Belmont Stakes, and like Game On Dude, he proved to be very game down the long Belmont stretch. Also a lightly raced entrant, Paynter was shown much more respect by bettors, and he lived up to their faith. Only a late surge by the talented Union Rags prevented a front-running voctory for the Zayat Stables runner. A romping win in the Haskell would follow, but soon after, colitis, laminitis in three hooves, and colon surgery to remove abscesses that were causing serious infection and fevers, pushed the colt to the brink of death. Thanks to his courage, and amazing medical treatment and care, the runner up in the 2012 Belmont Stakes survived it all. Today, the Secretariat “Vox Populai” award winner is back in training, and we all eagerly await his return to the races.
Now it’s Oxbow who comes into the Belmont with hopes of giving his fantastic sire a first win in the final leg of the Triple Crown. Unlike Game On Dude and Paynter, Oxbow comes into the Belmont not only a seasoned horse, but a Classic winner. Still, fresh off his wire-to-wire victory in the Preakness, the Lukas trainee struggles for respect, and many will write off his chances to carry his speed the full twelve furlongs of the Belmont. I’m not sure if we do it or not, but it seems to me considering everything that we know about Awesome Again and his sons, it would be a huge mistake to expect Oxbow to do anything but be a game and tough competitor in six days at Belmont Park.