Orb - Despite riding a three-race losing streak, the championship is still Orb’s to lose. His excellent form in Florida, combined with winning the most prestigious race in America, is more than anyone else in the division can boast. A win in either the Jockey Club Gold Cup or Breeders’ Cup Classic would almost certainly clinch it, with the only possible caveat to that being if one of his closest competitors beats him while winning the Classic. If Orb loses both, his connections will need to hope another three-year-old could not win either, as well.
Wins (4) Kentucky Derby, Florida Derby, Fountain of Youth.
Palace Malice - It does not matter that this is the one that I think is the best; with only two wins this year, he simply needs more to win a championship. His bad luck and narrow losses do not, and should not, mean a heckuva lot when the year-end awards are handed out. The good news is that it is still all out on the table for the Dogwood runner. Much like Orb, a victory in either the Jockey Club Gold Cup or Breeders’ Cup would likely catapult him to the top of the heap.
Wins (2) Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy
Verrazano - The best overall record, and most graded stakes wins don’t mean much when you run up the track in your two most important races on the schedule. Perhaps distance challenged, Verrazano might be best suited to targeting the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. An impressive win there, while the older horses win the Jockey Club and Classic, and Verrazano would likely get plenty of late support for the award, much like happened with Caleb’s Posse. Would that be enough for the championship? Food for thought.
Wins (6) Haskell, Wood Memorial, Tampa Bay Derby, Pegasus Stakes
Will Take Charge - It sounds like Lukas is leaning towards a Pennsylvania Derby run before the BC Classic. A win over good horses there combined with losses by Orb and Palace Malice in the JCGC would bring the Travers winner to all but equal footing with Orb as the leader of the division. Considering the momentum he would have, it could come down to which horse runs the best race at Santa Anita on the first Saturday in November.
Wins (3) Travers, Rebel Stakes, Smarty Jones
Departing - This terrific gelding from the Al Stall barn probably does not belong in this conversation as of yet. Impressive wins in the Illinois and West Virginia Derby were visually appealing, but only a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic would bring the Claiborne runner into the forefront of the division. More likely he will add another Derby or two, starting with the Super Derby on September 7, before making a more serious run at a championship next year.
Wins (4) Illinois Derby, West Virginia Derby, Texas Heritage Stakes
Moreno - Eric Guillot has become my favorite quotable conditioner, and since Moreno was gelded and headed East, he has a legitimate horse to crow about. With only one stakes win, though, there is only one possible scenario for the speedster to have a shot to rally late and scoop up the year-end award, and that would be winning both the Pennsylvania Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Now if he had held his Travers lead just a few more yards, it would have been a whole lot more likely to see the trophy dripping with a bit of bear grease.
Wins (2) Dwyer Stakes.
Oxbow - Unfortunately, the Preakness winner is on the shelf for the rest of the year. I don’t see any scenario that could end with an Eclipse Award for Oxbow.
Wins (2) Preakness, LeComte Stakes