Championship honors in America’s glamour division are up for grabs. That’s what happens when each leg of the Triple Crown is won by a different horse. Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice all took turns looking good and beating each other throughout the spring. With no superiority established, the three-year-old male division is set for an exciting summer and fall which, one way or another, will decide the Eclipse Award. Front and center is Saratoga’s venerable Travers Stakes. Always an important test in the division, this year, the Mid-Summer Derby may not only be a playoff for the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, but it might just be the ultimate decider in the most watched of all our equine championship categories. As of today, Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice are on a collision course … destination Saratoga.
A few short months ago, Orb could not have been riding any higher. The Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby winner was the singular talk of the Churchill Downs backstretch as the racing world descended on Louisville en masse. Finally providing veteran trainer, Shug McGaugey that elusive Kentucky Derby victory, the son of Malibu Moon splashed down the sloppy stretch like a special kind of colt. Arriving at Baltimore as the horse, Orb had his bubble burst by a speedy little D. Wayne Lukas colt in the Preakness as an overwhelming favorite. His third place finish in the Belmont, again as the favorite, left his lead in the division tenuous at best.
Despite living in a ‘what have you done for me lately’ world, Orb still must be considered the leader of the division. His 4-for-6 record, three graded stakes wins, and blanket of roses, leaves the Janney and Phipps charge ahead of the rest, but just barely so. Freshened since his Triple Crown campaign, Orb is starting to gear up again at the friendly confines of Fair Hill Training Center. Hoping to have his batteries fully charged, the Derby winner looks to come into the Travers fresh and fit. We already know he can handle the Saratoga strip, and that the ten furlongs of the test is to his liking, so it would be no surprise to see him re-establish his place atop the division.
Oxbow, meanwhile, is not waiting for the Travers. Not with a million dollars at Monmouth on the line, and Lukas as his trainer. A bit of a hard luck story after a smashing win in the LeComte early in the year, Oxbow rebounded quite nicely from a sixth place finish at Churchill Downs. A strong front running victory in the Preakness, while expertly guided by his half-century old pilot, Gary Stevens, brought the son of Awesome Again back into the limelight.
It may have been in a losing performance in the Belmont; however, that truly demonstrates what the Calumet runner has on the inside. The admirable and gutsy second place Belmont performance, after attacking a fast pace early, shows what kind of colt he is.The well traveled speedster has certainly proven his mettle in his last two efforts, but with a record of only two-for-seven this year it's hard to call him definitively the best of the crop. That is until we see what happens this summer, when Oxbow will not only look to win one million dollar race, but two. Back on the worktab at Churchill Downs, he will be the horse they all have to catch, whether you are talking about the Jersey Shore, or the all-important Travers Stakes.
Last but not least, there is Palace Malice. Long considered a horse with great promise and potential, the good looking son of Curlin passed the Test of Champions in convincing fashion. His impressive win in the Belmont Stakes may have been only the second victory in his career, but the performance was strong enough to consider the May foal a legitimate threat to become the best of his crop.
With a handful of excuses in tow, including a pace much too fast to handle after being equipped with blinkers in the Derby, Palace Malice arrived in New York full of questions. He impressed all in the mornings before the Belmont; however, and then finally lived up to his advanced press clippings, and then some, with a smart 3 ¼ length score to close the Triple Crown series. The Dogwood owned and Todd Pletcher trained colt is once again impressing morning railbirds of late, this time at Saratoga, and with a start in the upcoming Jim Dandy setting him up perfectly for the summit at the Travers, the late developer might just be the one to beat come August the 24th.