In the 29 previous runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, three-year-olds have made it to the winner’s circle a respectable nine times. From the championship proving efforts of A.P. Indy, Tiznow, and Curlin to the more surprising winning runs of Concern, Cat Thief, and Raven’s Pass, three-year-olds have not been afraid to come out on top over their more experienced rivals. From the near misses of Gate Dancer and Alysheba, to the memorable one-two classic of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, the younger boys have consistently been a factor in America’s richest race.
The last four years have not been quite as kind to sophomore runners, though, with none being able to crack the top two on the wire. History seems to say that the younger set either needs a real standout or two to assert their superiority, or to take advantage of a weaker older group. Neither scenario readily jumps out as reality in next week’s big race. While the three-year-olds have taken turns beating each other, leaving the Eclipse Award still very much up in the air, the older male cast in this year’s classic is full of highly decorated, and experienced horses that have proven on their best day, a Classic win is not out of their grasp.
All this may not bode well for this year’s sophomore contenders in the Classic, Palace Malice, Will Take Charge, and Moreno, but on the other hand, maybe there is a third scenario. Let’s call it the Proud Truth Factor, in honor of the 1985 Classic winner. Perhaps you don’t remember the son of Graustark that well, but 28 years ago, he continued to improve and physically mature as a three-year-old, to the point of stepping up to the tall task of defeating one of the deepest fields in Classic history. Do any of these colts have the Proud Truth Factor?
Palace Malice - In a season full of bad luck early on, the son of Curlin has moved into a position where he can be easily called the top three-year-old male in the nation. Solid wins in the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy were breakthroughs for the May foal, but strong performances, albeit in losing efforts, in both the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup, confirmed that he has left his checkered past of this winter and spring in the rearview mirror. Coming to hand quickly for trainer, Todd Pletcher, sometime just after his biological third birthday, Palace Malice is only a poor start in the Travers, and a freak performance by Ron the Greek last time, away from being an authentic Horse of the Year candidate. He possesses the tactical speed to put himself in a good position at Santa Anita, and perhaps is just one more small step forward away from being the tenth three-year-old to discover Classic glory.
Will Take Charge - If Palace Malice has fumbled away his chances of late, then Will Take Charge is the linebacker there to pounce on the ball. Brave, early season victories in the Smarty Jones and Rebel Stakes were overshadowed by a disappointing series of results in the Triple Crown. He had a big excuse at Churchill Downs, but never seem too interested in either the Preakness or the Belmont. Since then, though, a light bulb seems to have enlightened the way for the impressive physical specimen. Perhaps the light came from the shedding of his blinkers, or maybe the big boy has just finally put it all together for D. Wayne Lukas. Whatever the case, he comes in as a now horse. A fast closing second in the Jim Dandy, a late burst to win the Travers, and a powerful Pennsylvania Derby win, now have him on the fast track. Things only get tougher in the Classic, but one things for sure, if Will Take Charge finds himself in the mix at the eighth pole, I’m going to like his chances.
Moreno - Certainly the easiest of the trio to discount, Moreno has put together a string of very good performances since being gelded in the spring. Like him or not, his colorful trainer, Eric Guillot, has continued to believe in the young gelding, and you have to wonder if a signature win is not somewhere in his immediate future. With all the expected speed of the Classic, it is a little hard to imagine how he can win this, but he is working like a bear over the usually speed favoring Santa Anita main track. Also remember how brave he was in the Travers, and how close he was to taking that big one all the way. Call him what you want, a long shot, a wild card, but stranger things have happened.