So here we are at the end of another great racing season. It’s this time of year when we all put on our fortune-telling hats and try to determine who will win the awards in certain categories. There might not be a more difficult category to dissect than top three-year-old! While Royal Delta looks to be a sure bet on the female side, we have such a selection to choose from on the male side; The Factor, Shackleford, Wilburn, Ruler on Ice, Stay Thirsty, and Uncle Mo to name a few. My choice for top three year old is Caleb’s Posse. Obviously this horse likes to run at shorter distances better, but I think his body of work is enough for him to earn this award. First off, this horse has won HALF of all of his races! And these races were not non-winners of two claimers either. Second, he got his start at Arlington Park, which rules.
Starting off as a two year old he hit the board in five of six starts. Sure, he broke his maiden at Arlington Park, but had a very good third place finish in the Arlington-Washington Futurity (even had the lead at one point in the one-turn mile), then reeled off two more in a row including an allowance race at Keeneland and a huge victory in the Clever Trevor. So he had a good base for his three year old campaign!
For his campaign as a three year old Caleb’s Posse won the Smarty Jones easily on a good track at Oaklawn Park. Two starts later, even going two turns which is obviously not his forte, he finished second in the Rebel at Oaklawn at 24-1 while trying to catch speed-burner The Factor. (Note, he beats The Factor later…) The Arkansas Derby was obviously too long for him, and after that start the connections gave him a rest. This is when things start to get interesting. Returning to the track in June, he would go on to win his four of his next six starts! Let’s take a deeper dive into his accomplishments late in 2011: 1.Even at two turns, he took the Ohio Derby at Thistledown in June as the 2-1 favorite, sure he was well the best of that field, but you would have expected him to win this race, which he did. 2. Trying two turns again, he finished fourth in the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows. In this race however, he was near the back of the pack (as is his usual style of running) but at this distance he just couldn’t make up the room. His class showed as he was able to pass some of the rivals. The connections then sent him off on sprints for the next two races. 3. Caleb’s Posse really took to Saratoga over the late summer. He won the Grade 2 Amsterdam beating impressive company with the likes of Wine Police and To Honor And Serve. Then in impressive fashion, he took the Kings Bishop beating classy sprinters such as Flashpoint, Dominus, and even the “great” Uncle Mo. Pretty impressive, eh? And to add to that impressiveness, he set Beyers of 106 and 105 in upstate New York! 4. After chasing Wilburn and Shackelford in the Indiana Derby (two turns), he goes on to beat those very horses in the next race! And which race was that? Oh, only the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile! So on the world-stage Caleb’s Posse comes through with the very, very impressive victory! I mean, how can you beat that; at an event that showcases the best horses in the world? Should we list some of the classy runners who he beat in the Breeders’ Cup? I’m assuming you’re saying yes. •Wilburn •Shackelford •Trappe Shot •The Factor - Again, horses that he had once lost to before, he beats in the classiest race of the year.
So here Caleb’s Posse sits with a 50% win rate overall and a 10-5-1-1 record in 2011. This sprinter even won a two-turn Grade 3 stake to add to the resume! If this isn’t good enough to win top three year old, then I don’t know what is.
Interesting that you listed six candidates for Three-year-old male Champion and you failed to mention the horse that I think is the most deserving – Animal Kingdom. I must admit this debate is a bit tough for me, because I would actually love to see Caleb’s Posse get the award, but much like my handicapping, I debate with my head, not my heart. As I see it, one of these choices won the biggest race for three-year-olds and was consistently good in the most important races for sophomores, while the other was a big cut below unless running in one-turn races. Perhaps Caleb’s Posse is better placed in the Sprinter of the Year category, because he does not stack up with Animal Kingdom in the races that most matter. And by the way, Animal Kingdom also began his career at beautiful Arlington Park. Chris, this award is all about this year, and Animal Kingdom was unquestionably the best three-year-old male the first six months of the year. I don’t think anyone can argue that. He only had the chance to run five times in 2011, but they were all excellent: He just missed in a fast turf race to start the year. He easily defeated a big field in the Grade 3 Spiral in his next start. After that he rolled to an impressive victory in the Kentucky Derby, before following up with a huge rally to just miss in the Preakness. The Belmont did not work out, but he sure was gallant in defeat after being totally wiped out soon after the start. It’s a shame he did not get a chance to run anymore this year, and the door was open for another 3yo to knock him off the heap, but the truth is, no one did. If “the Arkansas Derby was obviously too long for him,” I am not sure how he gets this award. The five most influential races for 3yo champion have always been: The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Travers, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. Caleb’s Posse ran in none of them. Now if he was a truly dominant sprinter, then I think his candidacy holds more validity, but I don’t think he did enough to lay that claim.
First of all, the showcase event is the Kentucky Derby … not the BC Dirt Mile. While I already highlighted Animal Kingdom’s impressive and consistent campaign, let me compare it to that of Caleb’s Posse. While Animal Kingdom was clearly the best horse in the Triple Crown, Caleb’s Posse was in no position to even run in it after running 6th in the Southwest, losing the Rebel by 6 ¼ lengths, and finishing 12th in the Arkansas Derby. It’s no wonder that he did not even attempt the Triple Crown. I do not think performances like this can be just swept under the rug when analyzing his entire body of work this year. Throw in a nearly 9 length loss in the Iowa Derby and a more than 6 length loss in the Indiana Derby later in the season, and his resume for 3yo champion simply does not meet the eyeball test. As for his two wins going around two-turns this year, they were exceedingly cheap. I saw the Ohio Derby and it was nothing more than an allowance race, as evidenced by him being sent off as the 2-1 favorite coming off his Arkansas Derby drubbing. I have little problem in saying that Animal Kingdom beat more good horses in the Spiral than Caleb’s Posse beat in either the Ohio Derby or the Smarty Jones.
The BC Dirt Mile was an excellent performance, but isn’t it somewhat a race for horses that can’t quite hack the BC Classic? I mean how many champions won the Dirt Mile? The answer is none. See the Kentucky Derby, and even though he just missed, see the Preakness for the long list of horses that Animal Kingdom beat. There was a reason he was a big favorite in the Belmont.
If this award comes down to what have you done for me lately, than by all means give it to the horse that rebounded from a beating in the Indiana Derby to win the BC Dirt Mile impressively. If however, you want to reward the horse that had the most consistent season, and was the best in the division’s most important races, than the decision is clear … Animal Kingdom is your three-year-old champion.