Of the last dozen winners of the Mid-Summer Derby, only two went on to be crowned American Champion Three-Year-Old Male. I’m willing to bet that number will change to three at the end of 2013. How can I feel so confident of a race that is neither part of the Triple Crown nor the Breeders’ Cup? Simple, this year’s Travers is shaping up to be the defining race of the division. Let’s take a look at the division’s top contenders as they stand today.
Clearly, each of the three winners of the Triple Crown series deserve to be rated near the top. Orb’s rousing win in the Kentucky Derby, coupled with solid wins in the Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth, leave him with solid credentials. Despite defeats in the Preakness and Belmont, the son of Malibu Moon is one big win away from an Eclipse Award. Palace Malice, meanwhile, is the now horse. After being a ‘watch out for him’ type all spring, the Dogwood runner has stepped up in a big way in his last two starts. An easy victory in the Belmont Stakes was followed by a fast winning performance in the Jim Dandy. Another big win in a few weeks would probably be too much for his year-end competition to overcome. Finally, there is Oxbow. The Preakness victor has been a dogged performer this year, but his absence from the Travers will likely be too much for his 2-of-8 seasonal record, including four out-of-the money finishes, to overcome.
The other two sophomores with the talent to crack my Top 5 rankings of three-year-old males are Verrazano and Departing. While Departing is a horse who I believe will prove to be belonging with the other four, the truth is dominating victories in the Illinois Derby and West Virginia Derby are not important enough to be considered a serious candidate for an Eclipse Award. A Travers victory could have placed him in the discussion, but his connections are not looking that way at this time. Verrazano, on the other hand, has done enough to merit consideration. With a 6-of-7 mark, including four graded stakes wins, and most recently a tour-de-force in the Grade 1 Haskell, the son of More Than Ready only needs to beat top competition on the big stage of Saratoga to move to the top of the class.
Even without Oxbow and Departing, a showdown between Orb, Palace Malice and Verrazano in the Travers is mouth watering. A win by any of the three at ten furlongs will make them the king of the hill, and in my opinion, on the fast track to a championship. In fact, I only see three reasonable scenarios in which the winner of the Travers and the winner of the Eclipse Award will not be the same horse.
-A big upset in the Travers will leave the division in disarray. Will Take Charge anyone?
-A three-year-old, that is not the Travers winner, goes on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic. You just know Lukas and Oxbow will give it a try.
-A decisive reversal of fortune in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Say if Orb’s rally in the Travers is too late, but then he returns to beat his slayer in strong fashion in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, it could be a case of last one standing gets the spoils.
While each scenario is possible, with probably the last being the most buyable, I’m sticking with my original statement … The Travers winner will be crowned American Champion Three-Year-Old Male.