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HRN Original Blog:
Race Talk with the Girl Next Door

What Does it Take to be 3-Year-Old Champ?

As we head into super Saturday and the running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup, I am sure this will be the biggest race for the three-year-old division. The past 3 out of 5 horses won the Gold Cup on their way to being crowned Champion 3-Year-Old, and one being crowned Horse of the Year. I have started to scan the sites to hear the buzz on the Eclipse Award nominees and have been shocked at some of the names being thrown out there.
The 2006 3-Year Old Colt of the Year was Bernardini. On the way to his award he won 3 Grade 1’s including the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He also pulled out a second place finish in the Breeders Cup Classic and added a win in the Jim Dandy to his resume. Despite not being in the biggest three year old race of the year, the other important wins secured his status as best 3-year old. Since then he has become quite a sire, including a sire to a candidate for best 3-year old this year Stay Thirsty.
Stay Thirsty showed he belonged in the Kentucky Derby with his ultra-impressive win in the Gotham, a Grade 3 event. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a 7th place finish in the Florida Derby and then a terrible 12th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. That’s ok though because nobody was watching since he was just Uncle Mo’s stable mate. The people did perk up and start paying attention when he ran a good second to Ruler on Ice in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. He cruised over the sloppy track to a strong finish and has elevated his status since then. He took home the winning purse at the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. If this sounds familiar it should; looks like he is trying to follow in the footsteps of his daddy as he readies for the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday; followed by a shot at the Classic and my top choice (so far) for three year old champ.
The 2007 3-Year Old Champion was Curlin. On his way to getting the 3-Year-Old Honors that year, he finished first in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby securing him a spot in the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately for him, that would be the first year Calvin Borel would win on Street Sense. He finished third in the Derby but bounced back to win the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. After an exciting stretch dual, Curlin lost by a head in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. He was also defeated in the Haskell Invitational running third behind Any Given Sunday and Hard Spun. Curlin would find his winning stride again by defeating the field in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. He also had a bit of revenge on Hard Spun when he beat him by over 4 lengths in the Breeders Cup Classic that year. I guess a Derby loss does not ruin your shot at the 3-Year Old Division Award, but a win doesn’t hurt either.
Animal Kingdom’s only real claim to fame this year was his Kentucky Derby win. If you only have 1 great race as a 3-year old, that would be the one I would pick. He started the year off with a win in the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes. With that win under his belt he entered the Derby with odds of 21-1. He had a great trip and as the field turned for home, Velazquez started maneuvering Animal Kingdom into position and he finished as if he was a 9/5 favorite. His connections entered him in the Preakness, giving Animal Kingdom his shot at a Triple Crown but it was not to be. Despite a brilliant effort from Animal Kingdom and Velazquez, our champ just ran out of room. He lost the Grade 1 Preakness to Shackleford. The Grade 1 Belmont was not kind to Animal Kingdom who finished 6th in a very bumpy, troubled trip. He is sitting out the remainder of 2011 because of the trouble that found him in the Belmont, but it may not keep his name out of the hat for Champion 3-Year Old just ask Big Brown.
In 2008 Big Brown ran a very light campaign leading up to his win in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. After securing the Florida Derby he went on to dominate the field in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. With the impressive win in the Kentucky Derby he went on to Pimlico the favorite for the Preakness and he did not disappoint. He won the Preakness Stakes and the Triple Crown buzz really fired up. Horseracing fans found the horse they thought could secure the first Triple Crown in 30 years. But it was not to be, Big Brown did not finish the Belmont (for whatever reason). Desormeaux accredited the wins in the Grade 1 Haskell and the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes to him pulling up the horse in the Belmont.  Those wins gave Big Brown the ammo he needed to pull out the victory in the 3-Year Old Male Division, unfortunately the public has not been to forgiving of Desormeaux. Forgiveness does not come easy in this game, just ask Garrett Gomez.
In 2010 Lookin at Lucky secured the honor of 3-Year Old Colt of the Year despite a troubled start. A promising 2-year, Lucky entered his 3-Year Old campaign as a heavy early favorite of the division. He was the winner of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes and after a very, very troubled trip in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby he still managed a third place finish. His trip in the Santa Anita Derby caused sparks (and fists) to fly afterward between Gomez and Espinoza; it was so troubling even Jill Baffert had to throw in her two cents. Despite the speculation, Bob Baffert stayed with his top jock Go Go to ride Lucky in the Kentucky Derby. Breaking from the first post position, this trip would be no better than before and Lucky would finish 6th. The jock change was made and Lucky, know under everyone’s favorite sandwich maker Martin Garcia, would finish first in the Preakness, Haskell and the Indiana Derby. It was the win in the Indiana Derby that made me rethink my bet in the Breeders Cup Classic. Lucky for me, Garrett Gomez was slated to ride Blame so I stuck with him. Not so fortunate for Lookin at Lucky, Gomez rode Blame to victory in the Classic and the Baffert clan had to settle for 4th.  Don’t feel too bad for Team Baffert, this year they have a brilliant 3-year old and contender for 3-year old of the year in Coil.
Coil finished 1st in the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes and followed up that performance with a second place finish in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes. That is when Baffert decided to take his show on the road. Coil ran in the Haskell and won brilliantly against the likes of Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont winner Ruler on Ice. Since he was so impressive on the east coast, team Baffert ran him in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. The Travers proved to be too much for the horse to pull off and finished a disappointing 10th. But fear not, there is plenty of time for this colt to cement his Eclipse status with a run in the Goodwood and maybe even a shot at the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
In 2009 Summer Bird was presented the honor of 3-Year Old Male Horse. In a year so dominated by the girls, Summer Bird was able to win the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, the Grade 1 Travers and the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. In between those he ran second to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell, fourth to Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and hit the board in the Arkansas Derby. He made an appearance in the Kentucky Derby, but only managed to pull out a 6th place win. So you don’t have to win all of them to be a Champion 3-Year Old Male and so far my next contender has only won 1, Ruler on Ice.
When Ruler on Ice won the Belmont Stakes I had no clue who he really was and I think with pretty good reason. He finished 3rd in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby and second in a non Graded race when he walked onto the sloppy track in Elmont, New York. The Belmont was suppose to be a battle of champions; champions of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Ruler on Ice, however, denied both champs that day and won the Belmont. Many thinking his win was a fluke over a crappy surface, Ruler on Ice showed up to the Haskell and finished 3rd to Coil. Ruler on Ice then entered the Travers only to come in 4th place, his only finish out of the money in Graded stakes this year. In his most recent race, last weeks Pennsylvania Derby, he ran a very impressive second to To Honor and Serve.  I know it may be a long shot, but Ruler on Ice still has time to have his name thrown into the mix for the Championship 3-Year-Old Male Horse.
Visit TVG to find out how you can qualify for the $500,000 Champions' Challenge by picking a winner in at least one Breeders' Cup prep race. 


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Older Comments about What Does it Take to be 3-Year-Old Champ? ...

shadowno, interesting thoughts. I cannot disagree that every 3 year old wants that Derby win, but is it really enough. I do think that your argument about his Preakness run could change my mind. He looked great in the Derby and I do not think the way he ran in the Preakness is second to anyone. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the season brings.
Unless Stay Thirsty pops and wins the BCC this should be a no brainer for Animal Kingdom. He won the race they all wanted to win, ran a big Preakness and was injured likely during the running of the Belmont. Even with a BCC win it doesn't get any bigger than Kentucky Derby.
I was actually just going through a few of the names that I have seen get tossed around for 3 year old champ? I just checked out their races and compared them to others that have won. I don't think I went too much into opinion here, sir. It is true, I am not a huge fan of Animal Kingdom but if he deserves the award I certainly would not campaign against him. I think the question is...should one grade 3 race and one grade 1 race get you an eclipse award. I don't have an answer, but would love to hear yours.
Pom DE Terre, Bojou, monsiour , Animal Kingdom, being out with injuries through most of this year the Turf Writers being journalists and criticism coming easy as a crepe to them, they unfortunately won't give Animal Kingdom a Seconf look. others will dominate their thought patterns. Bojou Monsiour Regret!
I suppose you don't include the Spiral as any "claim to fame" for Animal Kingdom this year. Your rather pointed opinions are unfounded; get your facts straight and separate from your biases.
Not sure Flat Out has what it taks this season...
For Stay Thirsty, it probably is as simple as becomng the 4th three-year-old in 6 years to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

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Meet Angela D'Amico
My horseracing journey and my quest to learn more about it has brought me to the University of Louisville Equine Program, but it began before I was born. My parents met when their parents shared ownership in a few racehorses. Although they did not own any horses when I was growing up, my grandfather still took me to the racetrack all throughout my childhood. In 2007, my stepfather introduced me to different racetracks and handicapping techniques, but it was not until the 2009 Preakness that I was really hooked.
A filly, Rachel Alexandra, venturing into a man’s world caught my eye and I fell in love with her completely. This was when my life changed. When it comes to racing and choosing my favorite horses, I have always seen perfection in what others would characterize as flaws. With this blog, I hope to show everyone that horseracing is not just a gamble, it is a passion.

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