Three-Year-Olds Taking on Older

September 27, 2013 06:13am


Palace Malice and Orb are in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Beholder is in the Zenyatta, and Princess of Sylmar will challenge Royal Delta in the Beldame. Saturday will be a good barometer to see how the three-year-olds stack up against their elders

“Good three-year-olds can beat older horses.” You hear it every fall, and while occasionally it comes true, more often than not, they fail in their attempt to handle their older competition. A quick review of the last 10 or 20 years of any major race for three-year-olds and up should point that out. When two horses faceoff, that are destined to have similar career successes and failures, or in other words, are of comparable ability, the older horse will win more than 80% of the time. Sure, there are always cases when the younger horse is just coming into the race in a better way, or perhaps they take advantage of a clear tactical advantage, but generally speaking, and especially running a route of ground, the older horse holds a distinct advantage over the three-year-old due to physical maturity. Mental, or emotional, maturity also gives the experienced runner an edge. Never was this more true than with the great three-year-olds of the late seventies.

When the three-year-old Triple Crown winner, Affirmed, met the best older horse around twice in the fall of 1978, he simply could not deal with what Seattle Slew brought to the party. Frankly, Affirmed was no match. Taking advantage of being the older one the following year, Affirmed repelled several advances made by the hotshot youngster, Spectacular Bid, in the ‘79 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The result was closer than Affirmed had come to Slew the year before, but still the older horse proved best.

Looking at these results on face value, you might say that Seattle Slew was better than Affirmed, and that Affirmed, in turn, was better than Spectacular Bid, but I disagree. In fact, I think the four-year-old version of Spectacular Bid was the best of the bunch. Of course, we will never know for sure, but I believe most of what happened in the above three races can be chalked up to maturity besting immaturity.

It’s not all bad news for the three-year-olds, though. They have their day in the sun when they are simply better than their older counterparts. The 2007 Gold Cup is a good example of this. Lawyer Ron was a nice older horse, and gave Curlin everything he wanted, but by no means, was he the talent that his young rival was. It wasn’t easy, but even at three, Curlin could beat Lawyer Ron and the rest of the older horses that day.

What does all this mean for Palace Malice, Orb, Beholder, and Princess of Sylmar?

In the Jockey Club Gold Cup, there are no classic winners other than the two sophomores. I would argue that the two best horses in the race are Palace Malice and Orb, but are they ready to beat good olders? Not an easy call, as much like the Curlin-Lawyer Ron example, the overall difference in talent vs. the advantage of being older will probably be relatively close. Palace Malice is my pick, but of course, it would be no surprise to see one of his elders in the winner’s circle.

Meanwhile, out west in the Zenyatta, the young champion, Beholder, takes on a representative group of older mares headed by Joyful Victory, Include Me Out, Authenticity, and Flashy American. In this one, I have even less hesitation saying that the three-year-old is a better racehorse than any of her older competition. I see this advantage being greater than what she loses in the others being more developed than she is, and therefore, I expect her to win this one.

Last, and far from least, you have a classic showdown of older vs. three-year-old in Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar’s Beldame. Royal Delta is a two-time champion, and looks better than ever at the age of five. I consider the three-year-old, Princess of Sylmar, to be a champion, even if it has not quite been made official yet. It really is great vs. great. Unfortunately, for us Princess of Sylmar fans, this one shapes up like the late seventies all over again. All things being equal, advantage Royal Delta. 


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Older Comments about Three-Year-Olds Taking on Older...

By the way there is an interesting Steven Crist blog on the Racing Form site about how the top 3 year old horses should be facing older horse at this time of the year instead of running in restricted races like the Penn Derby, Cotillion, Indiana Derby etc. He makes a good point in my opinion. All the slot funded rich races for 3 year olds in the fall have contributed to the decline of many of the old traditional races in New York. It is great that the two top 3 year olds are running in the Gold Cup and Princess of Sylmar is in the Beldame.
hello sword.hope all is well
Now that I think about it...I would replace 5(Alpha) with 7(PM)...8, 6, 7, 2.....
I think Mott will have Flat Out cranked up for this race. Three JCGCs in a row is a goal worth attaining. Don't see Flat Out being a factor in the Classic. Still like PM.
My two cents rough draft prediction: 8, 6, 5, 2 with my the #4 longshot that can upset all of them. He only race once on dirt and win it. In that race he seems a bit green(wondering around) and he love distance.
Normally I would agree with Mike on his point since all the older males have been taking turns in the winner's circle on the East Coast, but the advantages Flat Out holds are just too great to ignore. Palace Malice is good, but he is going to have to bring his A++ game to the track in order to beat Flat Out at Old Sandy.
I admit I have lost confidance in the older males on the east coast, I think both 3 year olds have a big chance in the Gold Cup. I also believe Beholder has a good shot in the Zenyatta, but Royal Delta seems to be too much for Princess of Sylmar this year. As Dani says a win by Princess Sylmar would show her to be an exceptional 3 year old filly, the best since Rachel anyway, and if she comes back strong next year she could be one of the great older mares as well.
I think the PM will emulate his daddy in the gold cup, with CT a close second, just like Lawyer Ron was. Beholder...not so sure. She's quick but so are Authenticity and Joyful Victory, so she'll have to set a very solid pace, then hold off some good closers. Princess, is at a disadvantage in both maturity and tactically. If she can win, she is filly for the ages, seeing as how she will have defeated a monster of a mare in Royal Delta.

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Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

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A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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