The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes of 2022 are in the books, and we are no closer to identifying a champion than we were when the Triple Crown series began.
Rich Strike shocked the world with his Kentucky Derby victory but has done nothing to impress in any of his other races this year, including Saturday’s sixth-place finish in the Belmont.
Early Voting looked good in winning the Preakness and has yet to run a poor race, but after skipping the Kentucky Derby and unlucky trips for a pair of his top foes in the middle jewel, questions remain.
Mo Donegal was an emphatic winner of the Belmont Stakes and narrowly defeated Early Voting in the Wood Memorial (G2), but he lost his other two starts this year, finishing third in the Holy Bull (G3) and fifth in the Kentucky Derby.
If I had to choose between the three, the Belmont winner would be the one. Mo Donegal ran pretty well in his two losses without much luck, and the Wood Memorial looks like a key race for a change. Still, the late-running son of Uncle Mo has plenty of work to do if he wants to win this year’s Eclipse award as champion 3-year-old male.
A point certainly could also be made for Epicenter. No sophomore has been more consistent from January on, and if he had gotten the job done in either the Kentucky Derby or Preakness, he would clearly be the leader of the division. Three tough losses, though, in five starts, leave the Louisiana Derby (G2) winner as only one of many in the championship race.
Perhaps the best 3-year-old of the crop did not even run in the series. Of course, I am talking about Jack Christopher, who on Saturday looked the part of a champion in the making with his runaway victory in the Woody Stephens (G1).
Without question, no horse in the crop has been more brilliant than the still unbeaten son of Munnings, and if there is a current favorite for the Eclipse award today, it very well might be him. The truth is, though, that he is closer to a championship in the sprint division than he is in the 3-year-old male division, having never raced around two turns.
It looks like his chance to prove himself at a distance will come next out in the $1 million Haskell (G1) on July 23 at Monmouth Park. Another impressive victory there would move the Chad Brown-trained Jack Christopher to the head of the class, but still with much work to do.
There have been many years where a horse disappoints in the Kentucky Derby but bounces back to run big in the second half of the season. Taiba, and perhaps his stablemate Messier, are candidates to do this.
Neither ran their race in the Derby, but a blistering pace in the case of Messier, and a total lack of experience in the case of Taiba, are pretty solid excuses. Both are eligible to come back strong.
A somewhat forgotten horse at the juncture is the Saffie Joseph Jr.-trained White Abarrio. The handsome gray has lost only one race this year, but it was a pretty bad fade job when he finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Still, if the 20-horse field wasn’t his cup of tea, he is eligible to make a push in the second half.
Don’t forget he defeated Mo Donegal in the Holy Bull (G3) and was a clear-cut winner of the Florida Derby (G1). Working well since the Kentucky Derby at his home base of Gulfstream Park, he is set to return in the Ohio Derby (G3) on June 25. It might do little in the championship race but could prove that he can get it done outside of South Florida.
Cyberknife already returned from Kentucky Derby disappointment with a graded-stakes victory, but the Arkansas Derby (G1) hero did not scare anyone off with his razor-thin win in the Matt Winn (G3).
Who will be the 3-year-old male champion of 2022? The Triple Crown series left us with few answers. Ironically, it did effectively identify Nest and Secret Oath as the top two fillies in the land. For the males, the second half of the season will have to tell the tale.
As a National Thoroughbred Racing Association voter, I have Mo Donegal in the top spot this week after his solid Belmont victory, but it seems more like a placeholder than a resounding vote of confidence.
If I had to make a prediction, it would be a horse I haven’t even mentioned yet.
Remember Zandon? I have not forgotten his impressive win in the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. Third in the Kentucky Derby, I am looking for a big second half for the son of Upstart. He has run only five career races, and I believe he has a big upside.
Of course, it’s all conjecture right now. The 3-year-old male championship could not be wider open at this point. It should be a very interesting second half.