Lintner: Can these 3-year-olds keep up in the Breeders' Cup?

August 01, 2019 12:04pm

Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Whitney marks a major stop on the road to the Breeders’ Cup Classic not just for the older horses who will compete in it, but for 3-year-olds projected to face their elders in the Nov. 2 race at Santa Anita Park.

The Top 4 in this week’s Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings — McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Vino Rosso and Preservationist, respectively — are all Whitney entrants. Something, of course, will have to give, and a poor performance or two could shake up next week’s list.

Naturally, horses that follow are due to move up for more serious consideration as Classic contenders. Among them are Maximum Security (sixth) and Game Winner (eighth).

Having digested the results of 3-year-old staples including the Haskell (G1) and Jim Dandy (G2), I’ll limit just how far any of these sophomores advance on my ballot. Yes, speed figures are only an indication of how fast horses have run, not how fast they could go in the future. But so far, this has not been an especially fast bunch.

Nine performances by 3-year-olds this season around two turns have registered triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures. Maximum Security owns four of those, with his 102 in winning the Haskell tied with King for a Day’s Pegasus Stakes-winning number for the best sophomore routes in 2019.

These horses could go faster. But what’s reasonable to expect from a colt like Maximum Security by the time we get to November? He’ll have been in consistent training for a full year. The edge appears to belong to the older horses who may got off to later start this season targeting peaks in the fall.

That said, horses stepping out of age-restricted company tend to earn higher numbers just for running alongside older rivals. Maybe Maximum Security measures up when that time comes, but some sort of improvement will be necessary for these 3-year-olds to stack up.

This season, McKinzie has run a 109 around two turns. Preservationist notched a 108 and Vino Rosso a 105 at the Classic’s distance. Thunder Snow’s Met Mile (G1) number — his Dubai World Cup (G1) victory didn’t receive a Beyer — was a 107 for third, with the belief he can be better going longer.

Along with Maximum Security and Game Winner, I included Tacitus and Tax in my latest Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings ballot. The more I write here, the more I consider that a mistake. Perhaps there’s some recency bias in selecting Tax especially, as it turns out a score in the Jim Dandy (G2) was worth a 98 Beyer, a cut below the top of the class.

Notable in this discussion is Omaha Beach’s return. His 101 in winning the Arkansas Derby (G1) equaled Maximum Security’s number from the Florida Derby (G1). If all goes to plan, we’ll see a fresh horse going third off the layoff in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Then again, some are never the same after the type of throat surgery he required when missing the Kentucky Derby.

A look at this week's rankings:

Consensus Top 10

 Lintner's Top 10

 1. McKinzie

 1. Thunder Snow

 2. Thunder Snow

 2. McKinzie

 3. Preservationist

 3. Vino Rosso

 4. Vino Rosso

 4. Seeking the Soul

 5. Seeking the Soul

 5. Preservationist

 6. Maximum Security

 6. Maximum Security

 7. Catholic Boy

 7. Tacitus

 8. Game Winner

 8. Game Winner

 9. Catalina Cruiser

 9. Quip

 10. Gift Box

 10. Tax


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