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Homeracing

2017 Triple Crown in Review

Profile Picture: James Scully

December 22nd, 2017

For the sixth time in nine years, three different horses captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Let’s review the Triple Crown races and I’ll provide an overall analysis at the bottom.

KENTUCKY DERBY

Twenty horses lined up for the 143rd running of the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby on a wet-fast track and Florida Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming showed speed as expected from post 5. When longshot State of Honor sped forward to apply pressure passing the wire for the first time, John Velazquez adeptly eased Always Dreaming back and angled to the outside to track the pacesetter in second.

Always Dreaming advanced to retake the advantage rounding the far turn and accelerated clear into the stretch, reaching the sixteenth pole with a three-length lead. Lookin at Lee was the only threat, launching a bold move along the inside to pass more than half the field on the final bend, but he could not sustain his momentum through the stretch drive.

Off as the slight 9-2 favorite, Always Dreaming rolled home to a 2 ¾-length decision. The Bodemeister colt stopped the teletimer in 2:03.59 and gave Todd Pletcher (Super Saver) and Velazquez (Animal Kingdom) their second Kentucky Derby victory. He was campaigned by MeB Racing, Brooklyn Boyz, Teresa Viola, St Elias, Siena Farm and West Point.

Arkansas Derby (G1) third-placer Lookin at Lee held second by a five-length margin at 33-1. Santa Anita Derby (G1) runner-up Battle of Midway, who raced in third most of the way, completed the trifecta at 40-1. It was another length back to 6-1 third choice Classic Empire, who experienced all kinds of trouble. Bumped hard and shuffled far back at the start, the 2-year-old champion was forced to travel extremely wide and even got checked in upper stretch while offering a nice rally for fourth.

Irish War Cry, the 9-2 second choice, instigated a chain reaction that adversely affected many horses when angling in severely at the break from post 17. The Wood Memorial (G2) winner wound up 10th. Blue Grass (G2) third-placer McCraken, who also took plenty of betting action as the 6-1 fourth choice, was roughed up at the start and continued to experience a troubled trip en route to an eighth-place showing.

Always Dreaming stretched his win streak to four, breaking his maiden by an 11 ½-length margin at Tampa Bay Downs when making his first two-turn attempt in late January. He easily captured a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Gulfstream in early March before posting a five-length tally in the Florida Derby.

PREAKNESS

Always Dreaming headed to Baltimore as a solid favorite for the 142nd running of the 1 3/16-mile Preakness but the two-week turnaround was a major topic given Pletcher’s aversion to running horses on short rest. Super Saver finished a dull eighth in 2010 and Always Dreaming sustained the same fate after being pressured on the lead by Classic Empire.

Trainer Mark Casse wasn’t going to allow the Derby winner to steal it unopposed and Classic Empire was hustled from the gate by Julien Leparoux, chasing Always Dreaming on the outside into the first turn. Classic Empire disposed of his rival nearing the completion of the far turn and entered the stretch with a commanding advantage, up by three lengths with three-sixteenths of a mile remaining.

However, Cloud Computing was gathering momentum behind the clear leader and started to rapidly reduce the margin in the straightaway. Overlooked at 13-1 after finishing second in the Gotham (G3) and third in the Wood Memorial, the dark bay colt enjoyed a good stalking trip in third as he raced a few lengths behind the top pair down the backstretch.

With Javier Castellano aggressively hand-riding, Cloud Computing came charging determinedly down the stretch to overhaul Classic Empire in the final strides and post a head win. The winner was unraced at age 2 and trained by Chad Brown for Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence.

Cloud Computing is a son of McClean’s Music and was timed in 1:55.98.

The Preakness turned out to be a tough beat for supporters of Classic Empire, who essentially won the battle but lost the war in the end. Senior Investment rallied belatedly to get up third, nearly five lengths behind the runner-up, and Lookin at Lee wound up fourth. Always Dreaming only beat two runners in the 10-horse field.

BELMONT STAKES

Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing were ruled out early from the 149th running of the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes and Classic Empire was expected to head postward as an overwhelming favorite until being withdrawn the morning of the post position draw due a foot abscess, the same problem that interrupted his Kentucky Derby preparations months earlier.

His defection left a void, with oddsmaker Eric Donovan installing Irish War Cry as the lukewarm 7-2 morning line favorite. Punters bet him down to 5-2 by post time and Irish War Cry sped to the front and showed the way on a short lead through the opening 10 furlongs of the “Test of the Champion.”

Tapwrit, who was exiting a sixth in the Kentucky Derby for Pletcher, was never far back stalking the pacesetter and launched his bid entering the long stretch at Belmont Park, eventually wearing down Irish War Cry in deep stretch and drawing away to a two-length decision as the 5-1 second choice.

Owned by Bridlewood Farm, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Robert V. LaPenta, Tapwrit remarkably provided leading sire Tapit with his third Belmont Stakes winner in four years (Tonalist and Creator). Jose Ortiz, one of Thoroughbred racing’s rising stars in the jockey colony, notched his first Triple Crown race victory.

Patch was never a threat to the top two finishing nearly six lengths behind Irish Way Cry in third and it was another 4 ¼ lengths back to Gormley in fourth.

The final time was a pokey 2:30.02.

ANALYSIS

Time will tell on the final judgement of the 2017 Triple Crown runners but it doesn’t look pretty at this juncture. Kentucky Derby third-placer Battle of Midway is the only horse who placed in a Triple Crown race (1st, 2nd or 3rd) to win again so far, capturing the Affirmed (G3), Shared Belief Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

Preakness runner-up Classic Empire never raced again and the remaining top 3 finishers – Always Dreaming (0-for-3), Lookin at Lee (0-for-4), Cloud Computing (0-for-2), Senior Investment (0-for-4), Tapwrit (0-for-1), Irish War Cry (0-for-2) and Patch (0-for-1) – are a combined 0-for-17.

With exception of Battle of Midway and Classic Empire, the rest are expected back for a 4-year-old campaign in 2018 so the opportunity exists to change the narrative.

Another unflattering statistic surrounding the 2017 Triple Crown was the inability of any 3-year-old to place in multiple events. That’s an extremely rare occurrence. From my research (email james.scully@twinspires.com if mistaken), this was the first time in 91 years it happened. I went back to 1926 to find nine different names in the Kentucky Derby (Bubbling Over-Bagenbaggage-Rock Man), Preakness (Display-Blondin-Mars) and Belmont Stakes (Crusader-Espino-Haste).

The races were contentious, but the 2017 Triple Crown probably won’t be remembered for its quality.

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