Always Dreaming tops three-year-olds in first half of year

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Ed DeRosa

June 11th, 2017

For the second consecutive year, there were three different winners of the U.S. Thoroughbred Triple Crown races. Long-term history suggests one of those three will end up as champion three-year-old male, but short-term history says it will be someone else.

The latter is music to trainer Mark Casse’s ears. He conditions last year’s champion two-year-old male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Classic Empire – the Arkansas Derby winner who was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness Stakes before missing the Belmont Stakes with a hoof abscess.

“I have to think we’ll still be on top,” Casse said referring to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) poll of racing observers that had Classic Empire as the top three-year-old going into the Belmont. “The plan is the Haskell. He’s already getting back to work.”

As much as I love Classic Empire – having picked him in every race he’s run in going back to the Hopeful Stakes – I have to disagree with Casse and the NTRA electorate, through before the Belmont at least. Always Dreaming is my top three-year-old male to date by virtue of being the only multiple Grade 1 winner, with one of those wins coming in the most prestigious race.

That’s not to say his lead is anything but tenuous, but he is the leader. If someone steps up in the second half of the year – a la Will Take Charge in 2013 or Arrogate last year – then that runner could easily become champion.

I favor the classic races enough to rank Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit and Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing ahead of Classic Empire, whose lone win this year was in the Arkansas Derby. Wood Memorial Stakes winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up Irish War Cry rounds out the top five.

1.       Always Dreaming: The division’s lone two-time Grade 1 winner with one of those wins coming in the division’s biggest race.

2.       Tapwrit: Belmont Stakes winner gives trainer Todd Pletcher the top two three-year-old males. Gets edge over Preakness winner because of Tampa Bay Derby win.

3.       Cloud Computing: Ranked third on accomplishment, but would be deeper if it were based on perceived talent. Still, to the victor go the spoils.

4.       Classic Empire: Last year’s champion needs big 2nd half to usurp classic winners, but he’ll get his chance in Haskell-Travers.

5.       Irish War Cry: Ran two of the better races this year in Holy Bull and Wood Memorial and also ran a couple duds. New Jersey-bred will be targeting the Haskell.

6.       Gormley: One of only five Grade 1 winners this year.

7.       Practical Joke: This year’s Goldencents?

8.       Lookin At Lee: Hat tip for being only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races.

9.       Battle of Midway: Not sure if he can ever beat the top half of this list in marquee races.

10.   Gunnevera: Another “this year’s Goldencents” candidate.

My read right now is that the three-year-old championship will go through the Haskell-Travers-Pennsylvania Derby because it’s tough to see anyone in this group competing with Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That said, the older male division is somewhat shallow on the East Coast, so races like the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup could be an interesting play at getting brownie points for beating older males.