Looking to Travers to clarify three-old-male division

Profile Picture:

TwinSpires Staff

July 31st, 2016


In a year that has seen three different winners of the Triple Crown, one looks to the second half of the year to see which of the three-year-old males will emerge to claim end-of-year honors. We’ve been in this position four times since 2009, and in three of those years, the Travers and the Haskell have played key roles in determining those Eclipse champions: Will Take Charge in 2013 (Travers winner), Lookin at Lucky  in 2010 (Preakness and Haskell winner), and Rachel Alexandra in 2009 (Preakness and Haskell winner). In 2011, Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom was the three-year-old champion even though he didn’t race after the Belmont Stakes and didn’t win after the Kentucky Derby.

Though unlikely to play much of a factor when the voting starts late this year, the Curlin on July 29 at Saratoga Race Course will play a role in determining the field of the Travers on Aug. 27. The race went to a horse making his stakes debut in the Chad Brown-trained Connect. Off since a third-place finish in his debut at Aqueduct in December, he’s won three straight since returning to the races at Belmont, breaking his maiden there on the day of the Kentucky Derby. Both he and Chad Brown’s other runner in the Curlin, runner-up Gift Box, will point to the Travers on Aug. 27.

While Laoban made history on Saturday at Saratoga when he became the first maiden to win the Jim Dandy (G2) in the race’s 53-year history, he’s got a lot of ground to make up on the members of his cohort who won their first race long before he did. The Jim Dandy was Laoban’s eighth start, his trainer Eric Guillot having spotted him in nothing but graded stakes races after his second race. The sixth time, apparently, is the charm.

Belmont Stakes winner Creator finished last in the Jim Dandy and was never a factor; even with a crawling pace obviously working against him, one could have reasonably expected a lot more from the two-time Grade I winner. Mohaymen, earlier this year considered top of the 2013 foal crop, finished fourth for the third straight time, while Belmont runner-up Destin was third. If any questions were answered by the Jim Dandy, they were answered in the negative.

A few hours south of Saratoga, Exaggerator made trainer Keith Desormeaux look like a genius when he easily won the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) on Sunday. Racing far back of Nyquist and American Freedom, who tangled through quick early fractions, Exaggerator and Kent Desormeaux pulled into contention with little apparent effort and cruised past their rivals to win by a length and a half.

Nyquist’s fourth-place finish as the even-money favorite, disappointing to begin with, looks even worse considering that American Freedom, who was right there with him the whole way, hung on for a respectable second-place finish.

Exaggerator now has three Grade I wins this year and a Classic victory, compared to Nyquist’s two. Does that make him the division leader at this point? Do the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness, and Haskell equal more than the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby?

Exaggerator will return to Saratoga to train and point to the Travers, where he’s likely to face Laoban and Destin, along with the Chad Brown duo. The race is a month away and a lot is still up in the air…but one thing is for sure: Team Desormeaux will be praying for rain.

Exaggerator photo courtesy Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos