Thoughts on Belmont Day, championships, and a series for milers

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

June 13th, 2016

It's not quite the midway point of the 2016 season, but it generally feels like it around this time as the Triple Crown has concluded. Here are some thoughts on Saturday's action at Belmont Park, in particular how it affects some of the championship races.

Three-year-old division: Besides Creator, the biggest winner following the Belmont S. (G1) was certainly Nyquist. The once-beaten Kentucky Derby (G1) hero, who was forced to miss the third leg of the Triple Crown due to illness, undoubtedly retained his position atop the division after Preakness (G1) victor Exaggerator ran a clunker in the Belmont.

Not persevered with late when hopelessly beaten, Exaggerator wound up beating just two horses -- Dallas Stewart's last-out maiden winners Seeking the Soul and Forever d'Oro. There were certainly a number of astute observers that felt Exaggerator was vulnerable going into Saturday's race, but hardly anyone could have imagined he would run that poorly.

Chalking up his defeat to not handling the track, the connections of Exaggerator plan on sending the colt to Saratoga for the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1). We know he likes that track, having won the Saratoga Special (G2) last summer, but not liking Belmont probably puts to bed any hope he'd compete in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) as a Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) prep. That's too bad as 1 1/4 miles is firmly within his wheelhouse and a theoretical victory against older horses would earn him additional brownie points in the race for the divisional title.

I know this is all putting the cart before the horse, but a long-range view of the landscape suggests Exaggerator has plenty of roadblocks and perhaps fewer paths to a championship than Nyquist. On a more positive note, his long-term prospects might be slightly stronger than Creator's given the Breeders' Cup will be held at Santa Anita, Exaggerator's home track and one that traditionally doesn't favor horses with Creator's extreme deep-closing style.

Nyquist is the firm division leader, but the race remains fluid and is dependent on him and others staying healthy enough to compete over the next several months.

Why not Flintshire?: California Chrome, Beholder, Tepin, Nyquist -- there are no shortage of legitimate Horse of the Year candidates at the moment. I'll go out on a limb and ask: Does not Flintshire belong on this list? The strongest favorite on Saturday's program lived up to expectations in great style in the Manhattan (G1), and even with a clear run in the stretch I don't think Ironicus catches him.

From 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/2 miles, I simply don't see any U.S.-based turf horse threatening Flintshire before the Breeders' Cup. Admittedly, a lot of havoc in the dirt divisions will have to occur for Flintshire to get a serious look from voters, but he firmly belongs in the conversation now based on what he did in the Manhattan and what he's projected to do in the coming months.

Frosted and a series for milers: Although I tried to beat him at the windows, Frosted was obviously a plausible winner of the Metropolitan H. (G1). A more pleasant surprise was the manner of his victory, a 14 1/4-length demolition of nine rivals in a swift 1:32.73. That was good enough to earn a 109 BRIS Speed rating, and a higher number from other speed figure makers.

His Met Mile performance will be hard for anyone to top the remainder of the season, especially himself. That's why I'm taking a wait-and-see approach as he stretches back out to nine furlongs for the Whitney (G1). While capable around two turns, there's been enough inconsistency in longer events to suggest he doesn't pack quite the same punch as he does at a one-turn mile. I could be proved wrong, as I was on Saturday, but I don't thing the dazzling display necessarily enhanced his credentials for, say, the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Speaking of mile races, which we are told constantly breeders value as stallion-making events, perhaps it's past due for a handful of top-level races at the distance to be linked in an annual series. After all, programs for milers are abundant in other major racing countries.

For consistency's sake and, arguably, a truer outcome, races should be held at tracks that can accommodate a one-turn mile. The Met Mile and Cigar Mile (G1) are two must-use events, and perhaps existing Grade 1 events at Gulfstream and Churchill Downs could be shaved in distance and also included.

I think the idea would be well-received by horsemen of all stripes.

Fillies and mares: Not that Beholder needed much help, but Cavorting's victory in the Ogden Phipps (G1) temporarily stalled the championship aspirations of Forever Unbridled, Curalina, and others for the older female title. Cavorting is a really good one-turn filly, and it will be interesting to see if she'll be as effective around two turns later in the summer.

With Beholder likely to face males once or twice this season, it was always going to be an uphill climb for any of the East Coast-based older fillies and mares to make a dent in the race for divisional honors. Barring the unexpected, that view has not changed after the Phipps.

On the three-year-old side, Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Cathryn Sophia was only third to the rising star Carina Mia in the Acorn (G1) on Saturday. Carina Mia might stretch out from here, while Cathryn Sophia is likely to cut back another furlong for the Test (G1) for her next start.

The $1 million Cotillion (G1), over 1 1/16 miles at Parx in September, might be the next time these two meet, and perhaps could even include the brilliant Songbird. What a championship-deciding showdown that has the potential of being.

(Nyquist: Benoit Photos; Flintshire: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos)