Three-year-old race far from over and other Belmont Day thoughts
On the other hand, I'm glad there's still five months of major racing left to clarify the picture even more. I might be proved wrong in the days ahead, but my gut tells me Always Dreaming is not the best of this crew, nor that we saw the ultimate champion compete in the Belmont S. (G1) on Saturday.
This year was the 19th season in the last 48 to have three separate winners of the Triple Crown races. In the previous 18, the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner emerged as champion male three times, the Preakness (G1) winner five times, and the Belmont winner four times. Six non-classic winners eventually did enough to be named leader of the division by season's end.
With one-third of those champions emerging from the latter category, that seemingly bodes well for a horse like Classic Empire, who I felt ran the best race, albeit in defeat, in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and was unlucky to be forced out of the Belmont last week due to a reoccurrence of a foot issue that hindered his Derby preparations. I'm hoping he can avoid these problems this summer so that we all can get a better gauge on where he stands in the pecking order.
*Trainer Bob Baffert didn't have a single starter in this year's Triple Crown, but he has an embarrassment of riches in the older male ranks. Arrogate, of course, is in a different ionosphere from the rest. Mor Spirit is firmly in the second spot following his tour de force in the Metropolitan H. (G1), and underneath him you have Gold Cup (G1) winner Cupid, Collected, Hoppertunity, and Danzing Candy.
Unless the connections of each prefer to bump heads with the others in Southern California, expect this group to be dispersed far and wide this summer and fall. Even with non-Baffert trainees like Gun Runner, Shaman Ghost, and Connect taking their fair share, there'll probably be enough major prizes to go around.
*The most impressive performance turned in on Belmont Day, to me, was Antonoe's in the Just a Game (G1). The word was obviously out as she dropped from a morning line price of 8-1 to 3-1 second choice by post time (she was even favored over 2016 Just a Game winner Celestine as well as Dickinson, recent conqueror of Lady Eli). She ran like it, too, with a devastating final quarter in a shade over :21.
Antonoe's was the kind of effort that suggested she could not only do serious damage in her own division the rest of the year, but perhaps against the best male turf milers as well. I hope connections will give an open race or two a look as the season progresses. It would be one way to differentiate herself from the rest in an already deep turf mare division, and a win or two against the boys would give her a leg up in the race for championship honors.
(Antonoe photo: Melanie Martines)