Triple Crown exposes strengths, weaknesses of the top 3 performers

Profile Picture: James Scully

June 14th, 2016

The Kentucky Derby was not representative of Creator’s abilities, Belmont supporters had to draw a line through the 13th-place effort and focus upon the improving form displayed by the Arkansas Derby winner in the weeks leading up to the first leg of the Triple Crown. Creator rebounded at Belmont Park and has now posted triple-digit BRIS Speed ratings in two of the last three starts.

Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up Exaggerator failed to deliver his best in the final jewel of the Triple Crown, weakening to 11th, one spot behind hopeless maiden Trojan Nation. After registering six consecutive century-topping figures, Exaggerator posted only a 90 BRIS Speed rating in the Belmont.

Nyquist remains at the head of the class with Exaggerator’s Belmont loss but Cherry Wine (who finished second at Pimlico but has never won a stakes race) owns a 1-0 record over the division leader by virtue of the Preakness Stakes. Nyquist moved his record to 8-for-8 with a powerful 1 ¼-length score in the Kentucky Derby but showed a chink in his armor as he got caught dueling on the front end through the fastest opening quarter-mile in Preakness history, leaving little for the stretch drive.

The Triple Crown exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the leading members of the 3-year-old division, Nyquist, Exaggerator and Creator, respectively, and Thoroughbred racing fans will now look forward to upcoming engagements from its stars. Whether they use $600,000 Jim Dandy (G2) on July 30 or $1 million Haskell (G1) a day later as preps, the top 3 figure to meet again in the $1.25 million Travers (G1) on August 27 if they remain healthy.

And others could emerge as well. Will Take Charge (2012) and Tiznow (2000) were both named champion 3-year-olds this century despite not being a major factor in the Triple Crown.

Here are some takeaways from Saturday’s Belmont Stakes:

Late bloomers thriving in Belmont – Creator didn’t break his maiden until February 27 and snapped a five-race streak of juvenile graded stakes winners in the Triple Crown (American Pharoah, Nyquist & Exaggerator). The most recent non-juvenile stakes winner, 2014 Belmont victor Tonalist, also broke his maiden earlier in the 3-year-old season and recorded his second stakes victory in the Belmont (like Creator). In fact, the last four Triple Crown race winners to break their maiden at age 3 all came in the Belmont, including 2009 champion 3-year-old Summer Bird.

Too close from the start – Exaggerator became much more formidable when developing into a one-run closer this spring and supporters had to be worried to see him up close to the pace in the Belmont Stakes, racing within a few lengths of the lead after the break. The tactics may have made little difference – the grind of the Triple Crown is the more likely culprit given how poorly he ultimately performed – but the classy colt was taken out of his best run style nonetheless.

Tough trip – Joel Rosario won three stakes Saturday but his ride aboard Belmont fourth-placer Governor Malibu was one to forget. Similar to Creator, Governor Malibu benefitted from a ground-saving trip in the early stages and arrived at the head of the stretch with plenty of horse. But while Irad Ortiz guided Creator off the rail for clear sailing between horses, Rosario tried to stay inside and was stopped repeatedly. Governor Malibu may not have been good enough to win but we’ll never know. At the very least, being checked multiple times inside the final quarter-mile cost the New York-bred colt a legitimate chance at a top three placing.

Another second – Todd Pletcher sent out a pair of lightly-raced colts and just missed with Destin, who surrendered a 1 ½-length lead in deep stretch to finish a nose second in just his second start since mid-March. The runner-up continued a trend for Pletcher, whose horses don’t run well in the Kentucky Derby (1-for-46) but often come back five weeks later with an improved showing in the Belmont Stakes. With two Belmont wins to his credit, the leading trainer also has five seconds from 22 starts in the final leg of the Triple Crown.