Three Year Old Class Proving Its Quality

The 138th Running of the Kentucky Derby included good horses. The 137th? Not so much.

Twelve months after the racing world decried the lack of elite talent in the 2011 3 year old crop, we are now looking at a group that includes elite sprinters, top end synthetic horses, classic distance turf runners, classic distance speed horses, and everything else you can imagine. If you look at each division of the Breeders' Cup, you could realistically find a three year old in the mix for just about every one of them. Last year, you could not have expected any three year olds to challenge for a win in the Classic let alone have the depth necessary to compete in nearly every division.

Just take a look at I'll Have Another. In his four graded stakes wins in 2012 (G2 Robert B. Lewis, G1 Santa Anita Derby, G1 Kentucky Derby, and G1 Preakness Stakes) he defeated ten opponents that went on to win graded stakes after IHA beat them. I'm not including wins before, since many of the 20 Kentucky Derby (Presented by YUM!!! BRANDS! AWESOME!) entrants would have necessarily won stakes to receive an invite, and many of those stakes were at 2 years old against severely restricted company. Those ten represent a telling sampling of the 3 year olds this year.

The ten to win graded stakes after being defeated by I'll Have Another in 2012 are:

Horse

Race

Grade

Paynter

Haskell

G1

Union Rags

Belmont

G1

Alpha

Travers

G1

Dullahan

Pacific Classic

G1

Trinniberg

Woody Stevens

G2

Blueskiesnrainbows

Swap Stakes

G2

Teeth of the Dog

Dwyer Stakes

G2

Hansen

Iowa Derby

G3

Prospective

Ohio Derby

G3

Cozzetti

American Derby

G3(T)

Granted, all of those other than the Pacific Classic are restricted to other 3 year olds so a few victories are inevitable, but at the same time they represent the best racing available for 3 year olds in the country. If you take a look at this list, I don't think you can question that Paynter and Dullahan are major Classic Division players on the appropriate surfaces; Trinniberg is an elite sprinter; Alpha has grown remarkably in the past 90 days into a real contender; Cozzetti has a shot at becoming a very good turf horse and has the breeding to back that up (he is by Cozzene and out of a Lemon Drop Kid mare).

As a cross section, let's look at the winners of these same races in 2011:

Horse

Race

Grade

Note:

Coil

Haskell

G1

Nice 4yo season; AOC win

Ruler On Ice

Belmont

G1

No wins since - AOC level now

Stay Thirsty

Travers

G1

No wins since

Acclamation

Pacific Classic

G1

No 3yo entries in race

Justin Philip

Woody Stevens

G2

1 AOC win - 2nd in Vanderbilt

Dreamy Kid

Swap Stakes

G2

No wins since

Dominus

Dwyer Stakes

G2

1 AOC win since

Prayer For Relief

Iowa Derby

G3

Nice Stakes-level horse

Caleb's Posse

Ohio Derby

G3

Finally a great horse from this list

Wilcox Inn

American Derby

G3(T)

Won Hawthorne Derby, AOC win at 4

That was painful just to look that up. I don't think it is a stretch to say that Paynter, Dullahan, Alpha, and Trinniberg are all far more talented than all of the above minus Acclamation (he doesn't count since he was a 4 year old at the time) and Caleb's Posse. This obviously isn't an exhaustive run down of the best horses from the 2011 3 yos, but it is a sampling, and an effective one to test the depth of talent. Yes, time has given us perspective so now we can confirm what we thought we knew throughout last year's 3yo campaign, but the fact that EVERYONE knew how weak the class was makes it that much more poignant. The fact that Animal Kingdom won Champion 3 Year Old honors off of his win in the Derby and place in the Preakness says all it has to.

But if I'll Have Another wins the same honors? I think it'd be totally deserved. If Paynter wins, good on him. If Trinniberg culminates his year with a win in the BC Sprint and takes the honors, great. If Dullahan sweeps everything on synthetic the rest of the year and steals it away? No issues here. The foals of 2009 are not only far superior to those of 2008, which is painfully obvious, but are good enough to be considered on par with their elders that make up the best horses in North America.

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