[I'm going to take a two part look at this year's Triple Crown season starting with today's week-by-week overview of the entire spring. In Part II I'm going to select my top performances, disappointments, jockeys, trainers, and prep races, as well as take a stab at what we might expect going forward from this crop of three year olds.]
The 2010 Triple Crown season isn't going to win any awards for beauty and it probably won't leave us with some sort of memory of indelible greatness. Much of the spring we were treated to average to below average on-track performances that left most of us clueless as to who was going to win the next race.
During most years, at some point in the process, two or three Derby contenders separate themselves from the pack. Whether it's Street Sense and Curlin, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, or any number of other colts over the years, at least one or two colts make a statement by running top notch efforts prior to the Derby. This year, Eskendereya appeared to be the colt that was at the head of the class after dominating performances in the Fountain of Youth and the Wood Memorial. But a Derby week injury, along with an owner that was going through a very public bankruptcy, meant that Eskendereya would be retired before anyone could find out whether he was truly great or whether he just beat up on a bunch of sub-par three year olds.
Looking back over the entire prep race season, (and subtracting out the performances of Eskendereya) we are left with an assortment of decent, but uninspiring races. In terms of Beyer numbers, only two horses broke the century mark all spring: Endorsement (101) and Sidney's Candy (100). Endorsement, like Eskendereya, never made it to Louisville due to an injury, while Sidney's Candy made it after dominating the prep calendar in SoCal but faded badly in Derby either due to distance or surface limitations.
If we were to put the Beyer numbers aside and simply examine the spring races from a visual perspective, we are also left with fairly uninspiring efforts. A good number of prep races this spring featured blanket finishes with three or four horses all having a shot to win at the wire. While that may look exciting to the viewer, a pack of horses all finishing close to one another in the stretch (at least on dirt) is usually a sign of a less than stellar field.
When it was all said and done after Saturday's Belmont Stakes, we had three different winners of the three Triple Crown races and eight different horses finish in the top 3. Only First Dude was able to crack the top 3 in two Triple Crown races in 2010. In the end, perhaps the best work to describe the 2010 Triple Crown season is "inconsistent".
If you didn't follow the Triple Crown season from the beginning of 2010, or you're having trouble remembering just what took place these past 5+ months, here's a look at the whole experience. We'll start from the Tropical Park Derby, the first graded stakes race for three year olds in 2010, and go all the way to last Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Fly By Phil upsets even money favorite Lost Aptitude in the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby on New Year's Day, earning $58,280 in graded earnings. The Tropical Park Derby is the first graded race of 2010 for three year olds and was the race that Barbaro used to kick off his three year old season in 2005.
A Little Warm kicks off his three year old campaign by winning the ungraded Spectacular Bid stakes at Gulfstream over favored Discreetly Mine. The winner's purse is a healthy $60,000, but since the race is ungraded the win doesn't help A Little Warm inch closer to a possible start in the Kentucky Derby. Those earnings would become critical later on.
Southern California begins their prep race season with the Grade 3 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita which Conveyance wins in wire-to-wire fashion at odds of 3/10. A little farther to the north, Ranger Heartley wins the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
Out in Florida, Uptowncharlybrown wins the ungraded Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Charly picks up $30,000 in earnings but none will help him get to the Derby.
The 2010 Oaklawn Park meet kicks off with the ungraded Smarty Jones Stakes at one mile. Heavily favored Dryfly wires the field to win by two and a quarter lengths.
The Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park begin their three year old graded stakes calendar with the Grade 3 LeComte and the Grade 3 Holy Bull. In the LeComte, Ron the Greek runs down early leader Maximums Ruler to capture the $60,000 in graded earnings, while out in Florida, Winslow Homer defeats Jackson Bend by ¾ of a length to begin his Derby quest.
Following the Holy Bull, Winslow Homer and Piscitelli were both diagnosed with injuries and taken off of the Triple Crown trail.
Eightyfiveinafifty rolls into the Whirlaway at Aqueduct fresh off of a 17 length, 105-Beyer maiden breaking victory in early January. A dominating win in the Whirlaway would cause him to pop up on everyone's Derby radar, but instead of dominating this small field he "was rank during the run leading to the first turn, bolted suddenly to the far outside thereafter, crashing into the outer barrier and unseating his rider in the process" (official chart trip notes). It is by far the most oddly run Derby prep of the spring.
After a delay of a week due to the failure of the Santa Anita Park ProRide surface to properly drain during a rain storm, the Grade 2 Robert S. Lewis Stakes is finally run. Caracortado defeats Dave in Dixie, American Lion, and favorite, Tiz Chrome, on his way to the winner's circle. Two days later, Santa Anita runs the Grade 2 San Vicente at seven furlongs, which is won in gate-to-wire fashion by Sidney's Candy and Joe Talamo.
Out in Florida, Rule runs Schoolyard Dreams and Uptowncharlybrown into the ground en route to a wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.
Eskendereya blows away the field in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and stamps himself as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby. The Todd Pletcher trained son of Giant's Causeway ran the 1 1/8 mile distance in 1:48.87 and earned a 106 Beyer, easily the highest of any three year old at that point in the spring. Finishing well behind Eskendereya that day were Jackson Bend, Aikenite, Ice Box, and heavily favored Buddy's Saint.
Out in Arkansas, Conveyance throws his hat into serious contention for the Derby after winning his first career race on dirt in the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Second choice Dublin finishes second after a troubled trip while Mission Impazible finishes fourth. Smarty Jones Stakes winner Dryfly comes in a disappointing ninth under jockey Calvin Borel.
In New Orleans, Discreetly Mine is allowed to set easy fractions on the front end and leads the Grade 3 Risen Star wire-to-wire over such Derby hopefuls as Drosselmeyer, Tempted to Tapit, Stay Put, Northern Giant, and Ron the Greek. The win earns Discreetly Mine $180,000 and puts him well on his way to Louisville.
Post time favorite, Drosselmeyer, finished a disappointing fourth and only collects $12,000 in graded earnings. His failure to pick up large chunks of graded earnings would haunt him throughout the run-up to the Kentucky Derby.
Alphie's Bet runs down the tiring front runners in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita, defeating favored Setsuko by 2 ¼ lengths. He earns an 86 Beyer for his troubles. Out in New York, Awesome Act sweeps to the front after a perfect set-up on the front end to win the Grade 3 Gotham under Julien Leparoux. Eventual Preakness starter, Yawanna Twist, finished second.
In Florida, Paddy O'Prado wins the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream Park turf course over Dean's Kitten and favorite Bim Bam.
Making his three year old debut, Lookin At Lucky wins the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park over Noble's Promise, Dublin, and Uh Oh Bango. Lucky wins the race despite a poor start and having to jump the heels of Noble's Promise prior to entering the far turn.
Out in SoCal, in what is quickly becoming a pattern, Sidney's Candy once again wires the field at Santa Anita, this time in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. Finishing behind the winner are Interactif, Caracortado, American Lion, and Dave in Dixie.
In Florida, the lightly raced but very talented Odysseus wins a wild finish in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby by a nose over Schoolyard Dreams and eventual Kentucky Derby winner and post time favorite, Super Saver. Uptowncharlybrown finishes a well beaten sixth. Odysseus picks up $180,000 in graded earnings for his win, the first graded earnings of his career.
Buddy's Saint is taken of the Derby trail after he is diagnosed with a chip in his right front ankle following a morning work at Gulfstream Park.
20/1 Ice Box runs down the field in deep stretch to win the Grade 1 Florida Derby by a nose over Pleasant Prince. Finishing further back in the field that day are Rule (3rd), Lentenor (4th), First Dude (5th), and Game On Dude (7th). The $450,000 in graded earnings put Ice Box into the Kentucky Derby.
Another wild finish takes place at the Fair Grounds in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby where Mission Impazible edges out A Little Warm (2nd) and Drosselmeyer (3rd) in deep stretch to take home the $450,000 top prize and a place in the Derby. Also running that day were Discreetly Mine (4th), Stay Put (5th), Ron the Greek (6th), and Fly Down (9th).
In Kentucky, Turfway Park runs the Grade 2 Lane's End over the Polytrack where Dean's Kitten takes home the $291,000 top prize over Northern Giant. On the strength of these graded earnings, Dean's Kitten is in excellent shape to make the Derby.
Jockey Robby Albarado travels to Sunland Park in New Mexico to ride Endorsement in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby where the $800,000 in total purse money is a big draw for horsemen seeking to add to their colts graded earnings. Endorsement rolls the field by three lengths, earning only the second 100+ Beyer of the spring and, more importantly, $400,000 in graded earnings that puts him squarely into the Kentucky Derby. Finishing behind Endorsement is Conveyance (2nd), who tired after setting the pace for almost a mile.
With the Derby only a month away there are precious few opportunities to collect enough graded earnings to ensure a spot in the twenty horse field. But with most of the final prep races worth over $500,000 in earnings, a single win would be enough to put a horse into the Louisville starting gate.
Three of the biggest prep races in the country took place this weekend - the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, and Grade 3 Illinois Derby. Sidney's Candy and American Lion won at Santa Anita and Hawthorne with solid performances, but it was Eskendereya who once again stole the show in New York with a powerful 9 ¾ length victory in the Wood. Eskendereya earned a 109 Beyer and would possess the two highest rated performances by a three year old heading into the Kentucky Derby.
The victory of Sidney's Candy in the Santa Anita Derby was partly due to another horrible trip by Lookin At Lucky, who could only muster a 3rd place finish as the odds-on favorite. Setsuko's 2nd place finish earned him $150,000 in graded earnings but left the colt well short of a guaranteed spot in Kentucky.
Following the Santa Anita Derby, Bob Baffert didn't attempt to hide his displeasure with jockey Garrett Gomez, who he thought contributed to Lookin At Lucky's poor trip. His continuing unhappiness with Gomez would result in a jockey change prior to the Preakness.
At Hawthorne Racecourse in Illinois, American Lion's win was enough to get him into the Derby field, but the poor performances of Yawanna Twist, Turf Melody, and Dave in Dixie meant they would likely be on the outside looking in come the first Saturday in May.
Stately Victor, the longest shot on the board at 40/1, rolls past a tiring Paddy O'Prado, First Dude, and Interactif in deep stretch to win the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland over their Polytrack surface. The win puts Stately Victor squarely into the Kentucky Derby field, even though he had never won a race on dirt in his career. Odysseus, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, was entered in the Blue Grass in the attempt to pick up the graded earnings he desperately needed in order to make the Derby. However, his first start over synthetic surface proved to be a disaster as he faded to last after setting the early pace.
Odysseus came out of the Blue Grass with a bone chip and was taken off the Triple Crown trail on April 12th.
Kentucky wasn't the only track to deliver a bomb on this weekend as Line of David won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at odds of 17/1 by a neck over Super Saver and Dublin. Like many of the prep race winners this spring, Line of David took the field wire-to-wire en route to punching his ticket to the Kentucky Derby.
Arkansas Derby favorite Noble's Promise finished a well-beaten 5th after once again encountering trouble in the early stages of the race.
For the second year in a row, the probable post time favorite scratches out of the Derby - in 2009 it was I Want Revenge, in 2010 it's Eskendereya. His scratch leaves Lookin At Lucky and Sidney's Candy as the probable top betting choices and allows Make Music for Me to squeeze into the top 20. A Little Warm, however, is left out in the cold when the connections of Devil May Care decide to enter their filly in the Derby.
Other notable horses that don't make it to Louisville: First Dude, Yawanna Twist, Drosselmeyer, Caracortado, Schoolyard Dreams, Aikenite, Pleasant Prince, and Uptowncharlybrown.
A rainy Derby week ensures that the Churchill Downs surface is sloppy and sealed by post time. Jockey Calvin Borel's winning ride on Super Saver gives him his third Derby victory in four years and Todd Pletcher his first win. Super Saver's win in the Kentucky Derby is his second on a sloppy and sealed track in two attempts and his second at Churchill Downs, also in two attempts.
Once again, Lookin At Lucky get the "Bad Trip" award after breaking from the 1-hole and getting pinched back almost immediately after the gates opened. He finishes fifth.
Super Saver picks up a 104 Beyer for his Derby victory.
Following the Derby the connections of Noble's Promise announce that they will bypass the rest of the Triple Crown and instead point their colt towards a start at Royal Ascot in the summer. Derby runner-up Ice Box elects to skip the Preakness and instead point to the Belmont Stakes.
Fly Down upsets odds-on favorite Drosselmeyer to win the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. Following the race, the connections of both Fly Down and Drosselmeyer announce that they intend to enter the Belmont Stakes.
After replacing jockey Garrett Gomez with Martin Garcia, Looking At Lucky finally gets a clean trip around the track and wins the 2010 Preakness, giving trainer Bob Baffert his fifth Preakness win and his ninth in the Triple Crown.
Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver races in good position early on but tires badly at the top of the stretch and finishes well back of the winner. Super Saver's failure to win the Preakness extends the Triple Crown drought to 32 years.
Lookin At Lucky earns a 102 Beyer for his Preakness victory.
Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky both elect to skip the Belmont Stakes, handing favoritism to Derby runner-up Ice Box. The Belmont is devoid of early speed which allows First Dude to run the first six furlongs in almost 1:15 but he is unable to win as Drosselmeyer rallies three wide in the stretch to pass First Dude and hold off Dwyer winner Fly Down to win the Belmont under jockey Mike Smith. Drosselmeyer earns a 94 Beyer for the race, the lowest figure since 1993.
The final time of 2:31.57 makes the 2010 Belmont Stakes one of the slowest in decades. The only slower races at the 1 ½ distance since the early 1930s were Thunder Gulch in 1995 (2:32) and High Echelon in 1970 (2:34).