For 3-year-old thoroughbreds, ultimate victory belongs only to a Triple Crown winner, and there are just 12 of them. Otherwise, even after winning a spring classic, there’s always something to prove in summer and fall.
Always Dreaming dominated the Kentucky Derby but flopped in the Preakness, and suddenly he was nothing special. Cloud Computing won the Preakness with a perfect trip but skipped the Derby and the Belmont, making some people wonder if he’ll be a one-hit wonder.
Those two will have a rematch tomorrow at Saratoga in the 1 1⁄8-mile, $600,000 Jim Dandy, the traditional prep for the Aug. 26 Travers. Then on Sunday, Triple Crown also-rans Irish War Cry, Battle of Midway, McCraken, Girvin and Hence will compete at Monmouth Park in the $1-million Haskell, also at 9 furlongs. Joining them at the Jersey Shore will be Practical Joke and undefeated Timeline.
So seven weeks after Tapwrit’s Belmont victory concluded an inconclusive Triple Crown, the second season for 3-year-olds begins. The only marquee colts off this weekend are Tapwrit and Preakness runner-up Classic Empire, both of whom will train up to the 1¼-mile Travers.
Fun factoid: It’s the first time since 1991 that the Derby and Preakness winners will meet in the Jim Dandy. Neither Strike the Gold nor Preakness-Belmont winner Hansel won it, but it would be a shocker if one of the three long shots — turf specialist Good Samaritan, Giuseppe the Great and Pavel — did.
Todd Pletcher, who trains even-money favorite Always Dreaming, excels with horses coming off extended layoffs. Yet he admits it’s a tricky business trying to win a stakes while saving something for the major goal, the Travers.
“Any time you have the Kentucky Derby winner running, you don’t want to get beat,” Pletcher said. “We wanted to get here not just with a fresh horse, but a horse fit enough to run a mile and an eighth.
“You know you have to be prepared for it, but hopefully you also want to have something to build on, and something left in the tank for the Travers. I think we’ve been able to accomplish that since the Preakness.”
Isabelle de Tomaso, 87, is a daughter of Amory Haskell, for whom Monmouth’s signature race is named. The former race car driver also is the owner-breeder of Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry, the 5-2 morning-line favorite. She and her sister, Hope Haskell Jones, always present the Haskell trophy, and trainer Graham Motion hopes they can keep it Sunday.
“With Isabelle’s family connection, that certainly would be nice,” Motion said. “I think my horse showed what he’s really made of going a mile and a half in the Belmont, and I think a mile and an eighth is his best distance.”