By Jarrod Horak
The 2023 Triple Crown Series is over and we saw three different winners once again. That has been the case since 2019 and the current sophomore division is seemingly without a leader. The Derby featured a pace meltdown, the Preakness had no early pace, and the recently concluded Belmont Stakes was captured by a rail-skimming stalker. Race shape and trips played vital roles in the final outcome of the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont this year, and the winners of those three races may not have run the best overall races. The runner-up finishers in those races may have been best and are worth considering when they resurface later this summer.
The Kentucky Derby runner-up ran huge on the first Saturday in May. The pace was electric at a mile and a quarter with an opening quarter in 22.35 and a half-mile in 45.73. Two Phil’s was only a length and a half behind after the opening half and had a clear lead with a quarter of a mile to run. He made a premature move into lively fractions and could not hold on, and Mage took advantage and rallied to win by a length under Javier Castellano. Two Phil’s gamely held off Arkansas Derby (G1) hero Angel of Empire for the runner-up spot. His trainer Larry Rivelli decided to skip the final two legs of the Triple Crown in order to have a fresh horse for the second half of the year. He drilled back-to-back bullets on May 28 and June 8, and the Ohio Derby (G3) on June 24 at Thistledown is expected to be his next assignment. The Haskell (G1) and Travers (G1) are his main summer goals.
Chad Brown’s Good Magic colt Blazing Sevens won the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes as a juvenile. He threw in a clunker in his Fountain of Youth (G2) return and bounced back with a much better show finish in the Blue Grass (G1). In the Preakness Stakes (G1) at 1 3/16 miles, Mage was the favorite but National Treasure was the controlling speed from the inside post, and the latter got a very easy half-mile in 48.92 and six panels in 1:13.49. The Derby winner was compromised by the race shape and Blazing Sevens was the only runner with a chance to catch Baffert’s front runner. He stalked widest of all from the outside post for much of the running and came after National Treasure around the far turn and into the stretch. Those two hooked up in the lane and exchanged bumps, and National Treasure had enough left in reserve to secure the win by a measured head under John Velazquez. Blazing Sevens was clearly second best under Irad Ortiz Jr. and seems to be back on his game. That was a big effort considering the wide trip and race shape, and he can make some noise this summer. Brown won the Haskell in 2018 with Good Magic and I can see this one targeting that event. He has worked twice since the Preakness including a half-mile move at Saratoga on June 11, and races like the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1) could also be in the mix.
Preakness winner National Treasure was the target once again in the “Test of the Champion” but he did not get an easy lead at Belmont Park. This 1 1/2 miles event featured honest splits of 47.69 and 1:12.56 and National Treasure was hounded by Tapit Shoes and Hit Show. Arcangelo saved ground early and often and was within striking range throughout. Javier Castellano gave him a great ride and he scooted up the rail in the stretch, opened up a clear lead, and held off wide closers Forte and Tapit Trice. Forte ran a giant race. The Kentucky Derby morning line favorite had to scratch out of that race with a foot bruise. He was placed on the 14-day vet list after that and missed some training time. Todd Pletcher’s juvenile champ had so many things against him but was still the favorite on June 6. The Belmont Stakes was his first start in 10 weeks and he sat in mid pack and was wide throughout. He went even wider in the stretch and was grinding away in the lane and was slowly gaining on the winner. He just nipped his stablemate Tapit Trice for the runner-up spot under Irad Ortiz Jr. The Violence colt was the top 2-year-old last year and he defeated subsequent Derby winner Mage in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1) earlier this year. Look for him this summer in the Jim Dandy (G2) and Travers (G1) at Saratoga, and he should be a major player in those races.