By Jarrod Horak
The 2023 Triple Crown is in the rear-view mirror and we are speeding towards the big summer targets. The 3-year-old division is wide open at this stage and it is time to catch up with the sophomore leaders.
Two Phil’s appeared to reach the top of the leaderboard after an impressive score in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 24, but the Kentucky Derby runner-up exited his facile victory at Thistledown with an ankle injury and is out for the year. He may also be retired. That development has thrown the sophomore division into chaos, so let’s see if we can provide some clarity.
Jarrod Horak’s Exceptional 11: Three-Year-Old Male Division (6-27-23)
1 – Arabian Knight (Uncle Mo – Borealis Night, by Astrology) – Trainer: Bob Baffert
He was my top ranked Derby contender over the winter. He was sensational in his seven panel bow at Keeneland last fall and easily went all the way again in his second career start in the Southwest (G3) on a wet track in February. They decided to skip the Triple Crown Series and target a summer campaign. He has been working steadily since late May and looked good drilling a 6 furlong bullet on June 17. The highly regarded colt went seven panels in 1:24.20 on June 24 and might show up next in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 22.
2 – Forte (Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher
With Two Phil’s out, this one is probably still the leader of the crop based on his overall accomplishments. He won the Hopeful (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1), and BC Juvenile (G1) en route to the juvenile title last year. He started 2023 with an easy score in the Fountain of Youth (G2), and caught Mage late in the Florida Derby (G1). He was the Kentucky Derby favorite but missed that race with a foot bruise. After going on the 14-day vet list and missing training time, they tried to win the Belmont Stakes off a 10-week layoff. He almost pulled it off but the Arcangelo scraped the paint and Pletcher’s champ raced wide and settled for the place. He has not worked since the Belmont and might train up to the Grade 1 Travers.
3 – Arabian Lion (Justify – Unbound, by Distorted Humor) – Trainer: Bob Baffert
I liked this one from the start but thought I overrated him after back-to-back flops in the Los Al Futurity (G2) and Robert Lewis (G3). He bounced back with a good second in the Lexington (G3), and smartly won the listed Sir Barton and Woody Stephens (G2) in his last pair. Baffert has plenty of options. He can keep him short and ship to Saratoga for the Amsterdam (G2) on July 28 and the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) on Aug. 26, or they can stretch back out and go for the Haskell (G1) or Travers (G1). His last morning move was a half-mile work in 49.20 on June 24.
4 – Mage (Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown) – Trainer: Gustavo Delgado
He got a great setup in the Kentucky Derby and had no pace to chase two weeks later in the Preakness. His best races might be in front of him but he is just 2-for-5 and will take more money than he should in upcoming starts because he is the Derby winner. He got back to work on June 23 and will race next in the Haskell (G1), Jim Dandy (G2), or Travers (G1).
5 – Disarm (Gun Runner – Easy Tap, by Tapit) – Trainer: Steve Asmussen
They got caught up trying to make the Derby with this one and his race spacing got all messed up. He was second in the LA Derby (G2) March 25 but did not have the points to make the Derby at that time, so they came back three weeks later in the Lexington (G3) and he checked in third. He was back in three weeks for the Kentucky Derby and he finished a respectable fourth. They wisely skipped the Preakness and Belmont. He returned six weeks after the Derby in the Matt Winn (G3) at Ellis Park, and he stalked the pace and ran down Verifying to score by a half-length as the favorite. He is going the right way now and might surprise some of the bigger names in this division in the coming weeks and months.
6 – Arcangelo (Arrogate – Modeling, by Tapit) – Trainer: Jena Antonucci
Jena Antonucci did a great job preparing this one for the Belmont Stakes, but they could not have dreamed up a better trip. He saved ground throughout and got the jump on the closers under Javier Castellano’s crafty handling, and was clear at the end despite drifting out in the late going. He won the Peter Pan (G3) in May and clearly loves Belmont Park. I want to see what he can do away from Big Sandy and without a perfect trip. There is no doubt that he is getting better but I am still not sure how good he really is.
7 – Geaux Rocket Ride (Candy Ride – Beyond Grace, by Uncle Mo) – Trainer: Richard Mandella
This one is all upside. He was fast in his sprint bow on Jan. 29. He jumped right into the fire in the San Felipe (G2) second time out and he split Practical Move and Skinner as the beaten favorite in a fine effort. He spiked a temperature and scratched out of the SA Derby (G1). They regrouped and targeted the listed Affirmed Stakes on June 4, and he sat a comfortable outside stalking trip and easily disposed of his three rivals as the 1-2 favorite. He has worked twice since that race and they have big plans for this one. His next assignment in the Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 22.
8 – Blazing Sevens (Good Magic – Trophy Girl, by Warrior’s Reward) – Trainer: Chad Brown
Chad Brown sure knows how to get a horse to peak in the Preakness. He skipped the Derby and targeted the second jewel of the Triple Crown with Cloud Computing in 2017 and Early Voting last year, and both won at Pimlico. He did the same thing with this colt and he missed by a head behind loose front runner National Treasure. He won the Champagne (G1) as a juvenile and seems to be thriving now. He has worked four times since the Preakness and his last three moves were at Saratoga
9 – National Treasure (Quality Road – Treasure, by Medaglia d’Oro) – Trainer: Bob Baffert
The Belmont Stakes was just too far for him. He carved out legit splits in that race and weakened in the lane. He stole the Preakness on the front end before that it was nice to see him jump up and make the grade that day. I still think he might have another forward move in him. He was a troubled third in the Sham (G3) in January and was forced to miss his next start in the San Felipe (G2) with a foot issue. The Grade 1 SA Derby was his first start in three months and he was an even fourth in that needed effort. His early-pressing speed should play well in upcoming stakes assignments and he can go at least 1 3/16 miles. His first work since the Belmont was a half-mile move in 48.80 at Santa Anita on June 25.
10 – Tapit Trice (Tapit – Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher
He really made nice progress from the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) to the Blue Grass (G1). He was much more professional in the latter race and had the look of a solid Triple Crown Series contender. He broke slow, raced wide, and finished 7th of 18 in the Kentucky Derby. He tried to duplicate his Blue Grass magic in the Belmont Stakes. He eased out from an inner post and moved up wide around the far turn, but he was a bit one-paced in the lane and missed the runner-up spot by a nose. He underachieved in his last pair and I picked him on top both times, but his Belmont effort was not bad and he can make some noise this summer and fall if he gets pace to chase. His latest workout was an easy half-mile breeze on the training track at Belmont Park on June 23.
11 – Skinner (Curlin – Winding Way, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: John Shirreffs
He was my second choice in the Derby but he got sick and had to scratch. It appeared that he was going to be a player from off the pace in that race. He was clearly on the upswing prior to his illness and hopefully he can have a big second half. He was third in the San Felipe (G2) and occupied that same spot in the SA Derby (G1), and he has not raced since. He was supposed to run in the Affirmed Stakes on June 4 but Shirreffs was not happy with his training so he scratched. He had an easy half-mile move on June 14 and drilled a 5f bullet in 59 flat on June 21. It looks like he is healthy again and the Los Alamitos Derby on July 8 is his next scheduled start.