Beyond the 2023 Triple Crown: Updated Rankings

Arcangelo wins the 2023 Belmont Stakes – NYRA Photo

By Jarrod Horak

We are well into the second half of the year and the 3-year-old male division title is still very much up for grabs. Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champ, captured his third graded race in 2023 in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, July 29. A win in the Travers would put him in a great spot in regards to the 3-year-old title, but he will have to take down Kentucky Derby winner Mage, Preakness hero National Treasure, and Belmont Stakes winner Arcangelo in the Mid-Summer Derby.   

Jarrod Horak’s Exceptional 11: 3-year-old male division (8-10-23)

1 – Arabian Knight (Uncle Mo – Borealis Night, by Astrology) – Trainer: Bob Baffert

He was my top ranked Derby contender over the winter and I put him back in the top spot after the Triple Crown Series in June. He won his first two starts impressively including the Southwest (G3) in January. He made his much anticipated return in the Grade 1 Haskell on July 22 and ran a quality race as the favorite. He pressed a strong opening quarter in 22.80 and got to the front after that, but the layoff and demanding early pace took a toll. He was passed by Geaux Rocket Ride and Kentucky Derby winner Mage, but he did not throw in the towel and stayed on in a solid show finish. It looked like he needed that race and a big forward move might be coming, so I have opted to keep him as my top ranked sophomore. He returned to his California base and had his first work since the Haskell on Aug. 4. In that morning move at Del Mar, he went an easy half-mile on 49.20 in preparation for a possible upcoming start in the Pacific Classic (G1) on Sept. 2. 

2 – Forte (Violence – Queen Caroline, by Blame) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

His Jim Dandy (G2) victory on July 29 was not without controversy but let there be no doubt that he was best. His jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. was in a tight spot throughout. Saudi Crown set the pace and Angel of Empire stalked outside with Flavien Prat in the irons. Forte was tracking the pace inside and Prat kept him pinned in. Ortiz Jr. was hoping Saudi Crown would vacate the rail turning for home but he did not, so he eased out and pushed his way through, and right as he made that move, Saudi Crown drifted out. Forte had just enough room to get up by a nose. There was an inquiry but there was no change to the final order of finish. The stretch incident happened because Saudi Crown started to drift out while getting a bit tired, and Angel of Empire was unable to quicken on the outside. Forte was wearing blinkers for the first time in the Jim Dandy and figures to move forward in the Travers. His first Travers work was a half-mile breeze in 48.33 on Aug. 10. 

3 – Arcangelo (Arrogate – Modeling, by Tapit) – Trainer: Jena Antonucci

He has been improving rapidly. He went from maiden winner in March to Grade 3 Peter Pan hero in May. He jumped into deeper waters in the Belmont Stakes and got a great inside trip and scored under Javier Castellano. They decided to train up to the Travers and he sports four works for that race. He continues to impress in the mornings with his late move a five panel jaunt in 1:00.21 at Saratoga. It was recently announced that Castellano opted for Arcangelo over Mage for the Travers.  

4 – Geaux Rocket Ride (Candy Ride – Beyond Grace, by Uncle Mo) – Trainer: Richard Mandella

He has made a ton of progress in a short time. He earned his diploma in his career debut in a dirt sprint in January. He was thrown into a tough spot in the San Felipe (G2) at 1 1/16 miles second time out and was a solid second that day. He got sick and missed the SA Derby, and returned with a smart victory in the Affirmed on June 4. He shipped to New Jersey for the Haskell (G1) and had everything go right. Arabian Knight was the favorite that day and probably needed the race, and Mage was just prepping for the Travers. Mandella had this one primed to run a big race and he worked out a beautiful outside tactical trip under Mike Smith. He is back in SoCal and the Pacific Classic is a possible target. He has his first work since the Haskell on Aug. 4. He went a half-mile in 48.80 at Del Mar that day.  

5 – Mage (Good Magic – Puca, by Big Brown) – Trainer: Gustavo Delgado

I liked his effort in the Haskell. He was just using that $1 million race at 1/18 miles as a prep for the Travers at a mile and a quarter, and he finished a solid second behind Geaux Rocket Ride. He broke his maiden in his career debut in January and it has been all stakes races since. His lone stakes win was the race that matter most, the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. He got a ton of pace help in the Derby and none in the Preakness, and his last start was just a prep. His most recent work was a five panel move in 1:01.60 on Aug. 4. He will reconnect with his Florida Derby pilot Luis Saez in the Travers. 

6 – Arabian Lion (Justify – Unbound, by Distorted Humor) – Trainer: Bob Baffert

He is one of the most versatile runners on this list. He was second in the Lexington (G3) at 1/16 miles and won the Sir Barton at that same trip. He turned back and captured the Grade 1 Woody Stephens at seven panels on June 10. The Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga on Aug. 26 is the next logical step. The main fall goal might be the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and the seven panel Malibu on Dec. 26 is a logical year-end target. He has worked seven times since the Woody Stephens and is currently in training at Del Mar. 

7 – Disarm (Gun Runner – Easy Tap, by Tapit) – Trainer: Steve Asmussen

This one might appreciate the added distance of the Travers if they opt for that race. He was competitive in all of his stakes starts. He was second in the LA Derby (G2), third in the Lexington (G3), fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), first in the Matt Winn (G3), and fourth in the Jim Dandy (G2). The latter race did not set up for him. He was rushed to make the Ky Derby and his race spacing was off. He is on a good schedule now and might continue to develop. He breezed a half-mile in 49.90 at Saratoga on Aug. 7.  

8 – Skinner (Curlin – Winding Way, by Malibu Moon) – Trainer: John Shirreffs

He smartly graduated in February and completed the trifecta in the San Felipe (G2) and SA Derby (G1). He got sick and scratched out of the Kentucky Derby, and was not sharp in his training and scratched again in the Affirmed in June. He returned from a three month layoff and was second best in the Los Alamitos Derby on July 8. Reincarnate controlled the pace in the latter race and Skinner did well to land the place considering the race flow. The Travers might be next and he has worked three times since his last race. We have yet to see his best effort and he seems to be healthy and ready to deliver in the near future. He is still eligible for an entry level allowance race.   

9 – National Treasure (Quality Road – Treasure, by Medaglia d’Oro) – Trainer: Bob Baffert

He stole the Preakness but was not able to duplicate that feat in the Belmont Stakes. He had to go faster in the Belmont and could not see out the 1 1/2 miles and faded to 6th in the lane. The Travers might be next and he has worked six times since the Belmont. His last three moves were at Del Mar including a best of 4 work at six panels on Aug. 6. 

10 – Tapit Trice (Tapit – Danzatrice, by Dunkirk) – Trainer: Todd Pletcher

It appears as though he peaked earlier this year. He won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Blue Grass (G1), and was 7th of 18 in the Kentucky Derby (G1). He missed the place by a nose in the Grade 1 Belmont and never got seriously involved in the Haskell (G1). He reminds me of a less consistent version of Zandon. The latter keeps impressing in morning workouts but is just 2-for-12 on the racetrack and continues to settle for minor awards (9 place/show finishes). Pletcher’s sophomore colt acts like there is more in the tank based on his morning activity, but he has been an underachiever in his last three starts. They are going to give him another chance in the Travers, and he had his first work for this race on Aug. 10. The Travers will be his seventh start of the year and they might pull the plug on his 3-year-old campaign if he does not run a quality race. 

11 – Scotland (Good Magic – Gemswick Park, by Speightstown)

Bill Mott’s late blooming gelding began his career in March of this year. He is 3-for-4 with a nose defeat. He made his initial stakes appearance in the restricted Curlin at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga on July 21, and he battled on the pace and pulled clear in a smart victory that day. His first published work since the Curlin was a half-mile breeze in 48.48 on the training track at Saratoga on Aug. 2. The Travers was mentioned as a possibility following his Curlin score.