3-year-old ponies go up and down in cir­cle game

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - JAY HOVDEY

The 3-year-old colts of 2017 have been more fun than a box full of kit­tens.

For eight hurly-burly months, they’ve rolled around in a fluffy ball, nib­bling on each other’s tails, mewl­ing for at­ten­tion. Some­times, one of them will claw his way up the side of the box, blink his big kit­ten eyes, and make a bunch of cat-crazy hu­mans go “oooh” and “awww.” Then he’ll be dragged back into the pile.

The lat­est cutie-pie to pop out of the box is West Coast, a looker from Cal­i­for­nia who had the speed and con­di­tion to lead the Travers field on a merry chase last Satur­day at Saratoga. It was un­ques­tion­ably the best in a string of in­creas­ingly good races the son of Flat­ter has run for own­ers Gary and Mary West, who have been play­ing the game for a long time and richly de­serve a such an his­toric tro­phy.

To sug­gest, how­ever, that West Coast has be­come the leader of the divi­sion flies in the face of eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble data. Never mind the ca­noe. His Travers and Los Alami­tos Derby wins look no bet­ter or worse than Tap­writ’s Bel­mont Stakes and Tampa Bay Derby, or Girvin’s Haskell In­vi­ta­tional and Louisiana Derby-Risen Star pack­age, or Irap’s Ohio and Indiana der­bies on top of his Blue Grass, or the ex­cel­lence of Al­ways Dream­ing in the der­bies of Florida and Ken­tucky.

Even one-hit (so far) won­ders like Cloud Com­put­ing, Good Sa­mar­i­tan, and Gun­n­ev­era need only one more big day to reach par with the oth­ers, while the own­ers of the un­der­achiev­ing Lookin At Lee ($753,000 in earn­ings this year) and McCraken ($672,228) are smil­ing all the way to the bank.

Alas, West Coast made them all look like chumps in the Travers, and in this day and age, it’s not that you’ve had an ad­mirable cam­paign with highs and lows along the way that should be judged when all the ev­i­dence is in. It’s what you did last Satur­day.

There are only a hand­ful of races left to em­bel­lish 3-year-old ré­sumés. The Penn­syl­va­nia Derby on Sept. 23 looms large as the last Grade 1 race for the divi­sion, at least on dirt. Oth­er­wise, it’s into the deep end against el­ders in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Awe­some Again, the Breed­ers’ Cup Dirt Mile, and the Breed­ers’ Cup Clas­sic.

Mark Casse had been think­ing about the Penn­syl­va­nia Derby for John Ox­ley’s Clas­sic Em­pire and said so out loud. But you al­ways got the feel­ing he would rather change the sub­ject.

The Arkansas Derby win­ner has been train­ing off and on since he missed the June 10 Bel­mont Stakes with a flare-up of foot trou­ble. Since then, Clas­sic Em­pire has had a re­cur­rence of back prob­lems as well and is now at Wind­ing Oaks Farm in Ocala, Fla. Re­cently, Casse has been get­ting good re­ports on the colt, but not good enough.

“We’re not go­ing to make the Penn­syl­va­nia Derby,” the trainer said Mon­day from Saratoga. “He’s train­ing ev­ery day, we’ve gone over him head to toe, and he’s do­ing fine. But when we ask him to do a lit­tle more, he’s like, ‘No, not yet.’ So there’s re­ally no goal out there right now.”

Clas­sic Em­pire was a 2-year-old cham­pion who be­gan his ca­reer in May of last year. He missed time ear­lier this year, won in Arkansas on sheer class, and then was a night­mare fourth in the Ken­tucky Derby before his stub­born sec­ond to Cloud Com­put­ing in the Preak­ness.

The only other top 3-year-old not in at­ten­dance at Saratoga was Bat­tle of Mid­way, who cel­e­brated Travers Day by win­ning the listed Shared Be­lief Stakes at Del Mar, un­der a pull. Flavien Prat was aboard for Jerry Hol­len­dor­fer.

“I thought that was an out­stand­ing ef­fort on his part,” Hol­len­dor­fer said. “He didn’t have any luck in the Haskell, and he didn’t turn in his best per­for­mance.”

Bat­tle of Mid­way has been shad­ow­ing the divi­sion “lead­ers” all year long. He was sec­ond in the Santa Anita Derby and third in the Ken­tucky Derby, then prepped for the Haskell by win­ning the Grade 3 Af­firmed. He broke a step slowly in the Haskell, how­ever, and never got in the game.

“Af­ter the race, Flavien said he ran a lot bet­ter than it looked,” Hol­len­dor­fer said. “He said he was run­ning easy, but not fo­cused. I asked if he thought blink­ers would help, and he agreed. So we worked him in a set of French blink­ers, and he worked well.”

French blink­ers, French jockey – bingo! Bat­tle of Mid­way won by more than six lengths, beat­ing Grade 1 win­ners Klimt and Gorm­ley in the bar­gain.

“Whether it was the blink­ers, or he liked the track that day, or what­ever, his race was im­pres­sive,” Hol­len­dor­fer added. “I en­joy work­ing with peo­ple to get the job done, and Prat made a big con­tri­bu­tion.”

Hol­len­dor­fer has sug­gested the $400,000 Ok­la­homa Derby on Sept. 24 as a pos­si­ble free spot for Bat­tle of Mid­way’s next race, but he seems to be lean­ing more to­ward the $1 mil­lion Penn­syl­va­nia Derby the pre­vi­ous day. Af­ter all, he’s got what he feels is a Grade 1 horse who has yet to win a Grade 1 race.

“That’s a prob­lem,” Hol­len­dor­fer said, tongue in cheek. “He is an in­ter­est­ing horse to fol­low, one that could de­velop into some­thing spe­cial. But we have a lit­tle more work to do.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.