Triple Crown winners and losersWhile not financially lucrative (-18.6% ROI), the Triple Crown series provided satisfying story lines, and perhaps more importantly as a fan of racing beyond the Triple Crown, story lines that are likely to continue on the road to the Breeders' Cup Thoroughbred Championships.
Here's my score card on winners and losers from this year's Triple Crown season.
WINNER: Pedigree handicapping
Palace Malice scored a big win not only for his sire as a classic winner in Curlin's first crop but also for the magical cross of a Mr. Prospector-line sire over a Northern Dancer-line mare. It was the third such win in five years for the cross and the sixth in 11 years. The Preakness winner and Belmont runner-up Oxbow is by a Breeders' Cup Classic winner (Awesome Again) out of a Classic-winning (Tiznow) family, and Kentucky Derby winner Orb traces his female lineage back to Shenanigans.
The supposed heir apparent to his sire A.P. Indy, Bernardini has just one North American black-type winner from his 2010 crop whereas Malibu Moon has five, including the aforementioned Orb plus Grade 2 winner and classic starter Freedom Child and multiple Grade 2 winner Kauai Katie. Bernardini stood for an advertised fee of $75,000 in 2009 (the year foals of 2010 would have been conceived) while Malibu Moon's fee that year was $40,000. For 2013, Bernardini's fee had grown to $150,000 while Malibu Moon was at $70,000. There's absolutely no question who provides value for the money on the racetrack at those price points.
WINNER: Flyover country
It's been a long time between drinks for Louisiana when it comes to major Triple Crown relevance, but the Fair Grounds series of races culminating with the Louisiana Derby was back in a big way this year with Belmont winner Palace Malice, Preakness winner Oxbow, and the classic-placed trio of Golden Soul, Mylute, and Revolutionary all having run in the Pelican State this year. The only others to place in classics this year (Derby winner and Belmont third Orb and Preakness second Itsmyluckyday) raced in Florida.
The last time the Wood Memorial Stakes or Santa Anita Derby failed to produce a classic-placed horse in the Triple Crown series was 2006, but that was the case this year as the final preps for the seven horses to earn a classic placing were the Louisiana Derby (Revolutionary, Mylute, and Golden Soul), Florida Derby (Orb and Itsmyluckyday), Arkansas Derby (Oxbow), and Blue Grass Stakes (Palace Malice).
WINNERS: Accomplished connections
Racing Hall of Fame members D. Wayne Lukas, Claude R. "Shug" McGaughey, Mike Smith, and Gary Stevens won Triple Crown races this year, and if that institution inducted owners then Calumet, Dogwood, Janney, and Phipps would be shoe-ins as well. Those in classic Winner's Circles not yet in the Hall of Fame are Joel Rosario and Todd Pletcher. The latter will make it on the first or second try while the former is at least going to be on some ballots.
LOSERS: Neophyte connections
Yeah, Orb's connections were all winning their first Derby, but they had been there before, and Shug the Phipps family had already had classic success. After the 90s and early 21st century belonged to Baffert, Lukas, and Zito, recent years had gone not only to first-time winners but also some first-time participants such as the connections of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Barbaro, Big Brown, Mine That Bird, Summer Bird, Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Ruler On Ice, and I'll Have Another.
WINNERS: Pace/trip handicappers
Oxbow and Palace Malice both had their share of supporters at generous prices in the Preakness and Belmont, not because of a number but because of what people saw from those two on a blistering Derby pace. I'm a numbers player myself, and this Triple Crown season illustrated that understanding how a number is earned, and what might conspire to produce an improved figure is every bit as important as just determining "who's fastest."
LOSERS: Speed handicappers
Purely off numbers, Palace Malice and Oxbow were tough to like, but as noted above there were other reasons to like them, and it's not as if they were both void of number power. To win a race, you don't have to go faster than anyone has gone before, just fastest on that particular day. Palace Malice's 101 Brisnet.com Speed Rating won't win any championships, but it did win him the Belmont Stakes.
WINNER: Poncho sales people
Plenty of rain at both the Derby and the Belmont and the threat of rain with overcast skies at the Preakness no doubt boosted sales ponchos in Louisville, Long Island, and Baltimore.
LOSER: Long-term forecasts
About a week before both the Derby and Belmont, the tweets heralding GREAT forecasts for Derby and Belmont days quickly turned sour as the forecast dampened each day. By mid-week Derby week it was clear that rain was going to happen all day Saturday, and it did but for a two-hour window surrounding the world's most famous horse race. Belmont fared slightly better with terrible weather Friday preceding pleasant conditions by comparison on Saturday. Still, the forecasts a week out from this two events literally couldn't have been more wrong.
WINNER: The rest of the year
I know we say this every year, but it should be a fun rest of the year. Not necessarily because there are any superstars, but because these are evenly matched divisions in which head to head competition will be required to secure year-end honors. The exception to this is Wise Dan, who with the injury to Point of Entry, is unquestionably the best turf male in North America right now. From a three-year-old male standpoint, yeah, the classic winners have an edge, but no one will be shocked if horses like Itsmyluckyday, Verrazano, Normandy Invasion, etc. make enough noise in the second half of the year to enter the championship picture. The three-year-old filly division is similarly interesting with Beholder potentially having home-track advantage with the Breeders' Cup in her back yard, but a Ladies Classic tilt could require facing the likes of Royal Delta.
I started out by noting my 18.6% negative ROI on the Triple Crown festivities this year, so I figured I'd close with an optimistic thought on better results for summer racing. Those who know me know I'm more than happy to bet--even hammer--a favorite I think offers value, but I went the other way much of the time this Triple Crown season and paid the price, as short-priced horses peppered the undercard races, and I rarely connected. That's not an excuse--that's just poor handicapping, as on several occasions some of the horses in question looked like 1-to-5 shots after the fact and I passed on even money!
Onward toward the Breeders' Cup!