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Jarrod Horak’s Triple Crown 2017 Rewind

Jarrod Horak’s Triple Crown 2017 Rewind

The 2017 Triple Crown series is in the books and in addition looking back, I will take a peek at the second half of the year for the sophomore set.

Kentucky Derby

My top choice Always Dreaming entered the 2017 Kentucky Derby as the fastest horse (158 Final Rating Florida Derby) and ran hard throughout in a sharp victory on the first Saturday in May.

In recent years, the Kentucky Derby has become a race for early/pressing types and 2017 was no exception.

On a wet fast (sealed) main track at Churchill Downs, State of Honor was hustled to the fore with Always Dreaming, Battle of Midway, and Irish War Cry in hot pursuit. Always Dreaming poked his head in front after six panels and increased his margin throughout, crossing the finish line a bit less than three lengths to the good.

Late runners have been up to complete the Derby exacta in recent years. Golden Soul (2013), Commanding Curve (2014), and Exaggerator (2016), and you can add Lookin At Lee to the list in 2017. The latter sat a great ground saving trip under Corey Lanerie and was clearly second best at 33-1.

Battle of Midway held 3rd over an unlucky Classic Empire. The 2-year-old champ was slammed at the start and rallied through stretch traffic to round out the superfecta. He would have been closer with a better trip.  

Today’s Racing Digest was spot-on for the exacta with the fastest overall horse Always Dreaming getting the win and one of the Fastest in the Stretch Lookin At Lee landing the place.

When the 2018 Derby rolls around, remember to look for an early/pressing type for the win and a late runner to complete the exacta.      

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Preakness Stakes

The Preakness usually goes to horses exiting the Derby but Cloud Computing came into the second jewel of the Triple Crown with just three starts and left Baltimore as a Grade 1 winner.

As expected, Always Dreaming took the bulk of the wagering action and only needed to reproduce his Florida Derby (158 Final) or Kentucky Derby (161 Final) numbers to get the job done but it was not his day. He was able to set the pace but John Velazquez had to coax him along and you could see that he was in deep trouble from the outset.

Classic Empire and jockey Julien Leparoux were all over Always Dreaming from the opening bell and when the Derby winner surprisingly gave up the ghost early on, the juvenile champ seized control of the race and appeared poised for a big win.

However, Classic Empire failed to keep his mind on the task at hand and Cloud Computing, always in a good spot behind the speed under Javier Castellano, began to gain ground in the stretch and got the job done by a head.

Senior Investment was along for 3rd but the top two were well clear of the pack. Always Dreaming faded to 8th and looked like a tired horse.

There were signs that Cloud Computing was a live wire using TRD numbers but you had to read between the lines. After his debut maiden win (128 Pace + 129 Final), he jumped up to face stakes rivals and ended up hitting the board in the Gotham (132 Pace + 128 Final) and Wood Memorial (161 Pace + 131 Final). When a horse improves Pace + Final Ratings in the same race like he did in the Wood, it is time to stand up and take notice. Also, he had enough points to run in the Derby but sharp trainer Chad Brown knew he lacked seasoning and wisely pointed him to the Preakness. I expected him to perform well at Pimlico and included him in exacta boxes with my top choice Always Dreaming but did not think he would put it all together so soon. The moral of the story is never underestimate a lightly raced, fresh, improving horse with quality connections, especially at 13-1.    

Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes has become a race with a definite pattern in recent years and the winning model is to run in the Derby, skip the Preakness, and capture the Test of Champions.

>From 2000-2106, eight horses ran in the Derby, skipped the Preakness, and won the Belmont, and make that nine after Tapwrit pulled the same trick in 2017.

The final leg of the Triple Crown did not have the Derby or Preakness winners, and juvenile champ Classic Empire missed the race as well, but it was still an interesting contest with Irish War Cry the fastest horse on TRD Numbers (152 Final Wood Momorial, 153 Final Holy Bull).

Some handicappers thought the Motion trainee was a bit suspect on stamina but he went straight to the front and had the lead for most of the marathon affair. Tapwrit was always in a good tactical spot and Jose Ortiz never let Irish War Cry out of his sight. In the end, Tapwrit had more stamina than the rest and wore down the post time favorite to win by two lengths. Show finisher Patch was more than eight lengths back in 3rd, and Gormley was best of the rest.

Tapwrit was my top choice in the Belmont Stakes and not just because of the Derby-Belmont angle. His sire Tapit was responsible for 2014 Belmont hero Tonalist and 2016 Belmont winner Creator, trainer Todd Pletcher had won the race twice prior, and I liked that he had a local rider on his back. Looking at his TRD numbers, he earned a 146 Final Rating in the Tampa Bay Derby and gave every indication that he would run at least that fast at Belmont Park. It takes a horse with a steady running style to win at a mile and a half on dirt and in addition to his 146 Final, Tapwrit received a 146 Pace Rating in the TB Derby. That perfect blend of speed and stamina helped propel him to victory on June 10.

The top three finishers in the 2017 Belmont all exited the Kentucky Derby. Remember that angle next year!

Looking Ahead

The race for the 3-year-old championship should be fast and furious during the second half of 2017. Always Dreaming holds the current edge with Grade 1 victories in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. Cloud Computing threw his hat in the ring in the Preakness, and Tapwrit joined the fray in the Belmont. Classic Empire won the Arkansas Derby and just missed in the Preakness.

Always Dreaming is targeting the Jim Dandy (July 29) and Travers (Aug 26) at Sataroga this summer and Cloud Computing will be waiting for him.

Belmont hero Tapwrit could show up in the Jim Dandy or Haskell in July.

Preakness runner-up Classic Empire has recovered from his latest setback (quarter crack) and is pointing to the Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 30. Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry has the Monmouth showcase on his dance card as well.

Bob Baffert is always in the Haskell mix and recent Easy Goer winner West Coast might be his Monmouth Park horse this summer.

McCraken was the wise guy horse in the Derby but was a bit light on TRD numbers (135 Final Rating Sam F Davis) and ended up finishing 8th. He made his much anticipated return in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 17 and rallied from off the pace to score by a couple of lengths as the heavy favorite. He will need to run faster to compete with the top horses in the division and the Jim Dandy might be his next assignment.

In addition to Cloud Computing, Chad Brown also has Timeline and Practical Joke (141 Final Rating Blue Grass) gearing up for big summer stakes assignments. The former won the Grade II Peter Pan but took a pass on the Belmont and kept his perfect record intact with a sharp win in the Grade III Pegasus at Monmouth Park on June 18. He is expected to contest the Haskell next while Practical Joke has his sights set on the Dwyer (one mile) at Belmont Park on July 8.

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