Friday, July 3, 2009

3yo Top Ten

The Triple Crown is gone, but in many ways the fun just begins this time of year. Horses blossom, regress and ultimately stamp their long-term worth in the business end of the season. With so many pivotal match ups looming and culminating in some way with the Breeders Cup, I figure its time to start ranking the individual divisions again.

Now, most rankings focus on one of the two following criteria, accomplishments and projection. The former is zero fun and doesn’t say much. The latter is intriguing, but is difficult as not all of the horses are pointing to the same objective.

Early in the season the goal is clear, the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. So horses are viewed based on their ability on dirt and around two turns. At this time of year though, the divisions start to splinter and trainers start pointing their horses to races over their preferred distance and surface.

With the Breeders Cup being run over synthetics it adds another wrinkle, as some horses will not be pointing to the Breeders Cup at all.

So, my divisional ranking will based on equals parts accomplishments, projection and overall ability, with the projection angle being based on how they will stack up against their primary competition at their preferred surface and distance. (So a dirt sprinter will only be compared to other dirt sprinters etc)

I'll start with the glamor division, three year olds. A new division will be added each week.

3yo Top Ten

1. Rachel Alexandra
2. Mine That Bird
3. Quality Road
4. Big Drama
5. Summer Bird
6. Pioneerof The Nile
7. Capt. Candyman Can
8. Munnings
9. Musket Man
10. Papa Clem

Rachel has to get top billing. She is not only the top 3yo in training; she might be the best horse in America, period. She’s beaten most of the horses ranked and will likely rematch most in one or two summer classics. She’s earned this spot.

Mine That Bird
gets the second spot based on consistency and the fact that he proved the Derby was no fluke in the subsequent Triple Crown races. His style will lead to a lot of “close but no cigar” finishes, but he should be a factor in every race he runs in because of his dominant late kick. He gets a nod over #3 simply for being able to show up when it matters most.

Quality Road is the best 3yo male in the game in my opinion, but the question is will his brittle feet ever let him mount a meaningful campaign. As a spot starter here or there his ability will go largely unknown. The bad thing here is with his pedigree and G1 win, any future injury could have him on the fast track for the breeding shed. He is the division’s last hope for a genuine star and he could be the only 3yo in the nation that could give Alexandra a real run for her money. As long as he is in training and being pointed to something of note, he will be ranked high.

Big Drama is a real freak. He wins consistently and is perhaps the most versatile horse in the division. I think he could be the dominant sprinter in the game. (Well at least on dirt.. on synthetics who knows… who cares?) I get the feeling he could be jostled around between sprints and routes, not letting him entirely fulfill his potential in either. That’s the pessimist in me speaking, but I adore the horse and think he could very possibly eclipse anyone on the list if he stays sound.

Summer Bird is essentially Mine That Bird light. His ranking is based not only on the Belmont win, but his fast ascension up the ranks. He put in deceptively strong efforts in the Arkansas and Kentucky Derby’s after a maiden win. The horse has potential and the Belmont might just be the start of something more. He will loom large in the division if he can continue to improve at this rate.

Pioneerof The Nile is very tough to rank. He is a fairly accomplished horse and benefits from being able to stay home running over synthetics since the Breeders Cup is in his backyard. He’ll likely add another big win or two before the Cup and that will cause his fan base to slowly recover from the dismal effort in the Preakness. I still cannot rank him very high though based on a few factors. It’s hard to overlook the fact that he has not proven himself to be very fast. He also doesn’t figure to factor in the Classic unless he makes a drastic improvement over the summer. His grinding style, combined with a lack of speed will find him lacking in the Classic, which will likely be dominated by Euro’s that can close with a flurry. So, I cant really rank him much higher, as I see him beating a lot of nothing in California and then being drubbed in the Classic.(Hello stud duty!)

Capt. Candyman Can is one of the best one-turn 3yo’s in the country and he is arguably the most accomplished to this point. In a solid group of 3yo sprinters he would be tentative leader for some, but with Triple Crown would be’s like Big Drama and newcomers like Munnings and Hull pointing in the same direction, he’ll have to find another gear than what he has shown beating up on the second string in their absence.

Munnings was electric in the Woody Stephens. I elected to rank him lower knowing he is running this weekend in the G2 Tom Fool. On ability he could be better than Capt. Candyman Can or on par with Big Drama, but he’ll get a massive, and I mean MASSIVE class test against the best sprinter in the nation, Fabulous Strike, this weekend. If he can finish respectably here, he will move up the list.

Musket Man is a battle-tested horse that just finds a way to show up regardless of distance or the track. Granted his wins have been in lesser circuits, but he has been remarkably tough through the Triple Crown trail, cashing a check in good efforts in both races. This horse could be dangerous if he improves as a late 3yo. Any jump in ability could make him a dominant horse in the division.

Papa Clem is really Musket Man-esque except he won a signature Triple Crown prep. He threw in the towel in the Preakness unlike Musket Man and for that he finds himself a spot below him. With that said he is a tough horse, generally consistent and has some ability. He is another that could rise to prominence if he were to take another step forward in the second half of the season.

For the record, Dunkirk and other horses like Cash Refund etc. have been omitted because of injury and the fact that they will likely not be fit in time for meaningful races by the end of the year.

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