No 2 year old Breeders Cup Juvenile champ has been around to ENTER a Belmont Stakes since 1985: not win, not hit the board, we are talking not even in the race. That to me is a much more incredible streak than our lack of recent Triple Crown champions.
Legend Street Sense seems to be the only one that missed the race by choice; all others were either hit with the injury bug or simply not accomplished enough to continue after lackluster beginnings to their respective 3yo seasons, albeit just months after top 2yo campaigns ended with BC victories. War Pass and Stevie Wonderboy come to mind since 2005. Likewise, Vale of York and Midshipman were whisked off to Dubai, never to return for the American classics. Add in Vindication and Macho Uno, and you have 5 of the last 9 lame early at 3 since 2000.
In fact, during this 25 year window, we only have three Preakness starters (Looking at Lucky, Street Sense, and Timber Country), as 22 out of the 25 other BC Juvenile champs were unable to attend. As Charles Barkley would say; “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.” I had to look it up 3 times to believe my eyes. Yet, time and time again we see early Derby pick lists with the BC Juvenile champ typically placed in that number one slot. Amazingly, the last six top picks at this early stage have a single 10th place effort to show out of one start on the first Saturday in May.
Not coincidentally, of this somewhat less than stellar group, Street Sense is the sole Derby winner. His trainer, Carl Nafzger, was known to breeze his other Derby champ, Unbridled, 4F the day before the Derby: http://horsetrainingscience.blogspot.com/2010/10/nafzgers-secret-with-unbridled.html
(click this link or read his book entitled Traits of a Winner to learn more).
So, we can reasonably assume that Street Sense was conditioned a bit differently from some of his other competition, which lines up just fine with my theories and observations.
Consider: the top 2yo performances in November are followed by nothing 95+% of the time just 6 months later. Is this just horseracing and the fragile thoroughbred, or can we add anything to this mix to turn these numbers around over the next 25 years?
Can we credit pedigree for 2yo precociousness and then turn around and blame pedigree for 3yo disappointments in the same colt? My theory is that proper training and conditioning could do much to bring about the needed change.
Other trainers of two year old champions include D. Wayne Lukas (5 times), Bob Baffert twice, Todd Pletcher, Nick Zito, etc. It's a who's who of top trainers, and it also includes some lesser lights -- all known to train in a more or less conventional way. Still, with just one Derby win from the group, that of Street Sense and Nafzger, this certainly does not bode well for Uncle Mo.
25 BC Juvenile champs:
Ky Derby – 11: 1-0-1
Preakness – 3: 2-1-0
Belmont – 0: 0-0-0
Statistics will also show that as much as 45% of BC Juvenile starters will win a stakes race later in their careers. But I am talking about winners, who by definition have matured quicker than their rivals at 2. The fact that half of the starters win a stakes race at 4 or later further solidifies my point.
P.S. Chief’s Crown was the 1984 champ, at the first BC held, and hit the board in all 3 Triple Crown races that year. If during reading the above, you already knew this, you are one sharp horseperson. Of course I had to leave him out until the end to hammer my point home, as all good bloggers do.