Another Triple Crown is in the books and unfortunately, it yielded us no Triple Crown winner. That much is not a total surprise.
What is a bit surprising is that with nearly half of the season gone we are no closer to finding out who is the best 3-year-old in the country. You can make a strong argument that Animal Kingdom was the best horse during the Triple Crown, and with any luck at all he could have won at least two legs. But the reality is that he did not win the last two races and while he probably remains the division leader by default, he still has a lot to prove.
As I wrote in a previous blog, I still believe there is a chance that the best 3-year-old did not even run in the Triple Crown. This is a perfect year for a late-bloomer or horse coming off injury to seize control of the division with a major second-half campaign. Who is that horse going to be?
Well, that remains to be seen but I think there is a decent chance that his name could be Coil. There weren't too many that were paying attention on Belmont Stakes day, but Coil, a son of Point Given trained by Bob Baffert, was announcing himself a major 3-year-old at Hollywood Park when he won the grade III Affirmed Handicap in his two-turn debut.
If you haven't seen the replay, here it is. Coil, breaking from the rail, rated along the inside for just under a mile before engaging stablemate Awesome Patriot and taking over. He held off a game rally by Runflatout in the stretch to score by a length for his second win in two starts this season. Baffert had been thinking of running Coil in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens, but decided this was the time to test him going long.
"I thought he would handle two turns; I was hopeful, but you never know until they do it," Baffert said. "They went slow up front and he made an early move. I would have preferred if he waited a little longer but he didn't. It looked like when he made the lead he was looking around. He's still green and needs to mature, but he's a pretty special horse."
Baffert bought Coil for his partners privately from Glen Hill Farm after he ran third in his debut last October at Santa Anita. He went on to break his maiden by 3 1/4 lengths in his next start on Nov. 13 but then developed a minor knee chip that had to be removed. Baffert gave him about 40 days off before returning him to training. The chestnut colt ran huge in his season debut May 6 at Hollywood, defeating stablemate Smash by 1 1/4 lengths in an optional claimer going six furlongs. In that one he also had to break from the rail but relaxed beautifully before taking over. He earned a 106 Beyer doing so.
"That comeback race was pretty phenomenal," Baffert said. "The one he beat, Smash, is a really nice horse too."
Baffert bought Coil in large part because he is by Point Given. The trainer of Point Given during his championship campaign of 2001, Baffert still says he is one of the three most talented horses he has ever campaigned. Point Given is still the only horse to have won four consecutive $1 million races--the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers.
"I've been chasing Point Givens ever since. I said this would be my last one," Baffert laughed. "I took a shot with Coil because I saw how well he worked and I saw a lot of Point Given in him. Actually, I think he is better looking than his sire. Coil is stronger in the hind end.
"He reminds me of Point Given from the standpoint that races are not taxing on him. One of Point Given's strongest attributes was that he could run, run, run and it didn't have an effect on him. He got bigger and stronger as the Triple Crown went on. Coil looks like the same kind of horse."
Baffert said the next major goal for Coil is the July 31 Haskell, a race that Point Given won 10 years ago. But before that he would like to get one race into him, either the July 2 Dwyer at Belmont at 1 1/16 miles or the July 9 Swaps at Hollywood at 1 1/8 miles.
"I don't know about going back to one turn with him and I have to consider the shipping, but he's worked over the dirt at Hollywood and handles it well. He's still learning. I'm trying to figure him out still, but I don't think distance will be a problem. He has so much raw talent. He's still one race away from running his best."
And what about the prospects of facing some of the top horses from the Triple Crown in the Haskell and beyond?
"From the standpoint of talent and physical appearance, to me, nothing on the Triple Crown trail is more impressive than he is. He's the kind of horse when you he walks in the paddock, everyone says ‘Whoa.' He looks like a man amongst boys."
As far as Baffert's other major 3-year-olds, on Monday Jaycito had his second work since returning from his foot issues, burning a bullet four furlongs in :47-flat at Hollywood. Baffert said the Travers is the main goal for Jaycito.
"He's doing well. His foot is growing out nicely. It took us a while to get it better. It was a mess."
Baffert also said The Factor is now being tack walked after recovering from a hairline ankle fracture. The King's Bishop Aug. 27 at Saratoga is the summer goal for him, with the long-term goal being the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
"I'll give him a few more weeks," Baffert said. "But he's the kind of horse that stays buff even when he's not training. He won't need too much to get back. We'll keep him one turn and he should be tough."