(Originally published in the August 6, 2011 issue of The
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By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter
The 3-year-old male who can nail down at least one more grade I stakes before the end of the year is almost assured the title of sophomore champion. But right now, the race for the Eclipse Award trophy is still wide open.
We were hoping the July 31 Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) would help clear the picture as Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Shackleford and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Ruler On Ice were facing off. But as we saw in each race leading up to and during the Triple Crown series, the Haskell just continued to muddy the waters. Coil, a son of Point Given and winner of the grade III Affirmed Handicap, chased down Shackleford in the stretch to win by a neck.
Two grade I stakes. That’s all it’s taken for many runners to win championships.
Since 1973 when the grading system was adopted in North America, 13 champions were crowned with two grade I victories. Most of them, however, had other graded stakes wins under their belts. Only two of those champions had two grade I wins and no other graded stakes victories—Real Quiet in 1998 and Funny Cide in 2003. Both won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and the Preakness, only to miss a Triple Crown title in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Prairie Bayou is the only 3-year-old since 1973 to be named champion with only one grade I stakes win. Sadly, after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and winning the 1993 Preakness Stakes, the son of Little Missouri broke down in the Belmont and had to be euthanized. Prairie Bayou did have a total of three victories in graded stakes, having won the Jim Beam Stakes and the Blue Grass Stakes, both grade II at the time.
If the pattern we’ve been seeing since February continues through the year, 2011 may become the only other year we’ve named a 3-year-old champion with a single grade I victory. We’ll not despair, yet, because there is a lot of racing left in the year. But if another new face emerges at the wire in the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes (gr. I), we’ll have to look to the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) or the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) to crown the 3-year-old champion.
Just to add some perspective, the 3-year-old champion since 1973 who had the most grade I victories during his sophomore year is Spectacular Bid with six. Considered the best horse to have never won the Triple Crown, the son of Bold Bidder won a total of eight graded stakes from 12 starts in 1979. Champions that had five grade I victories include Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Sunday Silence, Holy Bull, and Point Given.
Overseas in Great Britain, there is no question who is carrying the mantle of best 3-year-old. Unbeaten phenomenon Frankel showed an amazing burst of speed in winning the July 27 QIPCO Sussex Stakes at Goodwood over serious challenger—and 4-year-old—Canford Cliffs. Named after the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel and a son of Galileo, Frankel has now won eight consecutive races and amassed earnings of $1,313,695. The Sussex was his third group I victory in England in year, following the QIPCO Two Thousand Guineas in April and the St. James’s Palace Stakes in June.
The latest word from owner/breeder Khalid Abdullah is Frankel is not being considered for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. That’s too bad. Frankel excels at a mile and the prospect of a showdown with Goldikova in the TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) as the legendary mare seeks her fourth consecutive Mile title would have been a promoter’s dream come true; a real once-in-a-lifetime event. Again, there is a lot of racing left in the year, and we have already seen how quickly the picture can change.