Upset Minded - By Lenny Shulman

So what do we make of the beginning of the second half of the 2017 race season, where in the space of one week we’ve seen the defeats of Arrogate, Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing, Irish War Cry, and Timeline with nary a battle offered?

These named, are, after all and respectively, the highest ranked horse in the world, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner, the Preakness Stakes (G1) winner, the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRABets (G1) runner-up by a nostril, and a previously undefeated up-and-comer. Not all of this carnage can be blamed on Saratoga, where favorites traditionally fare as well as an ice cream cone in the summer sun. To paraphrase three bearded guys from Texas, short-priced horses lately have been bad, and nationwide.

In this very space back in early March, we opined that “It’s clear that this is one of those years where the crop of sophomores is just going to take turns beating up on one another.”

Unfortunately, the final Derby preps, Triple Crown series, and now the first batch of summer stakes have done absolutely nothing to prove us wrong. We can certainly point to the delicate dance performed by trainers in bringing horses such as Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing back after two-month breaks into races that are not their ultimate goals. But make no mistake—they’re not looking to get their headline horses beat; they’re just trying to win with something left in the tank. Yet when the two top trainers on the East Coast fail in striking that balance as completely as Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown did with their classic winners, it calls into question once again the quality of this collection of 3-year-olds. Pletcher and Brown didn’t all of a sudden forget how to train.

There was Always Dreaming, left alone on the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) lead and clicking off :24.13, :48.53, 1:13.27, and 1:38.23, with Cloud Computing in attendance, and neither able to fire late; beaten convincingly by Good Samaritan, a horse trying dirt for the first time; another who has just a maiden win next to his name; and all out to stave off a second maiden winner (Pavel, who split the two classic winners at the wire).

If we were hoping that the following afternoon’s Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) would clarify the 3-year-old picture, well, it doesn’t cost anything to hope. Lightly raced but talented Timeline, the 9-5 favorite, found tight quarters and perhaps his inexperience hampered him. Local choice Irish War Cry, the pride of New Jersey, tracked a moderate pace over what is a famously glib surface but gave way in crunch time. Girvin, the scourge of Fair Grounds earlier this year, won the Haskell as the second-longest shot in the field of seven. McCraken, obviously talented but not huge on winning, got pipped on the wire, and third-place Practical Joke, who was once thought to have distance limitations, is proving to be one of the more solid 3-year-olds of the season.

Anyone want to bet against Irap and West Coast filling out the Travers (G1) exacta Aug. 26?

As for 4-year-old Arrogate’s desultory performance in the TVG San Diego Handicap (G2), he too was coming off a long freshening of some four months and is being pointed toward bigger game down the road, but that alone does not excuse his refusal to accelerate against Accelerate. His was a shockingly poor effort after four brilliant outings going back to last year’s Travers. This time it was Bob Baffert—arguably the greatest trainer of this era—getting fooled. We hope this was a case of
Arrogate simply having a bad day.

In this age of immediacy and instant gratification, added to the reality that our stars of today don’t run nearly as often as their ancestors, perhaps we lean too heavily on each performance. One good race gets us giddy; four seem like a lifetime’s body of work.

Pass the  Dramamine. It looks like it’s going to be a bumpy ride to the wire.  

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