Among 2-year-olds, the best is yet to come

November, 19, 2013

As much as the Breeders Cup may have resolved the debate over champions in some of Thoroughbred racings divisions, as usual it did little to help explain what might happen six months from now in the Triple Crown.

Only one of the first 29 Breeders Cup Juvenile winners has gone on to capture the Kentucky Derby and believing that this years winner, New Years Day, can double that total seems as risky as ever.

While New Years Day might have earned an Eclipse Award for his length-and-a-quarter victory in the $2 million BC Juvenile, his body of work is limited. The race was only the third of his career and his second victory.

He broke his maiden on Polytrack at Del Mar and then registered his BC win on dirt at Santa Anita, so hes certainly versatile. But the mere fact that a horse with just a maiden win to his credit could win the BC Juvenile raises doubts about the quality of the field that New Years Day dispatched.

The 5-2 favorite in the BC Juvenile was Havana, who came into the race off a victory in the Grade 1 Champagne, which sounds impressive. However, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt had a 4 ½-length lead at the eighth pole that day and had to hang on in the final strides to win by a neck in the mile test.

Havana led by two lengths with a furlong to go in the mile-and-a-sixteenth BC Juvenile, and weakened again to wind up second in an effort that only diminished his image as a bona fide Triple Crown contender at a demanding mile-and-a-quarter distance.

If anyone else in the field is Triple Crown material, theyll have to improve -- which isnt a far-fetched possibility at this point in time.

What they and 18 of the last 20 Kentucky Derby winners have in common is that they did not run in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Looking back at recent Kentucky Derby winners and what their modest accomplishments were in mid-November of their 2-year-old season youll see that Orb (this year) was a maiden; Ill Have Another (2012) had one win in three starts and was sixth in the Hopeful in his most recent start; and Animal Kingdom (2011) had a maiden win in two career starts.

What they and 18 of the last 20 Kentucky Derby winners have in common is that they did not run in the BC Juvenile.

Given the circumstances, much attention will be focused on the Remsen at Aqueduct on Nov. 30, a race which will feature Honor Code. A fast-closing second in the Champagne despite an incredibly wide trip, Honor Code skipped the Breeders Cup. Trainer Shug McGaughey felt keeping his horse in New York would be better for the long-term development of his colt and the mile-and-an-eighth Remsen could very well be the right step in that direction.

If youre wondering, McGaugheys Triple Crown track record includes winning last years Run for the Roses with Orb, which will sharpen the focus of attention on Honor Code.

Down the road, races like the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park and Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita promise to give us a first glimpse in 2014 of who might be the horses that will be the stars of the spring and the sports mesmerizing five-week-long Triple Crown ride.

Whether New Years Day turns out to be one of them remains to be seen.

Chances are, though, as weve seen with Orb, Ill Have Another and Animal Kingdom -- to name a few -- as fresh in our memory as the Breeders Cup may be, its the series new theme song, The Best Is Yet To Come, that seems most apropos for singling out Triple Crown heroes.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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