1 American Pharoah
What can you say? He’s gone unbeaten in five starts this year, including a sweep of the Triple Crown, and you can’t help but get the feeling that as great as he has been so far, we still haven’t seen the best he has to offer. The fact that he’s won at six different racetracks bodes well for his chances of handling the Keeneland surface in the Breeders’ Cup.
He’s gained a reputation as a Belmont Park specialist, and while he may be at his very best at that track, I also think he’s one of the best ten-furlong horses in the country, and that could help negate any disadvantage he could potentially have from leaving Belmont. Of course, it’s important to remember that the very capable older horse Flat Out garnered a reputation as a Belmont specialist a couple years ago, and he eventually ran third in a Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita and won the Cigar Mile (gr. I) at Aqueduct.
3 California Chrome
After missing the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-I) at Royal Ascot with a foot bruise, he’s expected to return to the U.S. in early July to prepare for the Arlington Million (gr. I), after which he will return to dirt for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont Park. It’s not the most traditional prep schedule for the Classic, but his talent can’t be denied, and as long as he recovers quickly from his foot bruise, he should be back in peak form in time for another run at the Classic.
He could only finish second as the favorite in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), but that was his first start since running third in the Dubai World Cup on March 28th, and he probably a bit short of his best form. Additionally, the track on the night of the Stephen Foster was very speed-favoring, and as a closer, Lea was compromised while trying to catch front-running Noble Bird. All told, it was a solid comeback effort, and it should set him up very well for major stakes races down the road.
5 Noble Bird
As mentioned above, he took advantage of a speed-favoring track to win the Stephen Foster, but it’s impossible to deny that this son of Birdstone is improving rapidly and will be a force to reckon with in the second half of the year. His next start is expected to come in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga, where he might face a rematch with Lea, as well as Palace Malice and Honor Code.
Last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner has been soundly beaten in two starts thus far this year, but those were at distances a bit short of his best. Since he’s demonstrated that he can’t handle strong pace pressure early in the race, he should relish the return to longer distances in the future, and the San Diego Handicap (gr. II)–expected to be his next start–should be a perfect spot for him to get back on track.
The Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner received a bit of a break after finishing third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and fourth in the Preakness (gr. I), but he’s breezed twice so far this month, most recently going a half-mile in :47 2/5 on June 21st at Santa Anita. His next start may come in the July 4th Los Alamitos Derby (gr. II) at Los Alamitos.
The Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up has the Travers Stakes (gr. I) as his summer target, and has clearly stamped himself as the second- or third-best three-year-old colt in a very talented crop. It’s uncertain whether he’ll have a prep for the Travers or head straight to the race, but if he does run before then, the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at the beginning of August looks like a logical prep.
He returned from a layoff to finish third in the Stephen Foster, and while he was never a threat to the top two finishers, he should gain a lot of fitness off that effort and improve in his next start. It sounds like he might wheel back on short rest for the June 27th Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I), where we’ll get a chance to see how he handles ten furlongs.
10 Palace Malice
The 2013 Belmont Stakes winner has had a rough year so far, missing the Westchester Handicap (gr. III) due to a foot bruise and passing on the Met Mile (gr. I) because he wasn’t ready in time, and in between, he could only finish third in the six-furlong Diablo Stakes at Belmont. He hasn’t breezed since then, and is currently dealing with a tendon issue, but it is hoped that he will be back in time for the Whitney Handicap this August. When he’s in peak form, there’s no doubt that he’s among the best older horses in the country, and if he can stay healthy in the second half of the year, he should have a say in the outcome of the Classic.