Eight months into the process, the search for the best 3-year-old of 2011 continues, which explains the longish list of 21 nominees to Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes, the last in the East of the season’s major races restricted to foals of 2008. But there is a better chance of finding D.B. Cooper at Saratoga on Saturday than a legitimate champion-caliber 3-year-old.
What began as the search for a potential winner of the Triple Crown has yet to see a single horse win more than one important race for 3-year-olds, the supply of which runs out soon, leaving the class of 2011 defined by mediocrity — one and done.
Though the title should be left vacant this year, there will be a nominal champion 3-year-old. That race will not be run until next year, the winner determined by ballot not on merit. With the autumn at hand identifying the contenders is much like considering the Republican presidential skirmish.
The most interesting of the anticipated developments here on Saturday is the return of Uncle Mo in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, a title not without prestige but one that is seldom pursued by the champion 2-year-old of the previous season. Uncle Mo, now recovered from intestinal distress but still suffering from a deficiency of accomplishment, will not become the leading 3-year-old of 2011 by winning the King’s Bishop. Considering the field expected for the Travers, however, perhaps he should.
Animal Kingdom, the Kentucky Derby winner, has exited the stage, but the winners of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes have shown up for the Travers without victories to substantiate their upset successes of the spring. Understandably, neither Shackleford nor Ruler on Ice has done much to stimulate even a hint of pre-Travers buzz.
Of the 21 Travers nominees, only Shackleford was a starter in all three Triple Crown races. Brilliant Speed was a starter but without impact in the Derby and Belmont. King Congie ran in the Preakness but attracted no attention to himself and Ruler On Ice’s upset of the Belmont Stakes marked his only appearance in the Triple Crown. A division that displayed little evidence of quality at the outset has been decimated by repeated exposure. If the quality of any crop is best evaluated over time, there has been ample evidence in the first three quarters of the year to come to the reasonable conclusion that this is a morbidly forgettable group. So, it is not surprising that nine of 21 Travers nominees have failed to win even a single stakes race.
If Haskell Invitation winner Coil is entered on Wednesday, the Bob Baffert-trained colt will be the only winner of a Grade 1 run on dirt outside the Triple Crown among the Travers starters. It is a year in which not much horse is enough. Racing’s glamour division is dominated by slow, limited animals in a season overshadowed by older females, Blind Luck and Havre de Grace, and the late-emerging 6-year-old Tizway.
Though his presence is the only thing that stands between the Travers being a race that holds at least passing interest or no appeal beyond a wagering perspective, it cannot be said with certainty that Coil will be entered on Wednesday. An opportunistic victory would certainly propel him toward a potential divisional championship since he would be the season’s first and potentially only dual Grade 1 winning 3-year-old. The attempt is worth at least the perception of significance, but Coil’s participation is threatened by a minor eye injury.
Coil, who until the Haskell raced in modest company on synthetic surfaces in California, is clearly below top-class but the Midsummer Derby, which offers a title that is among the sport’s most prestigious, hangs on his presence here on Saturday.
Without Coil, Stay Thirsty is the likely favorite and it is impossible to generate much excitement for the Jim Dandy winner, who may be a Saratoga horse for the course with two of his three career wins having come here. Elsewhere, he is 1-for-6, not the stuff of a champion.
This is what a bad year looks like in the 3-year-old division — forgettable from any angle or perspective. It is too early to turn the page, but we keep reading the same sentence.
Originally Posted on ESPN