Will The Mediocrity of 2011’s Sophomores Create a Stronger Handicap Division for 2012???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Paul Moran of ESPN…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Wait Until Next Year

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — With no Grade 1 races restricted to 3-year-olds remaining in 2011, it has been the year of one and done.

Each in his allotted 15 minutes of fame, the slow and inconsistent have in turn stood in the winner’s circle on big days, from Miami to Saratoga and through the Triple Crown. Despite what is a clear imbalance to the advantage of the downside, there may be an upside hidden in the assessment of the current gaggle of 3-year-olds who have spent the year in a fruitless search of a leader when there was really none in the first place.

Saturday’s Travers Stakes, won by the classic horse-for-the-course Stay Thirsty, was the 10th Grade 1 stakes of the year in the division and the winner, whose running time for 10 furlongs rivaled the U.S. Postal Service, is the 10th Grade 1-winning 3-year-old of 2011. The winners of the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational were unplaced in the Travers, a result appropriate to the season’s tone and on a day when the champion 2-year-old of 2010 would be beaten in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, a race that left the distinct impression that Uncle Mo, stablemate of the Travers winner, is clearly a horse with limited range and great ability if permitted to take advantage of his strength and aptitude. This may have been the most valuable thing learned on Travers day.

The upside to serial mediocrity: None of the 10 3-year-old Grade 1 winners of 2011 are likely to be retired for breeding purposes at year’s end. Gelding them all would make more sense, but certainly they will be kept in training and return to competition at age four. This at least guarantees depth in terms of numbers for the major races for older horses next year, a pool that has been shallow for a very long time. Given the distinct possibility that some of these horses will improve with age, some may even provide a greater degree of consistency. The return of an injured Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who many believe has always been the best of this group, would add an interesting element and the possibility that one or more of the current 3-year-olds will advance sufficiently to make a substantial impact, would well result in a season of interesting competition in what was once called the handicap division. Among those currently at the upper crust of that group, only 6-year-old Tizway, winner of the Metropolitan and Whitney Handicaps, is certain to be retired to stud for the 2012 breeding season.

So, what has been far less than a banner year in either division, could lead to competition among older horses next season that if not memorable could be at least entertaining.

Though he has not been a participant in the division’s dance of the indecisive, the recovered Uncle Mo is an interesting element now that he has returned to competition. He was defeated by Caleb’s Posse at the wire in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, but Uncle Mo produced a huge effort in his first race since April, when he was found to be suffering from a liver ailment.

Uncle Mo is not a robust horse, nor one who gives the impression of being suited to distance. But he is a fast horse, probably best at between 6 furlongs and a mile. Given the long gap in his form and lack of a Grade 1 title at age three, there is scant opportunity for Uncle Mo to make an impact this year sufficient to merit retirement, so, barring injury the potential exists for his return at age four. Top milers are exciting horses with great public appeal and 2012 could see two. The Factor is emerging in California as such a horse. A healthy 4-year-old Uncle Mo, kept to races of eight furlongs or less, could be a very interesting animal in a compelling division.

The summer has seen a succession of 2-year-olds who have shown great potential in the nascent stage of their careers. With the current 3-year-olds facing the formidable task of competition with older horses for the first time in the fall, what has been eight months of disappointment and upset is not likely to reverse course. Without much to look forward to in the near term, waiting for next year may hold some promise. This year’s famine could become, if not next year’s feast, perhaps a buffet.


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