With the New Year upon us, the road to the Triple Crown takes center in the world of horse racing. This year's crop of 3-year-old prospects looks to be shaping up as one of the strongest in the last few years.
Many know its been since Affirmed in 1978 that horse racing saw its last Triple Crown winner. There were a spate of near-misses in the 2000's, the last of which was Big Brown in 2008. Since then, however, the last three Triple Crown crops have failed to produce any true standouts. To drive home that point one need only look at the rather uninspiring group up for 2011 champion 3-year-old.
Many in racing are expecting bigger and better things from this year's crop of 3-year-olds. As it stands now, a pair of colts rate at the head of the class. They are undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen and Grade 1 winner Union Rags.
Hansen's road to the Kentucky Derby is expected to go through South Florida. Trainer Michael Maker is pointing to the Jan. 29 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park to kick off Hansen's sophomore campaign and that will probably be followed by either the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth Stakes and/or the March 31 Florida Derby before heading to Kentucky.
Union Rags is scheduled to make just two starts prior to the Kentucky Derby—the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby
Looking beyond the top pair, there are at least two dozen other top prospects squarely on the radar for the Kentucky Derby at this point. They include several strong Maiden winners that have graduated in the last several weeks as well as those that showed the ability to step up versus Stakes-quality competition late in their 2-year-old seasons.
Two colts that put themselves squarely in the Kentucky Derby mix with strong performances in the inaugural Gulfstream Park Derby over the holiday weekend. Reveron, who shipped in to Gulfstream from his base at Calder, was able to just hold off the highly-regarded Casual Trick to win the Gulfstream Park Derby while making his stakes debut. Both Reveron and Casual Trick are expected to make noise throughout the Gulfstream meet.
Up this week in the 3-year-old division is the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct, which will feature the 3-year-old bow of Godolphin Racing's Alpha. A son of Bernardini, Alpha was good second to Union Rags in the Champagne, but concluded his two-year-old season with an off-the-board finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He is the heavy morning-line favorite in the Count Fleet and will likely need a big performance to remain on schedule for the Kentucky Derby.
Over the next four months, this year's crop of 3-year-olds will begin to sort itself out. Some will fall by the wayside as the distances get longer and the competition tougher. But as things stand now, the sport of horse racing looks like it could be in for an exciting spring.