ELMONT — How’s this for a partial resume for the racehorse I consider to be the best 3-year-old male in the country right now:
- Did not run in any of the Triple Crown races
- Did not run in any of the Kentucky Derby preps
- Has not raced longer than a mile in his career
- Has run just twice this year
We habitually stop to assess current divisional supremacy in Thoroughbred racing after big stakes days like Saturday, when Mo Donegal won the 154th Belmont Stakes by three lengths over his stablemate, the filly Nest.
The Kentucky Derby preps and all of the Triple Crown races are in the books now, so with the big summer races for 3-year-olds on the horizon (yikes, the Saratoga Race Course meet is less than five weeks away), it’s appropriate to take a moment to examine the 3-year-old male division.
After an incredible weekend of stakes at Belmont, I’ve got a lot to sort out by Monday before I file my weekly ballot for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association media poll for top 3-year-old and top overall racehorses.
My top vote for 3-year-old will go to a horse whose 2022 season so far consists of a race on the Derby undercard and a race on the Belmont undercard, and that’s Jack Christopher.
Trainer Chad Brown thought last year that Jack Christopher might be his 2022 Derby horse, and the colt was the 9-5 morning-line favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, but was scratched the day before the race with a shin issue and had not been seen until Derby Day.
That’s when he won the Grade I Pat Day Mile, and on Saturday in the Woody Stephens, Jack Christopher contributed to the cavalcade of all-star performances when he and jockey Jose Ortiz blew away a Grade I field by 10 lengths.
We’ll pause for a moment to congratulate Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs, who has a share in Mo Donegal through Donegal Racing, which co-owns the colt with Repole Stable. Bryan, a Skidmore College graduate, couldn’t make it to Belmont because he was attending a wedding at the Adelphi Hotel in Saratoga Springs.
The race went off during the last dance before the bride’s father gave his speech, so Bryan was able to watch it on his laptop with a crowd gathered around the table.
The father of the bride reminded everyone that this is Saratoga and offered a side toast: “He said, ‘This man just won the Belmont Stakes,’” Bryan said by phone shortly after the race. “He’s the best horse I’ve ever owned.”
Mo Donegal’s resume this year includes the Belmont and the Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and other top 3-year-old males include the Brown-trained Early Voting, who won the Preakness, and Epicenter and Zandon, who dueled in the Derby before being passed late by 80-1 Rich Strike.
Rich Strike flopped in the Belmont, never posing any kind of threat and finishing sixth of eight horses.
The Triple Crown horses are sort of canceling each other out right now, and we’ll see who goes where and what happens when the Haskell (July 23), Jim Dandy (July 30) and Travers (Aug. 27) roll around.
So the undefeated Jack Christopher gets my vote.
It looks like he’ll wind up in the Grade I, $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park.
“This horse is an exceptional talent,” Brown said. “This is my 15th year of training, and I’ve never had a dirt horse with this much pure brilliance. He reminds me a lot of Ghostzapper when I worked for Bobby Frankel. He’s a brilliant horse that can probably run any distance.
“Everybody wants to have horses like this — horse of a lifetime — including me.”
All Ghostzapper did was win the Breeders’ Cup Classic on his way to Horse of the Year in 2004 and the National Racing Hall of Fame in 2012.
Not trying to put Jack Christopher in the Hall of Fame, of course, but with the jumble among the Triple Crown horses and his absolute brilliance every time he runs, he’s the best 3-year-old male so far this season in my book.
“He’s an amazing horse,” Bryan said.
“He [Pappacap] ran good,” trainer Mark Casse said of his Woody Stephens runner-up. “The other horse was just a huge freak.”
AN EYE TOWARD SARATOGA
Speaking of the Spa, we got a glimpse on Belmont weekend of some of the talent that should be showing up for the 2022 meet, which opens on July 14.
The best male sprinter in the country, Jackie’s Warrior, won the True North by five lengths on Friday, and trainer Steve Asmussen said the logical next steps are the A.G. Vanderbilt and Forego.
Jackie’s Warrior won an open-age Eclipse Award as a 3-year-old last year, as champion male sprinter, based in part on victories in the Amsterdam and Allen Jerkens at Saratoga.
On Saturday, Brown trotted his typical battalion of turf horses, and won the Grade I Manhattan with Tribhuvan and the Grade I Just a Game with Regal Glory.
He said running Regal Glory against males in the Grade I Fourstardave at Saratoga is “absolutely” a goal.
The two most anticipated matchups turned into an eye-popping performance by Flightline to remain undefeated with a six-length win in the Met Mile, and a terrific victory for Clairiere in the Ogden Phipps.
The California-based Flightline will point toward the Pacific Classic, but if the Ogden Phipps horses show up for the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, look out.
The Ogden Phipps pitted two champions, Letruska and Malathaat, against two other Grade I winners, Search Results and Clairiere, and Bonny South, who was second to Letruska in the Ogden Phipps and Personal Ensign last year.
On Saturday, Search Results ran her eyeballs out, ran Letruska into the ground and ran third, leaving it to Clairiere and Malathaat to duel to the wire. Clairiere won by a head, balancing the day for Asmussen, who watched Echo Zulu, his 2021 champion 2-year-old filly, scratch at the gate because of lameness just before the start of the Acorn earlier on the card.
“This is the highs and the lows of this sport,” Asmussen said. “Absolutely. But who is better prepared to take it than someone who’s run 46,000 horses? ‘Always’ and ‘Never’ are two words that do not belong in this game.”