There is enough time for another 3-year-old star to emerge, but the reality is that the Triple Crown races have become such a focal point that nothing in the sport can really match them.
Paynter, so good in the Belmont when passed in the final strides by Union Rags, is likely to be favored in the Haskell. Dullahan, so good in the Derby when third and so bad in the Belmont when seventh, will try to win his first dirt race after two Grade I wins on Polytrack at Keeneland. Gemologist, unbeaten before his Derby debacle (16th, beaten by 30 lengths), will make his first start since May 5.
The improving Nonios comes in from the West Coast for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Stealcase has never won a stakes race, but has earned some decent speed figures. Handsome Mike has the same connections as I'll Have Another (trainer Doug O'Neill/owner Paul Reddam), but the comparisons end there. Handsome Mike has one win in seven starts and has never gotten a Beyer Speed Figure higher than 88.
Dale Romans trains Dullahan and he knows all about the horses that won't be running.
"Well, nobody's going to forget about them," Romans said. "They've accomplished too much in the first half of the year, but I think there's some good horses left out there, like Dullahan, like Paynter. I mean, I'm a huge Paynter fan. I think he's one of our best 3-year-olds of the crop."
Paynter's trainer, Bob Baffert, nearly won all the Triple Crown races. In the end, he won none of them. The Hall of Famer is having another tremendous season, with nearly 100 winners already, and he knows how to win the Haskell, having done it five times.
“I think Paynter's the horse to beat, and he will be out there running in the front end like he has in all his races, and we'll just have to try to run him down,'' Romans said.
But can Dullahan do it? Can any of the other five horses in the race?
Trainer Michael Matz was very disappointed when it was announced Friday that Union Rags was being retired 10 days after a leg injury was discovered. When July began, he thought he had a great 1-2 punch for the rest of the year. Well, the second string is getting better and will be running in the $600,000 Jim Dandy.
The Matz-trained Teeth of the Dog, named for a Dominican Republic golf course, was not ready for the big boys in the Preakness. After a win in an undercard stakes on Belmont Day and a visually impressive win in the Dwyer Stakes, the colt may be ready now. With such talented horses in the field as Withers winner Alpha, Fast Falcon, Atigun (third in the Belmont), the very fast Neck 'n Neck, Cash Call Futurity winner Liaison and Ohio Derby winner Prospective, this is not an easy spot. So Teeth of the Dog will be tested for class.
In fact, all these 3-year-olds running in Jersey and upstate New York will be tested this weekend to see where they fit in to what is left of the 3-year-old division. Hansen, the white streak, is scheduled to run in next weekend's West Virginia Derby.
Most of those that run well this weekend and next likely will congregate at Saratoga on Aug 25 for the Travers, a?k?a the midsummer Derby.
Would the Travers have had much more cachet with I'll Have Another and/or Union Rags? Absolutely.
But this is horse racing, a sport that has a schedule without participation guarantees. Would that it were another way, but these fragile animals simply don't allow it. And that is why when all the good horses actually appear in the same place at the same time, it is always an event to savor.
Contact Dick Jerardi at firstname.lastname@example.org.