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Handicapping Hell: A Tale of the 2017 Three-Year-Old Crop

Lauren King/Coglianese Photo

I’m man enough to admit it.

This year’s 3-year-old crop has given me nightmares.

After priding myself for having a handle on the Triple Crown races in years past, 2017 has been a total disaster. A solid 10th-place showing by Irish War Cry in the Kentucky Derby kicked things off, followed by a disgusting eighth-place finish by Always Dreaming in the Preakness. This mess didn’t start with the Kentucky Derby, though; it’s been going on all year. At times along the Triple Crown trail, I’ve been rewarded for being right, but mostly, it’s been mind-numbing and downright depressing. Here are the twists and turns from this year’s trail:

January 7: Sham Stakes – This began my downhill roll. My top pick, American Anthem, was fantastic in this race but was just barely edged out by Gormley. This was not a bad loss for me, but rather, it was an encouraging one. Trained by Bob Baffert, American Anthem was a horse that I knew I would bet heavily in his next race. After all, the Sham was just his second lifetime start, and I figured that American Anthem would improve tremendously and run huge in the future.

January 16: Smarty Jones Stakes – A winning moment! Uncontested was my top choice here, romping to an easy win in wire-to-wire fashion. The win was so impressive that, like American Anthem, I figured I’d definitely use him next time out as well. That ended up being a disaster, though, as he was smoked in the Southwest Stakes by One Liner, who of course happened to be my second choice in that race.

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February 4: Holy Bull Stakes – The race that threw a monkey wrench into my year marked the return of Classic Empire, but he was a disaster, finishing third as my top choice. Irish War Cry won while looking as impressive as a horse can look, and the gritty Gunnevera ran well late to get second.

February 11: Sam F. Davis Stakes – Another good moment for me as McCraken cruised home in track record-time as my top choice. He easily defeated Tapwrit, who came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby while McCraken was sidelined with a small injury. Each horse came back in the Blue Grass Stakes, where I used them both because I liked their Tampa races, and both let me down in a big way.

March 4: Fountain of Youth Stakes – I was all over Irish War Cry here after his great Holy Bull effort, and of course, he doesn’t show up at all! Gunnevera rushed home to easily win this race. Irish War Cry’s performance was so poor that there was zero chance of me betting him again (at least, not anytime soon).

March 11: San Felipe Stakes – This may have been the worst moment of the year. The San Felipe marked the heavily-anticipated return of Mastery, who was widely known as Bob Baffert’s best colt. Indeed, he proved to be Baffert’s best, and perhaps the best in the division, as he dominated the San Felipe Stakes with such ease. However, just seconds after crossing the wire, he was pulled up and vanned off of the track. Minutes later, we learned that he was too injured to continue on the Kentucky Derby Trail.

March 18: Rebel Stakes – Remember American Anthem? He showed up at Oaklawn Park as the favorite for the Rebel Stakes, and yours truly was ready to make a big score on him. It was the perfect storm for me: a horse that I had liked since his maiden win, trained by Mr. Rebel himself Bob Baffert, and a better-than-expected price. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. American Anthem was nowhere to be found when the real running began.

April 1: Florida Derby – This was a very positive day. I was strongly in favor of Always Dreaming, and he ran fantastic. Not fantastic enough for me to bet him in the Kentucky Derby, unfortunately, but at least I cashed on him here.

April 8: Wood Memorial – Remember Irish War Cry? Yeah, he won this race for fun and earned flashy speed figures. My top pick? Cloud Computing, who was never a factor to win the race and finished third, beaten by seven lengths. It sure is too bad that Cloud Computing couldn’t have shown just a little bit more in this race. I assumed that he was just a cut below the best horses in the crop after his Wood effort.

April 15: Arkansas DerbyMy last good day saw my top choice, Classic Empire, win after showing that he could get into some traffic trouble and still run well. It was tremendous foreshadowing for his Kentucky Derby run, as he experienced his fair share of trouble again only three weeks later.

May 6: Kentucky Derby – It came down to three horses to choose on top for me: Always Dreaming, Irish War Cry, and Classic Empire. At the time, I couldn’t trust Classic Empire enough, and Always Dreaming was just too anxious in the mornings. So Irish War Cry, who I swore off on March 4th, became my top choice to win the biggest race of the year. That turned out well…

May 20: Preakness Stakes – My disastrous Triple Crown year came full circle in Baltimore. Remember my top choice in the Wood Memorial, Cloud Computing? The horse that lost by seven lengths in the Wood Memorial to my Kentucky Derby pick, who finished 10th in that race? Of course, he won the Preakness. That makes perfect sense, right? Oh, and my top choice, Always Dreaming? He’s still making the final turn.

Belmont Stakes Wagering Guide

The horse that gave me the most grief, the one that I’m the most upset with, is Irish War Cry. I foolishly didn’t believe in him in the Holy Bull and he won easily. I loved him in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and he was a non-factor. I certainly wasn’t going to play him in the Wood Memorial and he buried my top pick, the eventual Preakness winner Cloud Computing, by seven lengths. I was back on him in the Kentucky Derby and he screwed me once again, finishing 10th. Thanks, Irish War Cry. You started and ended this whole mess in one way or another.

With the Belmont Stakes ahead of us, as well as the always-exciting summer season, we have a shot at redemption. There are still plenty of 3-year-old races left to dissect, so the struggle to figure out this crop continues. There will be three different Triple Crown race winners for the second year in a row, so races like the Jim Dandy, Haskell, and Travers Stakes will be important factors to try picking 2017’s best of this division. Time to start studying!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. John S Eder

    May 24, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    I feel you! Although we will never know BUT, what if Mastery wasn’t injured?

  2. Aaron Halterman

    May 25, 2017 at 10:51 am

    There is no doubt Mastery was the “one that got away”

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