If you told me that Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert would win two big divisional races this past weekend, I wouldn't find that too surprising. What is surprising is that it was the colts Stay Thirsty and Coil who stepped forward and advanced within a division that has seen different horses win key races throughout the year.
The two super-trainers captured the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes and the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational in nationally televised events over a weekend that highlighted the 3-year-old male division. Post Time's top selection, Stay Thirsty ($7), won the $500,000 Dandy as the second betting choice over long shot Moonshine Mullin for Pletcher, who is off to a terrific start at the Saratoga meet.
In addition to his Dandy win, he won the $75K Curlin Stakes on Friday with Turbo Compressor ($15.20), who will also point toward the Travers later in the month. Through Sunday, Pletcher has amassed 14 wins after the meet's first nine days, which is nine more than his closest competitor. On Saturday alone he won four races.
Bob Baffert is also smoking hot, with two major wins on Sunday. Coil ($8.40), a son of Point Given, won the $1 million Resorts Casino & Hotel International Haskell Invitational by a neck over Preakness champ and Post Time selection Shackleford. It was the fifth training victory in the Haskell for Baffert during his Hall of Fame career. Belmont winner Ruler On Ice finished third for trainer Kelly Breen, after making a move at the sixteenth pole to the inside path. Unfortunately, the inside path was not the place to be on Haskell Sunday and he just held on for third. Breen also ran Pants on Fire, who never threatened the leaders.
Baffert added another big victory to his ledger Sunday at Del Mar as Euroears set a 6-furlong track record in winning the Grade 2 Bing Crosby over odds-on favorite Smiling Tiger in a blazing 1:08.17, completing an East-West double for the white-haired conditioner.
Parity seems to be the description of choice for the 3-year-old division. With three different horses capturing the Triple Crown races and two new winners advancing this weekend with the commencement of the summer season, the Eclipse Award for this division is still be there for the taking.
Shackleford has a Grade 1 victory (Preakness) and two Grade 1 placings (Florida Derby, Haskell) along with a respectable performance in the Derby. Animal Kingdom is the reigning Derby champ and finished second in the Preakness, but has been sidelined for the remainder of the season after being injured during the Belmont. Ruler On Ice will need to win the Travers and/or win a race against older horses to have a chance.
This weekend's winners will both have a shot at the title if they can continue their winning ways up to the Breeders' Cup Classic. It sets up a huge opportunity for the Travers to have a dynamite field and a race that could decide top honors in this topsy-turvy season. Coil automatically qualified for the Classic with the Haskell win, a Win and You're In challenge race.
The best thing about this season of parity is that it continues to generate interest in the mainstream, it has attracted some decent television numbers and provides some water cooler talk leading up to the Travers.
This coming weekend features the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course for older horses and another valuable spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Game on.