Best 3-year-old that didn’t win the Triple Crown?

Since Affirmed became the 11th and most recent 3-year-old to win the Triple Crown in 1978, there have been three exceptional sophomores who won two-thirds of the crown but couldn’t grab all three.

To me, Spectacular Bid in 1979, Alysheba in 1987 and Point Given in 2001 stand out as the best 3-year-olds that didn’t sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Sunday Silence, in my opinion, is probably No. 4 on the list.

Spectacular Bid was a colt who showed his brilliance whether running short or long. He won the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes in then-record time at Santa Anita in 1979 and also still holds the track record for 1 1/4 miles, running a 1:57 4/5 while winning the 1980 Strub Stakes.

Spectacular Bid lost once more in his career after the Belmont, falling short to 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

He won all nine of his starts as a 4-year-old, setting track records at distances of seven furlongs, one mile, 1 1/4 miles and twice at 1 1/8 miles, and was named the 1980 Horse of the Year.

Alysheba, who had only a maiden victory to his credit when he won the Derby, went on to enjoy a brilliant 4-year-old season, winning the Strub Stakes and Santa Anita Handicap at Santa Anita and then clinching 1988 Horse of the Year honors with victories in the Meadowlands Cup, Woodward Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Point Given never had the chance to show if he could turn in as brilliant a 4-year-old season as Spectacular Bid and Alysheba, but he was mighty good as a 3-year-old. After finishing fifth in the Derby, he came back to win the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell Invitational and Travers Stakes en route to 2001 Horse of the Year laurels before an injury ended his career.

He ran the fourth fastest Belmont ever, quicker than even Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Affirmed, and he’s the only horse in history to win four $1 million races consecutively. He also became the first horse since 1967 to win the Preakness, Belmont and Travers, joining an elite group that includes Man o’ War (1920), Whirlaway (1941), Native Dancer (1953) and Damascus (1967).

There have been other outstanding 3-year-olds that won two-thirds of the Triple Crown since 1979, including Pleasant Colony (1981), Swale (1984), Risen Star (1988), Sunday Silence (1989), Hansel (1991), Tabasco Cat (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Afleet Alex (2005) and Big Brown (2008).

Of course, we’ll never know how Barbaro would have fared in 2006 if he hadn’t broken down in the Preakness after a scintillating victory in the Derby. Would he have beaten Bernardini at Pimlico and gone on to become the 12th Triple Crown winner?

Here are replays of the two Triple Crown races that Spectacular Bid and Point Given couldn’t win, the 1979 Belmont and the 2001 Kentucky Derby. I couldn’t find video of the 1987 Belmont Stakes:

Tell us what you think:

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Hollywood Park to honor Michael Baze

Hollywood Park announced Wednesday that it will hold a memorial for jockey Michael Baze immediately following the races June 2.

All those who wish to honor Baze, who was found dead in his vehicle in the Churchill Downs barn area on May 10, are invited to attend the service, which will be held in the Sunset Room.

Baze, who was 24, was the leading rider during Hollywood Park’s 2007 spring-summer meet, the youngest jockey to accomplish the feat since Bill Shoemaker won the title at 19 in 1950.

He was also leading rider at Arlington Park last summer and finished fourth at this year’s Oaklawn Park meet, which concluded April 16.

Preliminary autopsy results found no anatomical cause of death, according to a Jefferson County deputy coroner. He also said toxicology reports would take three weeks.

Kudos to Zayat for keeping Nehro in the barn

It had to be very tempting for owner Ahmed Zayat to enter his talented 3-year-old colt, Nehro, in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.

After all, he’d closed like a freight train to finish second in the Arkansas Derby behind Archarcharch on April 16 and then followed that effort with a runner-up showing in the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

Zayat has been saying the past few days that the colt looked great and was sending out signals that he was ready to go in the Preakness, but Zayat himself was hesitant. He said he had mixed emotions about running.

Well, on Tuesday morning he made his decision. He said Nehro will not be entered in the Preakness today, and it says here that he’s absolutely making the right decision. By skipping the second leg of the Triple Crown, the colt’s connections figure to reap the rewards further down the line, i.e. Belmont, Travers and perhaps the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

When an owner and/or trainer is conflicted over what to do, it’s best to go with the gut feeling and wait for another opportunity. It was obvious Zayat had reservations about running Nehro and decided to listen to his head and not his heart.

“It’s a very hard decision, but I want to err on the side of caution,” Zayat told the Daily Racing Form. “He couldn’t look any better. His work on Monday was absolutely awesome. I’m just concerned about him having four hard races in eight weeks, even if, outwardly, he doesn’t appear to be showing it.

“I want to be super cautious. I want to keep him happy and healthy for the rest of the year. We are in a great position to have a horse who can run in these classics. We will point now for the Belmont, God willing.”

Nehro’s defection means five Derby starters, including Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Dialed In and Midnight Interlude, will likely run in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.

Only three times in the past 28 runnings of the Preakness has a non-Derby starter won the race, including Rachel Alexandra in 2009, Bernardini in ’06 and Red Bullet in 2000. Before that, you have to go back to Deputed Testamony in 1983 to find a Preakness winner who didn’t run in the Derby.

Will a new shooter win Saturday’s Preakness?

So you think you like Astrology in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes? How about Concealed Identity or Flashpoint?

Well, before you start picking any of the non-Derby starters to win the 1 3/16-mile race, you might want to consider this tidbit of info — according to statistics provided by the Daily Racing Form, only three horses in the past 25 years that didn’t run in the Derby have shown up at Pimlico Race Course and won the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

That’s not a very good percentage, although two of the past five Preakness winners — Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Bernardini in ’06 — didn’t run in the Derby.

Here’s the complete list of non-Derby starters since 1919 who won the Preakness Stakes:

2009 Rachel Alexandra
2006 Bernardini
2000 Red Bullet
1983 Deputed Testamony
1982 Aloma’s Ruler
1980 Codex
1972 Bee Bee Bee
1962 Greek Money
1951 Bold
1945 Polynesian
1942 Alsab
1934 High Quest
1929 Dr. Freeland
1928 Victorian
1925 Coventry
1924 Nellie Morse
1922 Pillory
1921 Broomspun
1920 Man o’ War

As of this morning, 10 of the 16 horses listed as possible for the Preakness did not run in the Derby, including the intriguing Mr. Commons, a colt trained by John Shirreffs who finished third in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9.

Astrology is another colt who deserves a look, seeing as though he was on most experts’ Derby rankings early in the year and will go off at a healthy price in the Preakness. The fact that Steve Asmussen is his trainer only adds to his resume.

Also, Concealed Identity is an interesting long shot after he won the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on Derby Day. We know he likes the track and he won from off the pace, which may be an advantage in Saturday’s race.

Take a look at Astrology’s effort in the Jerome Handicap on April 23 at Aqueduct over a sloppy track. It was only his second race of the year and he might be sitting on a huge effort:

Or how about Mr. Commons’ effort in the Santa Anita Derby behind Midnight Interlude and Comma to the Top? He’s a lightly-raced colt who was rallying nicely along the rail in the Arcadia race and may be rounding into form:

So tell us what you think: