Weekend races could play key role in sorting out horse-of-the-year picture – Orange County Register

If Eclipse Award voters had to cast their ballots today for the top 3-year-old male of 2017, it would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Luckily, we still have the mid-summer classics and Breeders’ Cup to help sort out this jumbled mess.

We had three different winners in the Triple Crown classics — Always Dreaming took the Kentucky Derby, Cloud Computing came home first in the Preakness Stakes and Tapwrit proved best in the Belmont. Picking the winners of the Derby preps during the spring was akin to navigating a minefield.

Maybe a true pecking order will begin to take shape this weekend when the $1 million Grade I Haskell Invitational and the $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes are run at Monmouth Park and Saratoga, respectively. The Derby and Preakness winners are set to square off Saturday in the Jim Dandy.

But don’t mistake parity for mediocrity. At least not yet, according to a trio of trainers who will saddle horses in the Haskell on Sunday.

“I always think it is a little early to judge these 3-year-olds around Triple Crown time because I think it’s really not till the fall that we really test their mettle, when we run them against older horses, particularly in the Breeders’ Cup,” said Graham Motion, whose Belmont runner-up Irish War Cry is scheduled to be part of the seven-horse Haskell field and was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite.

“I always think it’s a bit of a mistake to rush to judgment. A lot of these guys have come back and run really well since the Derby, including (McCraken). And Jerry Hollendorfer’s horse (Battle of Midway), who won out in California. And, you know, I think my horse really showed what he’s made of in the Belmont, perhaps going a distance that wasn’t best for him.”

There’s little doubt in Motion’s mind that the next four months will determine who takes home the hardware in the sophomore male division.

“I certainly think it’s going to come down to what happens in the fall,”…

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