April 22, 2024

Will Test of the Champion Help Define Eclipse Award Picture?

This year’s Test of a Champion is unlikely to crown one for the first half of the year, but a win in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park could help tip the scales at the end of the year.

I differ from my colleagues regarding who the current leader of the three-year-old male division is. I have Always Dreaming on top by virtue of him being A) the only two-time Grade 1 winner, and B) one of those wins coming in the most prestigious race for the division: the Kentucky Derby.

I have Cloud Computing second more in reverence of our classic races since he actually won the Preakness Stakes and not because I actually think he’s a better horse than Classic Empire, last year’s two-year-old champion male and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner who was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness.

But, results have to matter, which is why winning the Belmont Stakes is a big leg up on the rest of the division, which to date has the following Grade 1 winners: Always Dreaming (2), Classic Empire, Cloud Computing, and Gormley.

Whoever wins the Belmont won’t jump Always Dreaming in my poll, but he will likely move ahead of Cloud Computing and certainly ahead of Classic Empire.

If Irish War Cry runs exceptionally well, there might be an impulse to put him ahead of Always Dreaming, and even if you grant the Wood Memorial de facto Grade 1 status by virtue of it having produced two of this year’s three classic winner, the fact remains that Always Dreaming beat Irish War Cry head to head in the most important race (the same logic would apply to Gormley).

It’s a bummer not to have the Derby winner, Preakness winner, or champion two-year-old in the Belmont Stakes, but good performances could auger for a fun summer with the Haskell, Travers, and Pennsylvania Derby taking on extra weight because of the specter of Arrogate waiting in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Speaking of Arrogate, he became just the fifth three-year-old male champion in the Breeders’ Cup era to win an Eclipse Award without having won a classic race (Holy Bull, Skip Away, Tiznow, and Will Take Charge are the other three). In that era, the Derby has been responsible for 17 champions, the Preakness 21, the Belmont 9, and the Classic 7.