The Triple Crown is over for another year. For a lot of casual race fans and bettors that means that they will ignore the sport until the fall when the Breeders' Cup rolls around. That, of course, is a giant mistake. There is a ridiculous amount of great racing that takes place over the summer. We can't look at every big race there is - every weekend offers several races that promise to be great. There are a few highlights that are definitely worth keeping a close eye on, though. Add these to your calendar:
The Big 3 for three year olds
The best of the three-year-old males will take a bit of time off following the Triple Crown, but they will be back in action soon enough. There are three big races for these horses over the summer - with the first two acting officially or unofficially as prep races for the third.
The Jim Dandy at Saratoga in late July is first up. It is a prep race for the Travers but generally attracts a strong field on its own. The winners are a distinguished group, and the race is always great. Next up is the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in New Jersey. It's a $1 million race that Bob Baffert has essentially made his personal playground - he has won it eight times, including five of the last six. Last year American Pharoah took it in his return to the track after the Triple Crown. Always a strong field, and often a preview of the Travers.
It is the Travers Stakes that is the crown jewel of the summer for three year olds. Taking place in late August at Saratoga, it's the biggest event of the great Saratoga meet. The best of the three year olds will show up ready for battle. Things don't always turn out as expected at this track known as the Graveyard of Champions, though. Last year American Pharoah lost as overwhelming favorite, and he's far from the only top contender that has struggled. The connections of all three Triple Crown race winners have mentioned the Travers as a potential target for the summer, though it's far too soon to know what will happen yet.
The West Coast slugfest
The Del Mar meet is where all the action is over the summer on the West Coast. There is stakes action there virtually every day to keep people happy. The race that has people drooling already, though, is the Pacific Classic. The crown jewel of the Del Mar meet, this race for older horses offers a fat purse and huge amounts of glory. This year it has a chance to be a particularly grand spectacle. The great mare Beholder won the race last year very impressively and is aiming to return to defend her title. She beat a strong field last year, but nothing like what she could face this year. Primarily, Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Dubai World Cup winner California Chrome is currently being aimed for the race as well. If these two do indeed meet on the track, it could be the event of the year.
The Saratoga smorgasbord
Aside from the Travers and Jim Dandy, Saratoga offers a ridiculous amount of important races - it's the best race meet of the year, and it's not even close. There are 15 Grade 1 stakes alone during the six-week meet and countless others of lower-levels. There is a highlight for you regardless of what you like best.
The Hopeful Stakes is a great test for young two year olds, with winners including eventual Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, Secretariat and Affirmed; Classic winners like Summer Squall and Afleet Alex; and two year old champions like Dehere, Favorite Trick and Shanghai Bobby. The race is an excellent sneak peek of next year's Triple Crown season.
The King's Bishop is a great showcase for the sprinters, with Runhappy last year the latest to parlay success here into Breeders' Cup glory. The Alabama features the very best of the three-year-old filly class - essentially the Travers for female horses. Distaff winners and three-year-old champions have made a habit of winning this race.
Finally, the Whitney is the best of the races for older horses and is consistently one of the best races of the year. In the last decade Invasor, Blame and Fort Larned have all won both this race and the same year's Breeders' Cup Classic, and last year Honor Code parlayed the win here into his champion older horse title.
On the grass
The summer is a great time for turf lovers, too. The Arlington Million in August is pretty much the only day every year that racing in Illinois matters nationally. It's a key prep for the Breeders' Cup Turf and typically attracts solid European talent to supplement the domestic field. On that same card - Aug. 13 this year - the Beverly D. is a major prep for the Filly and Mare Turf.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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