While California Chrome, the pro tem king of the 3-year-old division after wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is vacationing, an eager bunch will be nipping at his heels starting this weekend.
The Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park on Sunday and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Saturday will launch the second-half campaigns of star horses Untapable and Tonalist.
It is a given that Untapable is the best 3-year-old filly in the country. She has Grade 1 wins in the Mother Goose and Kentucky Oaks to prove it.
Now she will be facing males in the Haskell, and it’s something her trainer, Steve Asmussen, knows a lot about. In 2009, Asmussen took over Rachel Alexandra after she won the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths.
The late Jess Jackson purchased her privately, and the two men set about an ambitious schedule. That year, Rachel Alexandra faced males three times and won them all — in the Preakness, Haskell and Woodward.
It remains to be seen if any filly would try that again. But for now, Untapable has a big test to win the Haskell.
There are some quick colts in the Haskell. Bayern is from trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the stakes six times. Bayern has proven he is fast in winning the Derby Trial and Woody Stephens. But neither race is at the nine-furlong distance of the Haskell, so stamina is an issue.
Social Inclusion has run third in his past three starts — the Woody Stephens, Preakness and Wood Memorial. Many handicappers think he is a keg full of dynamite ready to explode.
Others to keep an eye on are Wildcat Red, winner of the Fountain of Youth, Medal Count, winner of the Transylvania, and Albano, who won the Pegasus, the Monmouth prep for the Haskell.
Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist heads the Jim Dandy, but I’m not ready to hand him the trophy just yet.
Ironically Tonalist is by the same sire as Untapable — Tapit — so there is no doubt these two can handle any distance of ground.
But the horse I have a beef with is Wicked Strong, who I picked to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. He took fourth each time.
If you’re like me, sometimes you get stuck on a horse that you bet back because you think he’ll win the next time. Well, hopefully the third time for me is a charm with Wicked Strong. He’ll be carrying my $2 win bet again.
■ WYNN LAS VEGAS — Make plans to play in the $200,000 Guaranteed Race Handicapping Challenge at Wynn Las Vegas on Aug. 1 and 2. The entry fee is $2,000, but all of it will be paid out as prize money.
The contest tracks will be Del Mar and Saratoga.
The top two finishers will get a berth into the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in January at Treasure Island.
■ AUSTRALIAN RACING — Racing from Australia is being simulcast into Nevada race books every Friday night. The past performances are available in the Daily Racing Form.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.