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Smoke should begin to clear in wide-open race for top 3-year-old

Try this experiment: Ask a horseplayer to name the top 3-year-old in the country and watch as they mentally click through one possibility after another before hitting on the correct answer: There isn’t one.

The sophomore set usually has at least begun to sort itself out after the Triple Crown races, but that’s definitely not the case this year.

With different winners of the Kentucky Derby (Always Dreaming), Preakness (Cloud Computing) and Belmont (Tapwrit), and proven competitors such as 2-year-old champ Classic Empire, Irish War Cry and Lookin At Lee laboring through difficult campaigns, the division is as wide open at midyear as any in recent memory.

That means there’s plenty of time for an up-and-comer such as McCraken, who generated quite a bit of buzz before checking in 12th in the Kentucky Derby, to fight his way to the top of the list. He took a first step last weekend by winning the Matt Winn Stakes (Grade 3) at Churchill Downs.

The smoke should begin to clear as the second half begins, with races such as the Haskell (Grade 1) on July 30 at Monmouth Park, the Travers (Grade 1) on Aug. 26 at Saratoga and, of course, the Breeders’ Cup races Nov. 3-4 at Del Mar likely to play a big role in the crowning of the eventual 3-year-old champ.

But second-tier events such as Saturday’s Ohio Derby at Thistledown and the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 23 at Parx also can play a part, propelling a current also-ran into the top sophomore ranks.

Join the handicapping fun

That brings me to the first race in the Review-Journal’s new interactive handicapping forum: the $500,000 Ohio Derby (Grade 3), to be contested Saturday at 1 1/8 mile. Nine horses are signed up for the highlight of the Ohio racing calendar that has been run since 1876.

Thank you to the racing fans who took me up on my invitation and jumped in to handicap the race as soon as I posted free past performances for the race (courtesy of Equibase) on Thursday morning at reviewjournal.com/horseracing.

I’ll share their collective opinion on the race in a moment, but first you get mine:

One thing I’ve learned over my years as a horseplayer is that it often doesn’t pay to get too cute. History shows that the Ohio Derby almost always goes to horses who have raced on the Triple Crown trail rather than late bloomers or local sharpies.

Hate to be Captain Obvious, but I think Girvin and Irap will run one-two here, with the former getting my nod because of the presence of Mike Smith in the saddle.

Sorry Erik looks likely to fill out the trifecta.

The eight fans who weighed in this week have a slightly different view, picking Girvin, the three-horse Loooch Racing Stables entry of Talk Less, Vibe and Game Over, and Irap, in that order.

Let’s try to double that participation figure next week: Email me if you’d like to receive an alert each week when the PPs are posted or check Twitter under the hashtag #RJhorseracing next Thursday and then tweet your top 3 picks along with a brief explanation of the handicapping angles you used to unravel the puzzle.

Contact Mike Brunker mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter. For more on the race or to purchase handicapping information, visit the Equibase website.

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